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ONE of the captains of the German migrant rescue NGO Sea Watch has turned down the Medal of the City of Paris following a dramatic 24 hours for the civil fleet.
Pia Klemp, 36, captained the Iuventa for the German charity Youth Rescue before working with Sea Watch in 2017.
Between August 2016 and August 2017 the Iuventa crew rescued over 14,000 migrants from a watery grave off the coast of Libya.
On August 2 2017 the Italian authorities “pre-emptively” seized the ship while it was docked in Lampedusa and, without providing any evidence, accused the crew of aiding human trafficking.
In April 2018 the forensic oceanography and forensic architecture institutes at Goldsmiths University published their analysis of the Italian authorities’ account and found the crew “did not return empty boats to smugglers … or communicate with anyone potentially connected with smuggling networks.”
Ms Klemp and nine of her crewmates, known as the Iuventa 10, could face up to 20 years in jail if found guilty of people smuggling.
In July Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo offered Ms Klemp and fellow Sea Watch captain Carola Rackete the prestigious Medal of the City of Paris. The council said the award symbolised “solidarity for the respect of human lives.”
But Ms Klemp refused to accept the medal today, citing the city’s treatment of refugees.
“Paris, I love you,” Ms Klemp said. “I love you for all the freedom and solidarity that lives in you.
“Madame Hidalgo, you want to award me a medal for my solidarity action in the Mediterranean Sea…
“At the same time your police are stealing blankets from people that you force to live on the streets, while you raid protests and criminalise people that are standing up for the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers.
“You want to give me a medal for actions that you fight in your own ramparts. I am sure you won’t be surprised that I decline the Medaille Grand Vermeil.
“We do not need medals. We do not need authorities deciding about who is a ‘hero’ and who is ‘illegal.’ In fact there is no-one in this position to make this call because we are all equal.
“What we need are freedom and rights. It is time we call out hypocritical honours and fill the void with social justice.
“It is time we cast all medals into the spearheads of revolution.”
A spokesperson for Sea Watch told the Star that the charity understands and supports Ms Klemp’s decision.
“We are grateful and acknowledge the signal of solidarity that the Paris City Council wanted to set with this award and acknowledge Madame Hidalgo’s efforts that she is undertaking in this direction.
“We acknowledge and approve the signal of solidarity that Pia sets with her letter of refusal.
“We ask every European, every village, town, and city to not elevate sea rescue activists or other alleged ‘heroes’ but to step up and do what Pia and all our crew is constantly doing: make use of your power and change what’s in your vicinity to create a better, a more open and a more just Europe of solidarity.”
Meanwhile the Open Arms migrant rescue ship finally disembarked in Lampedusa yesterday evening after an Italian court ordered the ship’s temporary seizure, ending a 19-day standoff.
Along with a video of the 83 migrants and crew celebrating, the Open Arms said on Twitter: “And finally, after 19 captive days on the deck of a ship, all people on board will set foot on the mainland.”
Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterreanee’s ship Ocean Viking remains at sea with 356 rescued migrants on board and nowhere to port.
For updates on the Iuventa 10 or to donate to their legal fight, visit their website: iuventa10.org/en.
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