Over €1m raised for migrant rescue ship captain arrested in Italy

Germany and France criticise Italian government over detention of Carola Rackete

Two online campaigns to help the German captain of a rescue ship who is under house arrest in Italy have between them raised more than €1 million.

Carola Rackete's arrest on Saturday, after she forced her vessel into port in Lampedusa carrying migrants and refugees she had rescued off Libya, prompted a fundraising appeal by two prominent German TV stars that by Tuesday morning had raised €917,195 from more than 33,000 donors.

A second campaign, started by an Italian anti-fascist group on Facebook, had raised a further €433,993 by Tuesday, well over the page's stated goal of €349,000, bringing the total raised in support of Ms Rackete to more than €1.3 million.

"The wave of solidarity is wonderful," Ruben Neugebauer, a spokesman for Ms Rackete's migrant rescue NGO Sea-Watch, told Spiegel Online. "We certainly also need the money."

The funds will go towards paying Ms Rackete’s legal fees if charges are brought against her. Otherwise, Mr Neugebauer said, the NGO would need about €1 million to buy and equip a new ship if Ms Rackete’s vessel, Sea-Watch-3, remained out of action.

The German and French governments have ramped up their criticism of Italy over its handling of the case. France accused Italy on Tuesday of acting hysterically over immigration and failing to live up to its duties.

"I think that basically the Italian government has not been up to the task," a government spokeswoman, Sibeth Ndiaye, told France's BFM-TV. "Mr Matteo Salvini's behaviour has not been acceptable as far as I am concerned. This is a painful subject, a complex subject which the EU and France have previously been in solidarity with Italy over."

Mr Salvini, who heads the far-right League party, part of Italy’s ruling coalition, responded: “My behaviour regarding immigration is unacceptable? The French government should stop with these insults and open its ports.”

Public pushback

German politicians have also criticised Italy’s treatment of Ms Rackete, in the first signs of a public pushback against Italy’s criminalisation of migrant rescue vessels in the Mediterranean.

“Italy isn’t any old nation,” said Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in an unusually candid interview with the broadcaster ZDF aired on Sunday evening. “Italy is in the middle of the European Union, a founding state of the European Union. And therefore we should be able to expect a nation such as Italy to deal with a case like this in a different way.”

The foreign minister, Heiko Maas, went a step further, demanding that the Italian authorities set Ms Rackete free. "From our perspective, only the release of Carola Rackete can come at the end of a procedure based on the rule of law," Mr Maas tweeted on Monday. "I will make that clear to Italy once again."

Germany has said it will keep up diplomatic pressure on Italy over the case. – Guardian