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Hundreds arrested, charged across Europe for helping refugees

28 May 20190 comments

Firefighters, priests and elderly women are among hundreds of Europeans who are increasingly being criminalised for supporting refugees, according to new research.

Data collected by the global news website ‘openDemocracy’ shows 250 people across Europe have been arrested or criminalised in other ways for providing food, shelter and transport and other “basic acts of human kindness” to migrants over the past five years. And there has been a spike in these cases over the last 18 months, new research shows.

openDemocracy says the number of cases increased dramatically in 2018, with more than 100 cases recorded last year – twice as many as in 2017.

The majority of the cases in 2018 were arrests and charges for providing food, transport or other support to migrants without legal papers.

Among the cases identified is a Spanish firefighter who faces up to 30 years in prison for rescuing migrants from drowning at sea in Greece, a French olive grower arrested for feeding and sheltering migrants on the border of Italy and a 70-year-old Danish grandmother who was convicted and fined for offering a lift to a family with small children.

The new research, which is based on news reports, shows people have been arrested, investigated, or threatened with prison or fines across 14 European countries since 2015. The vast majority occurred in Italy, Greece, France, the UK, Spain, Germany and Denmark.

But although the openDemocracy list is believed to be the most comprehensive list ever compiled of these cases across borders to date, campaigners said it was likely to be the “tip of the iceberg” as many cases will not have been detected as part of the research.

Meanwhile, human rights groups have slammed the “clampdown” by the European authorities on the work of individuals and NGOs assisting asylum seekers and refugees saying it goes “against the rule of law”.

And they have urged EU member states to “recommit to human rights and European values”.

The groups warn that if far-right parties make big gains in the upcoming European elections – where migration is a central battleground issue – arrest numbers are likely to continue to rise across the continent.

The release of the study comes after Amnesty International called on European governments to stop “criminalising human rights defenders” following the arrest of Briton Tom Ciotkowski, who is facing up to five years in French prison and a fine of up to $A12,000 for documenting police abuse of refugees in Calais.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic told European media it was “troubling” to see the “increasing pressure and restrictions” European countries were putting on the work of individuals and NGOs assisting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

“They face administrative burdens intended to make their work impossible, stigmatisation by misleading and hostile political rhetoric, and even criminal prosecution,” Ms Mijatovic said.

“Instead of clamping down on those who help migrants live a more dignified life, Council of Europe member states should become more serious in implementing the standards they agreed to and finally put human rights and the principle of responsibility sharing at the centre of their migration and asylum policies.

“It is high time that political leaders across member states recommit with human rights, the rule of law and European values. This is both a legal and a moral duty,” she said.


Laurie Nowell 
AMES Australia Senior Journalist