Guilty of Solidarity: the Iuventa Case

If it's a crime to rescue people from distress, then I plead guilty. Guilty of solidarity.


In just one week in April 2015, two major shipwrecks claimed more than 1,200 lives in the central Mediterranean, exposing the lethal consequences of European leaders’ decision to end Italy’s life-saving search and rescue operation in October 2014. In an attempt to fill this catastrophic gap, a few NGO ships took to the waters, near Libya. The Iuventa joined them in 2016. Since settling sail, the ship has saved more than 14,000 people from drowning.

But Italian authorities seized the ship in 2017 and opened investigations into ten of the crew members. They were charged with facilitating immigration to Italy from Libya – effectively colluding with smugglers. They were doing no such thing; they were just saving lives.

In January 2021 charges were dropped against six crew members, but four others still face up to 20 years in prison – including Sascha and Dariush. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated case. Across Europe, people and NGOs have been threatened, harassed and dragged through the courts simply for helping refugees and migrants in need – at sea and on land.

The Iuventa isn’t just a rescue ship. It’s a symbol of opposition to European policies which have turned the Mediterranean into one of the deadliest borders in the world. It’s also a symbol of solidarity – and humanity – towards people fleeing war, persecution and poverty.

People are drowning. Why is nobody talking about this daily nightmare at sea? Why is it more important that people don’t reach Europe, than if they survive?


We all know that solidarity isn’t a crime. But what exactly is it? When I asked the crew members what solidarity means to them, it struck me that there is no one definition.

Dariush on the Iuventa rescue ship. - © Selene Magnolia
Dariush on the Iuventa rescue ship. – © Selene Magnolia

Dariush says, “solidarity means I stand with people. It’s not important if I know them or if I have exactly the same political views.” He added that “solidarity is the feeling of not being alone”.

For Sascha, there’s a political dimension that can’t be ignored. He stands in solidarity with people on the move because he can, and because the authorities don’t.

Solidarity is standing together. We’re not giving them a voice – they already have a voice. They’re screaming. No-one is listening.

Sascha on the Iuventa rescue ship. - © Iuventa Crew
Sascha on the Iuventa rescue ship. – © Iuventa Crew

Solidarity extends beyond borders, beyond regions – beyond differences. It’s a way for us to imagine – and call for – the future we want to see. In her 2020 book ‘Feminism, Interrupted’ Lola Olufemi describes solidarity as ‘a doing word’. And that’s the common thread running through all the definitions I heard. Whatever solidarity means to you, it’s the ‘doing’ that’s important.

You can do it by standing with the Iuventa crew and demanding the case is dismissed. By doing so, you will show solidarity with all those who seek safety in Europe. Those who make it, and those who don’t. As Sascha told me:

“It’s never been about us. It’s about the people who make those journeys – and it still is.”

Follow @IuventaCrew on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Amnesty International will also share updates on the case.