Morocco drops human trafficking case against Spanish activist who helped save migrants crossing Mediterranean

‘This is a very difficult time for the human rights defenders,’ says Helena Maleno

Adam Forrest
Monday 11 March 2019 17:58 GMT
Helena Maleno
Helena Maleno (AFP/Getty Images)

Moroccan authorities have dropped a case against a Spanish activist investigated for alleged links to people traffickers despite her humanitarian work helping officials rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Helena Maleno informs both Spanish and Moroccan maritime services when migrants are in distress making the journey in flimsy boats as part of her role for NGO Walking Borders.

She is one of several human rights activists across Europe to have faced prosecution for attempting to help migrants and refugees in recent years.

In 2012, Spanish police investigated what they alleged were possible links between Ms Maleno and human trafficking gangs.

A Spanish court later dropped the case. Moroccan officials carried out a parallel investigation until it was closed on Monday, according to the campaigner.

Ms Maleno, who lives in Morocco, said: “I am content because justice has been done, in this country, my country. Today the nightmare which began in 2012 has finished.

“I have learned that this is a very difficult time for the human rights defenders, as we are being persecuted and criminalised,” she added in a video statement posted on Twitter.

“Europe has become a very dangerous continent for the people who defend the rights of migrants.”

Ms Maleno is not the only campaigner to have run into legal difficulties.

In 2016, Denmark’s High Court upheld a people smuggling conviction for a couple who illegally “assisted” family of Syrian refugees by giving them a lift and a cup of coffee.

Lisbeth Zornig Andersen and Mikael Lindholm were also fined 50,000 krone (£5,700) for driving the group from Rodby in southern Denmark to Copenhagen.

Lisbeth Zornig with the family of Syrian refugees she drove to Copenhagen (Lisbeth Zornig)

Cédric Herrou, a French farmer who helped migrants cross the border from Italy and offered them accommodation, was given a four-month suspended prison sentence in February 2017.

In August 2017, an unofficial rescue boat operated by the German NGO Jugend Rettet was seized by the Italian authorities. An Italian court rejected a request by the NGO to release the ship last year, after police said evidence showed it had been used for “activities facilitating illegal immigration”.

And last year two humanitarian volunteers from Denmark and three from Spain were acquitted of attempting to traffic asylum seekers by a court in Greece.

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The five men had worked with the Team Humanity and PROEM-AID groups assisting refugees on the island of Lesbos.

Ms Maleno said on Monday that the “fact that this case was dropped sets an example for us to continue our work”.

An estimated 2,275 people died crossing the Mediterranean in 2018 – an average of more than six a day – according to a UN report released in January.

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