A German captain who rescued thousands of migrants at sea turned down a medal of bravery in protest of Europe’s strict anti-migrant laws

Protesters marching in support of migrants' rights on July 6 in Berlin.

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Protesters marching in support of migrants’ rights on July 6 in Berlin.
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Sean Gallup/Getty Images

  • Pia Kemp, a German boat captain and migrant-rights worker, says she is turning down a medal of bravery for her actions at sea because the medal represents the hypocrisy of how countries treat migrant issues.
  • Kemp is preparing to stand trial in Italy for rescuing more than 1,000 migrants from unsafe conditions at sea, an action Italy considers to be assisting illegal immigration. She reportedly faces 20 years in prison if convicted.
  • In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Kemp said she was offered the Grand Vermeil Medal, a medal of bravery awarded by the city of Paris, but turned down the honor because while the city praised her actions, it was also contributing to conditions that made her work challenging.
  • Italy has some of the strictest migrant laws in Europe and has been cracking down on migrant ships under hardline its interior minister, Matteo Salvini.

The captain of a ship that rescued thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean Sea says she has turned down a medal for her actions, saying the award represents hypocrisy in the way countries treat migrant issues.

Pia Kemp, a 35-year-old German biologist and boat captain, is preparing to stand trial in Italy for rescuing more than 1,000 migrants from unsafe conditions at sea, an action Italy considers to be assisting illegal immigration.

She, along with nine other crew members aboard her ship, the Iuventa, faces 20 years if convicted, according to a Change.org petition set up by a nurse who worked alongside Kemp.

The petition, addressed to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, had garnered more than 390,000 signatures as of Thursday.

Kemp has worked with the nonprofit group Sea-Watch, which conducts search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea. Her ship was confiscated in 2017, and Kemp was prohibited from sailing around the Italian coast.

Read more: Italy’s Salvini tells ship with 107 migrants to go to Spain

A boat loaded with migrants on June 21, 2005, in Lampedusa, Italy.

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A boat loaded with migrants on June 21, 2005, in Lampedusa, Italy.
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Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Kemp said she was offered the Grand Vermeil Medal, a medal of bravery awarded by the city of Paris. She told Mayor Anne Hidalgo she was declining the honor because while the city praised her actions, it was also contributing to conditions that made her work challenging.

“Madame Hidalgo, you want to award me a medal for my solidarian action in the Mediterranean Sea, because our crews ‘work to rescue migrants from difficult conditions on a daily basis,'” she wrote. “At the same time, your police is stealing blankets from people that you force to live on the streets, while you raid protests and criminalize people that are standing up for rights of migrants and asylum seekers.

“You want to give me a medal for actions that you fight in your own ramparts.”

She called out the medal and what she described as other “hypocrite honorings” and called for a revolution.

“We do not need medals,” she wrote. “We do not need authorities deciding about who is a ‘hero’ and who is ‘illegal.'”

The Iuventa is believed to have rescued at least 14,000 people, according to NPR.

Refugees and migrants seen swimming and yelling for assistance after a wooden boat bound for Italy carrying more than 500 people capsized on May 24, 2017, off Lampedusa, Italy.

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Refugees and migrants seen swimming and yelling for assistance after a wooden boat bound for Italy carrying more than 500 people capsized on May 24, 2017, off Lampedusa, Italy.
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Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Salvini has been criticized for his tough migration policies and his clampdown on migrant ships. Last year, Salvini closed Italy’s ports to nongovernmental vessels, which he has previously accused of trafficking migrants. And last month, he shut down one of the largest migrant centers in Europe, which at one point housed more than 4,000 people.

Italy’s outgoing prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has previously said Salvini is “obsessed” with closing down Italy’s ports to migrants, an assertion Salvini has said he is “proud” of.

Earlier this month, the Italian government collapsed after 14 months of infighting. The country recently faced criticism over a standoff with a humanitarian vessel that had been stranded at sea for weeks after being refused port access in Italy. The ship was seized Tuesday, and all migrants on board were ordered to disembark.