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‘Migrant-rescuing’ firefighter’s ‘vortex of worry’ over human trafficking probe

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Spaniard Miguel Roldán is being investigated in italy for human trafficking
Spaniard Miguel Roldán is being investigated in italy for human trafficking
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A firefighter who says he tried to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean has told Euronews of his "overwhelming vortex of worry" after being probed over human trafficking.

Miguel Roldán, from Seville, Spain, claims he went on a lifesaving mission to Malta in 2017 with German NGO Jugend Rette.

But he received a notification from an Italian court last June telling him he was being investigated for cooperation with human trafficking.

Now, as he waits for the probe to progress, Roldán has spoken to Euronews about the worry of wondering what he and his 10 colleagues did that was illegal.

"We entered the high seas in front of Libyan waters, never entering Libyan waters, always in international waters that in this case was Italian jurisprudence, with the prior consent of the MRCC of Rome (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres)," he says. "If they said no to an operation, it was automatically cancelled."

Roland says this protocol led to tragic situations.

"We have seen people die in front of us because of this call we had to make to Rome," he told Euronews.

"We were a rescue ship and the people we picked up were left to the big ships that were taking them to port," he says and testifies that during his mission they rescued and supported some 5,000 people.

German NGO 'bankrupt'

The Iuventa, the German NGO's boat, was confiscated by the Italian authorities, under the accusation of cooperating in the illegal trafficking of people.

Since then it has remained anchored in the port of Trapani, on the Italian island of Sicily. This situation has left the German NGO in a difficult financial situation, says Roldán.

"The organisation is a little overwhelmed, it is bankrupt and cannot bear the cost of this whole judicial process", explains the firefighter, who is the only Spaniard under investigation.

He says that collectively the lawyers and other costs related to the process amount to €150,000, so they have launched a parallel platform to raise funds. Roldán, for his part, is trying to spread his story in Spain to get support.

Is this the criminalisation of humanitarian aid?

The investigation is under secret investigation. Euronews has contacted the Trapani Public Prosecutor's Office, but they have said they have no news on the case yet.

One of their lawyers, Alessandro Gamberini, who also defends the Spanish NGO Open Arms, has told Euronews that the legal documents have not yet been submitted. He doesn't know who and how many of the ten will go to trial.

Roldán fears that he will face several years in prison and that his situation will discourage others from helping in the Mediterranean. Italian law punishes the crime of "facilitation of illegal immigration" with sentences of up to five years in prison and fines of €15,000 per person.

"I am aware that the solution is not NGOs there, I have it absolutely clear, I am aware that it is a patch, that has to go from the top, but as long as European governments do not come up with a solution, NGOs are very good there in the Mediterranean, they do a very good job, they save many lives."

He says in all his years as a firefighter, he has not seen a similar situation like the one he experienced during the mission off the Libyan coast.

"It's continuous death, a lack of control, a helpless people," he laments. "With time we will remember it and we will say: my mother, what a barbarity was experienced in the Mediterranean and how we looked the other way and nothing was done."

Roldán is not the first Spaniard to go through this type of trial: three Sevillian firefighters sat in the dock of a Greek court in May accused of illegal trafficking. Two of them are colleagues of Roldán's and advise him to be calm and be strong seeking support, he said.