In prison for two years for human trafficking: In fact, they were just migrants in search of a better life

Article first published on April 13, 2022 – The Court of appeals of Palermo has absolved fourteen migrants who had arrived at Sicilian coasts driving seven rubber boats with people from Africa in 2016. The Italian recreational and cultural association (ARCI*) states: “In the past ten years, 2.500 people were wrongfully arrested.”

They were no human traffickers; they were migrants forced by the real human traffickers to drive rubber boats loaded with human lives on the Libyan coasts in North Africa. In this way an odyssey in the Mediterranean Sea ends for 14 migrants who had arrived at the Sicilian coasts from Gambia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, and Sierra Leone in 2016. On May 23 of that year, they were arrested by the police with the accusation of being human traffickers, immediately after the testimonies that indicated them as the boat drivers.

The Court of appeals of Palermo has absolved Ebrina Fofana, Fall Ibrahima, Mamadi Jarju, Mahamadou Balde, Emanuel Niikwi, Bilson Kofi, Mouhamed Fall, Mustefa Sarr, Alex Janga, Jegan Jobe, Mohamed Akim Karam, Mohamed Fall, Draman Bah and Ngala Tun: “A sentence that fully confirms our assumption; indeed, they were no traffickers but desperate persons, compelled by force and threatened to drive the boats”, says the lawyer that followed the appeal in second degree, Matteo La Barbera.

Strong evidence for the real situation of these migrants from the day following their landing was the testimony of the vice police commissioner Carmine Mosca during the trial: “The famous human traffickers, the heads of the criminal African organization, are aware that when they arrive in Italy they will often be arrested. The traffickers therefore recently learned a different method, they ran for cover: essentially, they make them depart, they take care that the rubber boats are arranged, that the migrants arrive at the Libyan coasts, they detain them in the “seif house”, or mesdre in Arabic, even for weeks or months: They take advantage of them in all possible ways, be it physically or economically.

After that at night, when the sea and the marine weather conditions allow it, they make them depart from the coast, they make them leave and embark on the boats that might be rubber boats and offhandedly pick some migrants to drive the boat. They conduct them until they reach international waters, because obviously there is a strong complicity with every Libyan authority, and then they leave them to their destiny”. However, for the judges the fourteen arrested migrants acted like that because they were forced out of necessity to do so. Liberated in 2018, they now also received their acquittal in appeal.

Sara Traylor from Arci Porco Rosso comments that she followed the event since the beginning: “This sentence represents a great victory. Firstly, for our friends, who finally can go on with their lives without fearing that they have to spend the next ten years in prison. It is also a step ahead in a larger battle. From 2013 on, more than 2,500 migrants have been criminalized just for driving a boat that managed to arrive in Europe. We have to recognize that the violence at the borders is nothing else but the product of Europe’s own politics of confinement and that the so-called traffickers are used as scapegoats to create a false and incomplete narration with severe consequences.”


Antonio Fraschilla


*ARCI: Associazione ricreativa e culturale italiana – Italian recreational and cultural association


Translated from Italian by Sarah Spasiano