There have been reports about five years ago that rescue ships from aid agencies in the Mediterranean sometimes work with people smugglers. The SonntagsZeitung spoke to three Libyan smugglers. They assert that there are contacts between human traffickers and rescue ships. They want to ensure that their “clients”, the migrants, really get to Italy.
Large NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders or Save the Children deny the existence of such cooperation.
The statements of the smugglers support the allegations of the Public Prosecution Office in Sicily Trapani to the address of the relief organizations. In about 12 cases, tugboats carried migrants directly to rescue ships and then returned to Libya in empty boats.
The goal is to hide photos
As multi-award winning journalist Kurt Belda, 57, writes as co-author of “SonntagsZeitung,” aid organizations publish photos of rescue operations online, as well as fundraising. However, some images are intentionally preserved. For example, when smugglers can be seen taking migrants into lifeboats.
This rescue operation was photographed by the crew of the British Save the Children ship Vos Hestia on October 13, 2017. Two small boats with three tugs and 21 migrants on board meet rescuers from Save the Children, a few kilometers north of the Libyan coast.
All this is documented by the photographs that the prosecutor in Trapani, Sicily, exposed through an extensive investigation – spread over about 650 pages. Many of the photos and videos were taken by the rescuers themselves – with helmet cameras like those used by drivers and mountaineers.
Consciously protect criminals
The Italians also used secret agents. Using hidden microphones, police recorded countless conversations on cruising bridges, listening in on phone calls and reading lifeguards’ WhatsApp and email communications.
According to “SonntagsZeitung”, Save the Children is supposed to protect people smugglers from prosecution. The relief organization’s written business rules, available to “SonntagsZeitung”, state: “Save the Children does not comply with a request to hand over media photos/materials for the purpose of identifying traffickers, etc.”
At the end of October 2017, the Italian police searched Vos Hestia and confiscated several electronic devices. Shortly thereafter, Save the Children announced the end of rescue operations in the Mediterranean. According to the research, something similar happened during the rescue operations carried out by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
There are also allegations that aid organizations knew that the smugglers themselves were among the migrants. But upon arrival in Italy, the naval rescuers hid the fact that such criminals were on board the ship.
Save the Children denied to the newspaper SonntagsZeitung that it knowingly contacted or supported the smugglers. However, the organization is proud that Vos Hestia has saved nearly 10,000 people “who were in a very real danger of drowning.” (GF)
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