Priest who saves migrants’ lives when he calls Malta RCC is hauled to Trapani court

Eritrean humanitarian Fr Moussa Zerai is being charged with aiding illegal immigration by a Sicilian prosecutor targeting a migrant rescue NGO

Fr Moses (Moussa) Zerai outside the Vatican
Fr Moses (Moussa) Zerai outside the Vatican

A human rights activist responsible for saving the lives of thousands at sea when he calls Malta’s and Italy’s coast guard with the coordinates to locate boat migrants, is now being investigated by a prosecutor in the Sicilian town of Trapani for “illegally sending information about boats and landings to NGO rescue ships.”

Eritrean priest Fr Moussa Zerai, formerly a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, was charged with facilitating “clandestine immigration” by the Trapani public prosecutor.

The charge against Zerai is linked to an investigation opened by the Trapani prosecutor against German NGO Jugend Rettet, which is accused of illegal immigration through its Iuventa rescue ship. The Iuventa has rescued 14,000 migrants so far in the Mediterranean.

READ MORE The African shepherd | Moses Zerai

Zerai’s NGO Habeshia is regularly called by asylum seekers and refugees attempting the treacherous crossing in the Mediterranean, to relay the coordinates at sea to the Italian and Maltese rescue coordination centres.

In a statement, Zerai said he had nothing to hide and was convinced he had always acted in full legality.

“Apart from the Trapani initiative... I have not been called to any other venue to justify or in any way respond to my work in favour of refugees and migrants.”

Zerai sends SOS signals to ships, having sent relief reports to UNHCR, Médècins Sans Frontiers, Sea Watch, MOAS, and Watch the Med.

“Every time I informed the Italian Coast Guard operational centre and the Maltese command. However, I have never had direct contact with the Jugend Rettet ship involved in the Trapani investigation, nor have I ever been part of the alleged ‘secret chat’ of which some newspapers have alluded to: my communications have always been forwarded through a normal cell phone.

“All the reports are the result of requests for assistance that I have been directed not from boats leaving Libya, or at the time of sailing, but from offshore vessels off the coast of Africa, outside Libyan territorial waters.”

Nearly 5,000 Eritreans have arrived in Europe in boat passages, with a more than 117,000 sea arrivals landing in Italy or Greece in 2017. “My goal is to save lives,” Zerai told newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. 

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