borderline-europe: The Case of Cap Anamur

This SAR story is at the same time the founding story of borderline-europe – Human rights without borders e.V.. In 2004, the German rescue ship ‘Cap Anamur’ had rescued 37 men in distress at sea. The commander of the ship, Stefan Schmidt, and the organization’s chairman, Elias Bierdel, were consequently accused of aiding and abetting irregular entry. They were on trial in Italy for five years before eventually being acquitted in October 2009.

It became apparent that there was an urgent need for action as well as transparent information about political developments along Europe´s external borders. Together with the prominent defendants, Judith Gleitze, Harald Glöde and activists from Berlin and Brandenburg laid the foundation for borderline-europe with the objective to draw public attention to the violation of human rights by the increasingly restrictive European border and migration policies.[1]

What had happened at sea?

On 20 June 2004, the crew of the vessel Cap Anamur apprehended a rubber boat in distress 100 nautical miles south of the coast of Lampedusa and 180 nautical miles away from Malta. The boat was carrying 37 people who were trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. The crew rescued the men by taking them aboard of the Cap Anamur. On 1 July, the captain Stefan Schmidt received permission to enter the harbour of Empedocles, Sicily. However, the Italian authorities denied them entry for unknown reasons right before entrance. Neither the Italian, nor the Maltese authorities felt responsible for letting the vessel enter their harbour.

The refusal of entry reached public attention, resulting in solidarity actions. On 11 July, 37 applications for asylum were handed over to the Italian Council for Refugees. At this time, the vessel had already been stuck at sea for eleven days and the atmosphere on the boat became tense; one person tried to jump off the boat, two others were in need of medical treatment. Thus, Stefan Schmidt declared a state of emergency and called on the Italian authorities to permit entry into the harbour. Finally, on 12 July, entry was permitted. After arrival, Stefan Schmidt, Elias Bierdel, and the vessel’s first officer Vladimir Daschkewitch were arrested for “facilitation of unauthorised entry”. After many protests by solidarity groups, activists, and NGOs, the crew members were released on 16 July. However, criminal proceedings against them continued.

Twenty-two of the asylum applicants were brought into custody prior to deportation in Caltanissetta. The fifteen others were brought to detention centres in other parts of Italy.

Eventually, each and every one of them was deported.


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