Carola Rakete, German Ship Captain of Sea Watch 3 – a vessel operated by German NGO, Sea Watch – was arrested on June the 27th after docking the vessel at the Italian town of Lampedusa. Rakete was at sea for 2 weeks with 40 African refugees on board, when she decided to head for Italian waters on Saturday morning amongst substantial police presence, citing the health and well-being of the occupants. Rakete faces a maximum sentence of 10 years, for the primary indictments of resisting an Italian war-ship and law enforcement.
Considering the pivotal axis the issue of migrants and refuges currently finds itself on the political map of Europe, reactions to the act of defiance were predictably mixed. Italian Minister of Interior, Matteo Salvini, stated – as per his Twitter account – “Outlaw arrested. Pirate ship seized. Big fine on foreign NGO. Migrants all redistributed to other European countries. Mission completed.” By contrast, Salvatore Tesoriero, Ms Rakete’s Lawyer, told reporters to Ms Rakete had no intention to cause harm, merely opting for the greater moral good by docking “desperate migrants”.
Salvini’s tunnel-vision comments are predictable, given his membership of Lega Nord, a far-right Italian political party espousing anti-immigrant rhetoric seemingly exclusive to Muslims and Non-Europeans. More aptly, his nickname, ‘The Captain’, highlights a stern and authoritative tone as present in his tweet. Salvini was also quick to label Ms Raket’s actions as an act of war; from whom exactly – Germany? a NGO? Mr Tesoriero’s more humane and objective understanding, detached from far-right neo-nationalistic sovereign concerns, was reflected by Johannes Bayer, Sea Watch Chairman, whom stated the NGO is mandated to compensate for Europe’s lack of willingness to uphold human dignity in the Mediterranean.
As a wider arch, Ms Raket’s symbol of defiance highlights the drive against neo-conservative and deeply nationalistic European attitudes, ostensibly blind to the inevitable domino-effects of the 20th century Scramble for Africa, spearheaded by Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium. For example, Pew Research cited ‘political and social instability’ as the largest reason for migrating to Europe from Africa; with more than 70% of the surveyed Sub-Saharan population willing to migrate. Patrick Jabbi, a 22 year old Congolese refugee to Europe, eloquently expressed this sentiment – “We Africans believe that if you go to Europe, your life is good” (Al Jazeera); the almost 100 years of Belgian King Leopold’s ruse of the geography likely playing a part in attitudes of European glorification.
More hopefully, progressive minded individuals are exercising equal efforts in shifting the pendulum of European identity and morality away from the increasingly robust grips of recent populist anti-immigrant movements, rooted in historical neo-fascist European thought. Donations to Rakete’s fund – set up by a German factory worker to provide legal cover – exceed £500,000 at the time of writing, and with current pace, will soon hit £750,000 (Al-Jazeera). Perhaps anti-refugee hardliners should intensely reflect upon their moral aptitudes in a time of Europe acting as a beacon and safe-space for refugees, for example, the willingness of Syria to accept European refugees during Nazi expansion in the 1940s.