Fireman Faces 20 Years in Prison for Rescuing Drowning Migrants

Marta Karpuk | Tue, 16 Apr 2019

Courtesy of Florentino Ariza

Miguel Roldan is a 32-year-old firefighter from Malaga, Spain who is a part of the Seville City Hall Fire Department. He has had “experience on rescue missions in the Aegean Sea, next to the Greek island of Lesbos” and in June 2017 he “decided to spend 20 days […] aboard luventa, an old fishing vessel that was converted into a rescue ship by the German NGO Jugend Rettet” in order to conduct more migrant rescue missions. Luventa departed from Malta and “sailed until they were 17 nautical miles from the coast of Libya in international waters”. During those 20 days, Roldan and his team were able to rescue 5,000 migrants from drowning. According to the International Organisation for Migration 2,832 people drowned “on the central Mediterranean route where Roldan was working as a volunteer” in 2017. Luventa’s objective is to “go to areas where migrants are in danger of drowning […] and actively search and rescue them. Once rescued, the migrants are transferred to ships belonging to non-profit organisations such as Doctors Without Borders”. 
During one of these rescue missions in June, Roldan was stopped by Rome’s Search and Rescue Control Centre who denied him and his team permission to rescue a sinking migrant ship because the migrants were in Libyan waters. This meant that the rescuers had to negotiate with Libyan authorities before being allowed to save lives. While Roldan and his team were eventually granted permission to save these migrants, such rescue missions could result in Roldan being imprisoned “for 20 years for allegedly aiding illegal immigration and working with human traffickers”. 
After returning to Seville, “the crew continued to carry out rescue missions in the central Mediterranean migration route […] saving around 14,000 people in the following weeks”. However, on August 2nd “Italian authorities seized the luventa” because of an investigation into the crew for “facilitating illegal immigration”. Following this investigation Roldan and the rest of the crew were accused of “helping human traffickers”. Oino Reina, “the president of Proem-Aid” believes that since the charges against Roldan are coming from the Italian government, “’a country that has a policy of harassing and attacking NGOs” Roldan and his team have a higher chance of being found guilty for these allegations than defendants in similar cases conducted by other countries, such as Greece. 

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