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News > Italy

Italy: Firefighter Faces 20 Yrs in Prison For Rescuing Migrants

  • Roldan says that

    Roldan says that "even just one minute spent in jail for saving lives would be too much." | Photo: @CAONGD

Published 3 April 2019

While working with Jugend Rettet, whose objective is to save people from drowning in the Mediterranean, Roldan and 10 of his colleagues were able to save 14,000 people in just 20 days.

Spanish firefighter, Miguel Roldan, has been accused by the Italian government of aiding human trafficking and illegal immigration after he helped save thousands of migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in 2017.


EU Suspends Migrant Rescue Operations Despite Saving Thousands

Roldan, a 32-year-old firefighter from Malaga, Spain, has been employed to the underwater division of Seville City Hall Fire Department for six years. While working with Berlin-based non-profit organization Jugend Rettet, whose objective is to save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean, Roldan and 10 of his colleagues were able to save some 14,000 people in just 20 days. It has not been confirmed whether the other 10 members of the unit will face trial.

If convicted, Roldan could spend up to 20 years in prison.

The rescue missions involve strenuous shifts spanning up to 18 hours, sometimes in complete darkness. Another significant limitation was the organization's adherence to strict governmental restrictions and bureaucratic policies by institutions such as Rome's Search and Rescue Control Center.

“It’s unbelievable. We respect the rules so much that we’ve watched people die because of bureaucracy. The accusation is a huge slap in the face,” Roldan said.

The young firefighter says te protocol is largely to blame for the 3,116 people who drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2017. According to the International Organization for Migration, 2,832 of those deaths took place on the route where Roldan volunteers in rescue missions with Jugend Rettet.

Oftentimes, the rescue missions required negotiation with Libya, which is where the migrants were coming from.

"We entered the high seas in front of Libyan waters, never entering Libyan waters. We always remained within international waters, which in this case were Italian jurisprudence, with the prior consent of the MRCC of Rome (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres)," Roldan said. "If they said no to an operation, it was automatically canceled."

"Together with @FranMoragaCs and other representatives of the municipality following the institutional declaration in support of firefighter Miguel Roldan for his humanitarian work in the Mediterranean #SevilleToday"

The City Council of Seville released an institutional declaration in solidarity with Roldan and his humanitarian efforts. In the declaration, which will be transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union, and "with the aim of transferring it to the Government of Italy, as well as to the Italian Embassy of Seville," the municipality has called the accusations "unfair" and have expressed "the absolute conviction of [Roldan's] innocence."

Roldan continues to seek support by sharing his story throughout Spain since the investigation resulted in the organization's boat, the luventa, being confiscated by Italian authorities and has left Jugend Rettet bankrupt and unable to cover the costs of the judicial process, which amounts to about US$168,000.

In 2018, three firefighters from Seville were accused of "attempting to smuggle people" in another migrant-rescue effort, Proem-Aid (Professional Emergency Aid). All men were acquitted and avoided a potential 10-year sentence, but Proem-Aid president Oino Reina says the fact that Roldan is being accused by the Italian government, as opposed to the Greek justice system, makes his case less optimistic. Reina refers to Italy as "a country that has a policy of harassing and attacking NGOs, especially since Matteo Salvini became the interior minister."

The investigation is expected to be carried out throughout the summer, with the pending trial scheduled for the end of the year. Roldan has been open about his overwhelming sense of worry, stating that "even just one minute spent in jail for saving lives would be too much."

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