Their crime was to help the wrong kind of human beings

Kenan Malik thinks maybe it shouldn’t be a crime to help people in emergency situations.

In Arizona on 11 June, a jury was unable to reach a verdict on Scott Daniel Warren, a college lecturer accused of conspiracy to transport and harbour migrants after providing them with food and shelter. He faced up to 20 years in jail. He may still do if there’s a retrial.

Meanwhile, in Sicily, Pia Klemp, the German captain of the boat Sea-Watch 3, was charged with assisting in illegal immigration after rescuing migrants in distress in the Mediterranean. She, too, faces up to 20 years in prison.

Warren and Klemp are the latest victims of a disturbing trend that has gone almost unnoticed: the threat by the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic to put on trial anyone who provides rescue or humanitarian help for migrants.

He found more examples at Open Democracy.

In both Europe and America, the authorities claim that aid for migrants acts as a “pull factor”, increasing the numbers willing to risk a dangerous journey. The idea that someone treks across the Sahara, through war-torn Libya and into a rubber dinghy to brave a sea that has become the graveyard for at least 30,000 others attempting that same journey, on the off-chance that they might meet a rescue ship, or sets off on an arduous march through Central America and faces the perils of a life-sapping desert because they are convinced they will find a jug of water at the end, stretches credulity. Many studies have, indeed, shown that rescue ships on the Mediterranean do not increase numbers of migrants, but abandoning rescue attempts increases the number of deaths.

Isn’t it enough to say no? Is it necessary to kill some by way of broadcasting the no?

It’s an approach that suggests that only certain kinds of people are deserving of humanitarian aid. Had Warren been helping Americans or Klemp rescuing Europeans, they would have been hailed as heroes. Their crime was to help the wrong kind of human beings – those wearing the wrong colour skin, believing in the wrong God, possessing the wrong passport or no passport at all.

That’s an obscene moral standard and one that would be unacceptable in any other context. Yet so successful has been the anti-migrant agenda of recent years that there is barely a discussion of such practices. It’s important to resist the criminalisation of solidarity, not just to defend migrants’ rights but also because it is corrosive of civil society and, in the words of the lawyer Frances Webber, helps outlaw “decency itself”.

We’ve seen that before. It doesn’t take us anywhere good.

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