Eritrean Catholic priest, Father Mussie Zerai, has accused Italy and Libya of co-ordinating their efforts to target anyone helping migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean.
“It is clear…the target is to reduce the rescue programme and to organise some kind of deportation of the refugees or migrants who try to reach Europe across the Mediterranean sea.”
Father Mussie was responding to papers served on him on Tuesday by an Italian prosecutor.
“No-one cares about the people in Libyan in the detention centres; about the rights of these people, how they are suffering torture, sexual abuse, even malnutrition and health problems in the detention centres. No-one cares about this. The only target is how to close the door. Not how to protect these most vulnerable people,” said Father Mussie in a phone interview.
The Italian prosecutor informed Father Mussie that he had been under investigation since 2016 for his work with refugees.
Father Mussie says he has received distress calls since 2003, and that he has helped thousands since this work began. “The prosecutor wants to know if I support illegal immigration. But what I do is when I receive a distress call, I inform the coastguard. I don’t do anything illegal. I don’t have any contact with traffickers or smugglers.”
He believes that the action against him is part of a wider campaign by right wing parties, in Italy and across Europe, supported by conservative sections of the media.
“I am not shocked,” says the Catholic priest. “There has a big campaign against the NGO’s and anyone who is involved in solidarity with refugees and migrants. This kind of attack is now normal. It is not a big surprise; they are trying to criminalise solidarity.”