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“WE stand with you” was British firefighters’ defiant message to a Spanish firefighter facing prison time for saving drowning refugees.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) meeting at the union’s conference gave four standing ovations today to Miguel Roldan, a firefighter based in Seville in southern Spain.
Mr Roldan, who has been in Seville’s underwater fire service unit since 2013, used 20 days of his summer holiday in 2017 aboard fishing vessel Iuventa, that had been converted into a rescue ship by Berlin-based refugee rescue organisation Jugend Rettet.
On his 20 days on the boat, the team rescued 5,000 refugees off the coast of Libya.
Mr Roldan then returned to Spain, while the crew continued to rescue 14,000 more people.
However, the Italian authorities seized the boat in August 2017 and launched an investigation into the crew for “facilitating illegal immigration” and alleged collaboration with human traffickers.
If the courts find Mr Roldan guilty, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
In his address to the FBU, he said: “Our mission was simply to help people who were crossing into mainland Europe.
“When people are drowning, if you decide to go to the left or the right, you might miss people who are drowning on either side – if you go to the front of you, the people behind you have already drowned.
“We tried to rescue every single person we could – now they want to prosecute me for doing that.”
Mr Roldan went on to say that the current refugee crisis is “not about a better future, but about survival itself.”
“People are fleeing conflicts, and unjust and inhumane treatment. They are suffering danger and beatings just to get another shore.”
He slammed European governments that forbade non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from sending out rescue boats to help refugees, while doing nothing about the crisis.
Italy’s government is proposing fining rescuers €5,500 (£4,800) for every saved refugee they disembark on its soil.
“In the Mediterranean, there are no rescue boats – the only access to life these people have has been taken away.
“But NGOs are not the solution to this. While governments in Europe do not put in adequate solutions to solve this crisis, the situation will worsen.”
“I want to create a world where our empathy with others is one of our most treasured values.
“It’s not fair that because of arbitrary reasons, such as your place of birth, people have to suffer such injustices and do not have the opportunity to live fulfilling lives.
“I’m conscious that what I’m saying might sound utopian, but I believe that it is our responsibility to give our hand to people who need it the most.
“The refugee crisis is one of the great injustices of our time.”
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack paid tribute to Mr Roldan.
He said: “Why would people risk their lives, and risk their lives of their families, to get in a boat to find refuge in Europe? Clearly, because they are fleeing something worse than the sea.
“In the middle of this debate we are facing today, we are facing a politics that seeks to blame refugees and migrants for the problems that we face.
“These sentiments are opposed to our traditions. We are internationalists, we stand for humanity. Miguel’s work is the noblest work that can be done in those circumstances.
“We want to send a very clear message that firefighters from across the UK stand with you in solidarity.”
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