GERMAN politicians and church leaders have criticised the Italian authorities after they arrested the captain of the rescue-vessel Sea-Watch 3, and tried to prevent the boat, which was filled with 53 refugees from Libya, from docking at an Italian port.
Both the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, joined church leaders in their condemnation.
“Italy is a founding state of the European Union,” President Steinmeier said on ZDF television last weekend. “That’s why we can expect them to deal with such a case differently.”
Speaking on Saturday morning, hours after the arrest of the Captain of Sea-Watch 3, Carola Rackete, the chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, said: “Sometimes, Bible words come at just the right time. The fact that Sea-Watch Captain Carola Rackete was actually arrested tonight while docking in the port of Lampedusa makes me sad and angry.
“A young woman is arrested in a European country because she has saved human lives and wants to bring the rescued people safely ashore. A disgrace to Europe! The New Testament Bible passage from the Herrnhut Daily Watchwords for today reads: ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up [Galatians 6.9].’”
On Tuesday, however, Ms Rackete was released after an Italian judge ruled that she had not acted against the law when she refused to comply with a ban on entering Italy’s territorial waters.
After Ms Rackete’s release, Dr Bedform-Strohm said: “I see this decision as a victory on points for the rule of law and humanity and as an encouraging sign that certain basic orientations, which are binding in law everywhere in Europe, are not up for grabs. Many people in politics and civil society have strengthened these basic orientations in recent days and thus shown their colours: Saving people from drowning always takes precedence.
“Those who are the only ones who are still doing this in an organised manner must not be criminalised. It is now an urgent task of politicians to establish a mechanism that reliably regulates bringing rescued people on land and after that their distribution to host countries, thereby preventing us from reliving the disgraceful tragedy of recent weeks. “
Last week, at the height of the stand-off between the Sea-Watch 3 and the Italian government, the Sicilian city of Palermo bestowed honorary citizenship on Dr Bedford-Strohm and the Sea-Watch organisation.
It became clear last week that Germany, France, Portugal, Finland, and Luxembourg would take in the migrants. Nevertheless, the Italian government refused to allow the captain to dock at an Italian port.
Instead, the government in Rome agreed on a tightening of the rules for the helpers. Sea-Watch 3 could not be stopped, and sailed with the refugees, whose conditions were deteriorating, in the direction of Italy. In Lampedusa, Captain Rackete put under house arrest.