22.11.2019

Sea-Watch migrant rescue captain ‘in hiding’ after release

Carola Rackete, 31, was freed from house arrest on orders of an Italian judge on Tuesday, three days after her detention.

The German captain of a rescue ship who angered Italy’s interior minister by bringing refugees and migrants to an Italian island has been moved to a secret location after receiving threats, according to a charity.

She had disobeyed Italian military orders and entered the port of Lampedusa with her Sea-Watch boat carrying 40 people from African countries plucked from the waters of the Mediterranean by human rights activists. Rackete faced up to 10 years in prison on possible charges of endangering the lives of four police officers for hitting a patrol boat at the quay.

“There were some general threats against Carola,” a spokesman for Sea-Watch, a German charity, said on Wednesday. “That’s why we moved her to a secret place. We will not comment on any further travel plans of her.”

In a statement released by the charity, Rackete called the decision by Judge Alessandra Vella “a great victory of solidarity towards all migrants, against the criminalisation of those who want to help them”.

Vella ruled that the captain had not broken the law by crashing through a naval blockade, saying that by bringing rescued migrants to port she was carrying out her duty to protect life.

However, far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said he was “disgusted” by the ruling. His far-right League party last month introduced rules effectively closing Italy’s ports to rescue ships, threatening transgressors with fines of up to 50,000 euros ($56,500) and the impounding of their vessels.

The controversy over Rackete’s actions has dented relations between Italy on one side and Germany and France on the other, and highlighted Europe’s continued failure to adopt a coherent strategy on immigration.

Rackete appeared before a court in Agrigento on Monday and apologised for hitting the patrol boat, saying it had been an accident and that her sole concern was the well-being of the refugees and migrants who had been at sea for more than two weeks.

The captain has become a heroine to human rights campaigners.

An online campaign launched by two German TV stars to help her has so far raised close to 1 million euros ($1.1m), while a separate fundraiser launched on Facebook by an Italian group collected 435,000 euros ($490,000) in seven days.

“I am moved by the solidarity of so many people,” Rackete said in her statement.

Sea-Watch said the money would be used to fund future rescue missions.

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