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NGOs push for decriminalisation of rescuing migrants

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NGOs push for decriminalisation of rescuing migrants
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ProActiva Open Arms, a Spanish NGO that rescues migrants in the Mediterranean, brought one of their rescue boats to Strasbourg and demanded an end to the criminalisation of NGOs saving lives.

Teresa, the name of the rescue boat they brought to Strasbourg, was used off the Libyan coast to approach the rubber vessels which were carrying migrants.

Rescue worker Annabel Montes said their actions are risky, but it's mainly due to a hostile political environment.

"Europe wants to stop us; they don't care how," she said. "They just want to stop organisations (NGOs) with legal accusation, with possible jail sentences, with enormous fines that we can not imagine. So it's risky."

The crew took Teresa from Strasbourg's city centre to the European Parliament building where they met with MEPs. Spanish MEP Miguel Urbán was one of those individuals.

"The question is how to separate the debate of the criminalisation of NGOs in the Parliament," Urbán said. "We believe we have to say loud and clear that saving lives is not a crime."

The recent release of Sea-Watch Captain Carola Rackete has been hailed as a legal success for NGO rescues.

But leaders of the European Parliament's far-right Identity and Democracy group are saying if judges try to legalise disembarkation of migrants, they will change the laws.

"If it will be necessary, we will change these rules in order to guarantee that the protection of our border is not delegated to private institutions but it's guaranteed by the public authority, by Italy, and on a certain level, by the EU. This is our approach," said Italian MEP Marco Zatti.

Despite being regarded as criminals by some and heroes by others, NGOs are promising to continue rescues at sea.