Miguel Roldán, a Spanish fireman, got a call late at night June 2017, that a refugee boat was sinking. His team set out to find the drowning refugees. They drove their boat a short way and cut the engine to hear and follow the screams.
The team found the migrants within 10 minutes, but Rome’s Search and Rescue Control Center denied them permission to rescue the dying refugees. They were told they were in Libyan waters and would have to negotiate with the North African country.
They were granted permission to carry out a rescue operation 15 minutes later, but they could only save half of the people drowning. The short crossing the refugees took can be safely made on a ferry for €10, but costs refugees around €1,000 to pay to smugglers.
Now these men, who wanted to stop more people from drowning, are being accused by Italian authorities of aiding human traffickers after helping to save thousands of people’s lives and preventing them from drowning at sea. Roldán’s act of heroism that day, as well as his help on other rescue missions in the summer of 2017, could put him behind bars for 20 years for aiding illegal immigration.
“It’s unbelievable. We respect the rules so much that we’ve watched people die because of bureaucracy,” says Roldán.
According to the International Organization for Migration, 3,116 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2017, with the majority drowning on the route where Roldán was working as a volunteer.