WorldFemale German boat captain, 35, faces up to 20 years in prison in Italy for RESCUING more than 1,000 migrants in the Mediterranean
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A German boat captain could face 20 years in prison for allegedly working with smugglers to traffic migrants across the Mediterranean to Italy.
Pia Klemp faces trial in Italy for assisting illegal immigration after her boat was impounded in 2017.
Supporters of the 35-year-old from Bonn hail her as a humanitarian who has been personally responsible for hundreds of rescue missions.
But Italian authorities allege that she colluded with smugglers to collect migrants at Mediterranean rendezvous points and stage rescues at sea.
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Pictures taken by undercover officers allegedly show human traffickers 'escorting' vessels packed with asylum seekers before they are transferred to aid boats.
Italy, under the influence of far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini, has also moved to ban Klemp from sailing around their coasts all together.
Klemp has been under investigation since her vessel, the Iuventa, was impounded in the summer of 2017.
Speaking to Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung she said she could face 20 years in prison and 'horrendous' fines.
But she insisted she was ready to fight her prosecution all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.
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She also has the backing of 80,000 people who have signed a petition urging Italy to drop the charges.
The author of the petition said that charging Klemp and fellow members of private rescue ships would signal the 'unconditional surrender of humanity in Europe.'
She told the paper that although she may face legal travails, the worst thing about the episode is that the money she will use in her defence - partly raised through donations - could have been used on rescue missions.
'But the worst has already come to pass,' she said. 'Sea rescue missions have been criminalized.'
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Salvini, Italy's deputy prime minister, has spearheaded a migration crackdown since the country's populist government came to power in 2018.
The hardline minister has repeatedly refused entry to Mediterranean migrants and turned away rescue ships operated by foreign NGOS.
In a series of colourful statements he has declared that migrants would only see Italy 'on a postcard' or 'through a telescope'.
Klemp is critical of him but said some of the blame lies with the European Union for failing 'to remember its avowed values: human rights, the right to life, to apply for asylum, and the duty of seafarers to rescue those in danger at sea.'
German charity Jugend Rettet is also accused of towing boats used to ferry migrants back towards Libya, where most migrants hoping to reach Europe depart, to be reused by smugglers.
Details about the alleged collusion were contained in documents outlining the case prepared by prosecutors in Sicily following months of accusations about charities co-operating with smugglers.
However, the investigation concluded that there was no evidence that charity members received any money from the traffickers.
Ambrogio Cartosio, the chief prosecutor from the Sicilian city of Trapani who was behind the investigation, said that the motivation of the aid vessels was 'humanitarian'.
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