Protesters march in support of migrants' rights on July 06, 2019 in Berlin, Germany.
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 which Italy considers to be assisting illegal immigration. She reportedly faces 20 years in prison if convicted.
  • In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Kemp said that she was offered the Grand Vermeil Medal, a medal of bravery awarded by the city of Paris, but turned down the honour because while the city praises her actions, they are also contributing to conditions which make her work challenging.
  • Italy has some of the strictest migrant laws in Europe and has been cracking down on migrant ships under hardline Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The captain of a ship that rescued thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean Sea has turned down a medal of honour because the medal, she says, represents the hypocrisy of how 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 which Italy considers to be assisting illegal immigration.

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

The petition, addressed to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, has garnered over 390,000 signatures as of Thursday.

Kemp has worked with the non-profit 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.

A boat loaded with illegal immigrant is seen on June 21, 2005 in Lampedusa, Italy.
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Kemp says she was offered the Grand Vermeil Medal, a medal of bravery awarded by the city of Paris. Addressing Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, she says she is declining the honour because while the city praises her actions, they are also contributing to conditions that make 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'. At the same time, your police is stealing blankets from people that you force to live on the streets, while you raid protests and criminalise people that are standing up for rights of migrants and asylum seekers," she wrote.

"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 honourings" and called for a revolution.

"We do not need medals. We do not need authorities deciding about who is a 'hero' and who is 'illegal'," she wrote.

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

Refugees and migrants are seen swimming and yelling for assistance from crew members from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) 'Phoenix' vessel after a wooden boat bound for Italy carrying more than 500 people capsized on May 24, 2017 off Lampedusa, Italy.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Salvini has been criticised for his tough migration policies and his clampdown on migrant ships. Last year, Salvini closed Italy's ports to NGO 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 over 4,000 people.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte has previously said Salvini is "obsessed" with closing down Italy's ports to migrants, an assertion that Salvini has said he was "proud" of.

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

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