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When discussing about the events of last week, there is a general consensus over the fact that yet another tragedy has unfolded at Lampedusa. However, in Italy, and to an extent in Europe itself, a point of contention looms over the cause of this tragedy. Do we blame the conflict-ridden Libya, from whose shores unwanted migrants set sail for the promise of Europe? How do we deter the smugglers?

Why do unwanted migrants want to come to Europe? Why can't they enter 'legally'? How can we stop them? A boat with at least a hundred unauthorised migrants 'illegal' is perhaps a politically reductionist term , sailing towards Italy from the Libyan coast, requested help from the Italian authorities. Extreme weather was affecting the Sicilian channel, endangering the already desperate voyage.

Due to waves of metres and the harsh nautical winds, the open-deck patrol boats sent by Lampedusa had to cover miles at a very slow pace. After the eighteen hours required for completing the rescue operation, the number of victims jumped from seven to twenty-nine. The cause was hypothermia, which struck twenty-two lives aboard the patrol boats. Some of the survivors have signalled the presence of other two boats, with more than two hundred people aboard, currently dispersed. According to the last data from Save the Children , four boats left Libya on the 7th of February, each with roughly a hundred people on board.

The message is clear — Italy is being forced to expropriate the crimes of exploitative smugglers on another continent.

These smugglers, who are paid before the boats set sail, show no concern for the safety of their 'clients' once the transaction is complete. They often charge extra for the provision of a life jacket. So, the suspicion that is raised is thus: do we neutralise smugglers by cutting demand? And if so, do we achieve this by abandoning migrants to what Shakespeare would have called 'the elements'?

In other words: are we tempted to disown these migrants, so others think twice about jumping on an inflated boat towards the Sicilian coasts? But we would later discover that not everyone on board was so singularly focused on saving lives. Some working on board as crew members had a secret agenda — one that would ultimately help bring a halt to future rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

We had no idea at the time that one of the ship hands was, in fact, an undercover agent working for the Italian authorities. He was there to collect information on rescue workers and their activities out at sea, and to prove — as prosecutors alleged at the time — that charities were secretly colluding with criminal smugglers to bring migrants into Italy. It was just one part of a large-scale surveillance operation aimed at disrupting rescue missions that, in the eyes of certain Italian officials, had been overloading Europe with migrants and refugees.

This plot set Italy on a war-footing with charities operating in the Mediterranean. This is a story of lies and spies at sea — about how panic over immigration overtook concern for people fleeing violence and extreme poverty, and how Europe failed one of its biggest humanitarian tests in a generation. T he May 23 rescue had not been an easy one. Good weather and calm waters had meant more boats than usual were launched from the coast of Libya.

Dozens of them, each filled with desperate migrants, cast off that day. This task is in itself a complicated undertaking. But they also had to deal with heavily armed Libyan coastguard ships circling the rescue boats and hampering their efforts. Gun-toting men on the Libyan vessels fired shots towards the dinghies, terrifying migrants into throwing themselves into the water.

They tried to intimidate the charity ships by aiming a large mounted gun in their direction. The chaotic scene in the sea that day was a fitting metaphor for the crisis in the Mediterranean: an armada of ships and boats working to different ends while migrants faced peril in the water.

Mare Nostrum () - IMDb

This was also the first rescue for Luca Bracco, an Italian undercover agent posing as a security guard on the Vos Hestia. All together, there were three teams working together on the Vos Hestia. The Save the Children crew consisted of aid workers from Britain, Italy, Ireland and Spain — some with decades of experience in the aid sector.

Bracco came onto the ship just days before at a port in Malta. This was unusual but not unwelcome. They needed all the help they could get. He had spent six years as an officer in the Italian navy — in the coast guard. When he retired, he took a job as a private anti-piracy security guard for cargo ships operating in the Indian Ocean.

MARE NOSTRUM day

Most of his security team had experience in the police force. He was an athletic looking man with a shaved head. I had met both of them in passing, during meal times or in quiet moments during evenings on the ship. But the Save the Children rescuers had a much tighter relationship with the men. The nature of the environment they faced out at sea forged a tight bond. They faced these grueling rescues together. Often, they lifted dead bodies from the sea. To the charity workers, both Ricci and Bracco seemed professional and dedicated.

There was nothing to suggest that they had ulterior motives — almost nothing. One incident stood out.

Ricci had told Save the Children that Bracco, their new team member, had just come from the Italian fire brigade. I felt a bit stupid but it was something that stayed in my mind. It was a cover story — one he had apparently forgotten. He was, in fact, an undercover agent.

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The sea does not wash the shores of Italy

He would not have been there at all if it not for Ricci and his security team. By the time Bracco boarded, they had already been feeding information back to the Italian police for some time. Bracco was sent out to embed with the team and corroborate what they had reported — and to find out if any of the rescue workers were violating the law. Migrant fatigue was growing among politicians and the populace at large.

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Anti-immigrant politicians stoked fears of rising immigration. The focus in the media turned to the rescuers bringing the migrants to Italy. Prosecutors began investigations into their work. The Save the Children rescuers were aware of the simmering anger back in Italy — they had felt the brunt of it whenever the stepped off the ship.

But they had no idea that it had followed them to sea. Bracco and Ricci were in all the newspapers. In Italy, this was front-page news. This bombshell report soon found its way to the Vos Hestia , which was then at sea. It felt like a huge betrayal. It was bewildering to them, crew members said, that both Ricci and Bracco had been able to carry out their undercover operation while pulling men, women and kids from the sea. On separate occasions, both of them had been so overwhelmed following rescues that they had broken down crying.


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These men knew the value of these missions, and yet they were undermining them. The contradiction was confusing to them. It was also the sheer scale of the plot. Such complex undercover operations were common for catching mafioso.

Villa Mare Nostrum

But aid workers? To me, it makes no sense compared to the damage that he has done. The first charity-run rescue boat arrived in the Mediterranean in , a year in which more than 3, refugees had died while trying to cross the sea. They cancelled Mare Nostrum. But the migrants kept coming. In fact, their numbers increased — and people continued to die at sea. In April , more than died in a single shipwreck near the Italian island of Lampedusa.

It cost human lives. Charities arrived in the Mediterranean to do the work governments would not. They came in a wave from late to early And they were largely welcomed by an Italian public shocked at deadly shipwrecks. By the end of , there were nine rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean.