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Italian court drops charges against migrant rescue ship crews and ends long-running legal battle

ROME (AP) — An Italian court on Friday dropped charges of cooperating with smugglers and dismissed a long-running lawsuit by three humanitarian organizations against the crew of a rescue ship for helping rescue thousands of migrants at sea. .

A judge in the Sicilian city of Trapani has decided not to proceed with a trial against 10 crew members involved in the so-called “Juventa incident”, named after the rescue ship operated by the German nonprofit organization Jugend Rettet. .

A small Italian island is filled with thousands of migrants who arrived within 24 hours.

Staff from Jugend Rettet, Save the Children, and Médecins Sans Frontières were completely acquitted of all charges of aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

An Italian court has dismissed a long-running lawsuit by three humanitarian organizations against the crew of a migrant rescue boat. (Beata Saursel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Italian prosecutors opened the case in 2017, accusing the crew of coordinating search-and-rescue operations with human traffickers off the coast of Libya and acting as “taxis” for migrants. They were also accused of rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean whose lives were not in danger, while returning dinghies and boats to smugglers for reuse.

Italy’s Ministry of the Interior was participating in the lawsuit as a plaintiff.

Friday’s court hearing followed prosecutors’ surprise recommendation in February to dismiss all charges in the case, which the groups accused of criminalizing activities in the Mediterranean.

More than 20 people have been involved in the investigation over the years, including the boat’s captain, the head of the mission and legal representatives, who face up to 20 years in prison.

After the verdict, Save the Children said: “The truth has been recognized.”

“This incident marked the beginning of a public smear campaign against civilian maritime rescue aimed at justifying the suppression of rescue operations,” the crew of the Juventa said.

Jugend Rettet said his company’s rescue vessels had rescued more than 14,000 people in distress from 2016 until it was seized in the summer of 2017, when the incident began.

Médecins Sans Frontières, also known by its French acronym MSF, said in a statement that it had faced “seven years of false accusations, defamatory statements and a campaign of blatant criminalization against organizations conducting search and rescue operations at sea.” He emphasized that

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Italian authorities began focusing on the issue in 2016. Rome’s center-left government at the time was struggling to cope with a double-digit increase in the number of migrants arriving on Italy’s coasts in a desperate effort to reach Europe.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s current right-wing government has further strengthened Rome’s tough stance on migrant rescue in the Mediterranean, limiting rescues to one ship at a time and forcing them to anchor in assigned ports. – Charities say the rules are strict. We are carrying out rescue operations.

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