Italian Prosecutor: I Can’t Prove Migrant Rescuers Are Colluding With Traffickers

An Italian prosecutor who has alleged nongovernmental rescue ships in the Mediterranean are colluding with migrant traffickers was forced Thursday to admit he had no evidence to prove his claims. Carmelo Zuccaro, chief prosecutor in the Catania region, told a parliamentary inquiry that he had no proof NGOs were doing anything wrong. Zuccaro made claims that some of the newer groups rescuing migrants have murky finances and suspected some funds came from traffickers in Libya. He also claimed NGOs were in contact with traffickers, essentially acting as a taxi service for illegal immigration. When pressed, he admitted “no evidence has yet been found. The profiles of some NGO crew members are not exactly philanthropic.” The groups deny wrongdoing and say they are filling a vacuum created by the lack of European Union strategy to handle people escaping war and poverty. Nine NGOs account for about a third of the rescues at sea, with the Italian coast guard, merchant ships, and the EU’s Frontex border guards picking up the rest. So far this year, more than 1,000 refugees and migrants are known to have died making the crossing to Italy and Greece. The arrival numbers are up by a third over last year at this time. In 2016, 362,376 people made it and more than 5,000 died trying.