Italy acquits activist who helped migrants cross French border

An Italian court on Thursday acquitted a humanitarian activist who had faced a possible prison term for trying to help a family of Sudanese migrants cross from Italy into France.

Italy acquits activist who helped migrants cross French border
Humanitarian volunteer Felix Croft. Photo: AFP

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of three years and four months and a 50,000-euro fine to be imposed on French national Felix Croft, 28, following his arrest in July last year near the border town of Ventimiglia.

The acquittal verdict was greeted by cheers from dozens of Croft's supporters who had attended Thursday's hearing at a court in nearby Imperia.

“We await the decision of the prosecutor, who could appeal, but today, for me, justice has been done,” Croft said after the verdict.

“The voice of reason has prevailed: helping people is moral and legal.”

Croft's prosecution was a first for Italy and rights groups had voiced concern about the prosecution's attempt to use legal provisions intended to sanction people-trafficking to secure an exemplary sentence.

Civil rights group Antigone said Thursday's ruling showed that, “In Italy, as in France, solidarity is not a crime.”

Croft, who has an American father, was arrested at a motorway toll barrier after agreeing to give five members of an extended family from Darfur a lift in his car from Ventimiglia into France – a border that is supposed to be open under Europe's Schengen accords.

Like many asylum-seekers who arrive in Europe via Italy, the family wanted to make their request to be allowed to stay as refugees in another country.

Until recently it was relatively easy, thanks to Schengen, for newly-arrived migrants to move on from Italy.

But as the volume of arrivals has grown in recent years, neighbouring countries have tightened border monitoring, insisting that asylum applications should be made in the first country of arrival.

This has led to bottlenecks in places like Ventimiglia, where the local council controversially banned locals from distributing food to migrants sleeping rough in and around the town.

The order was overturned at the weekend.

Croft, who lives in Nice, just a short hop over the border, is banned from returning to Italy under an administrative order not affected by the court case.

If it was not for that, he told AFP, “I would do exactly the same thing again tonight.”

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Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP


New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

Authorities in New York announced on Thursday the return to Italy of 14 more antiquities, worth an estimated €2.3 million, as part of an investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been conducting an extensive investigation over the past two years into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries — including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony on Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts – some 2,600 years old – were officially returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

READ ALSO: Italian ‘art squad’ police recover 800 illegally-excavated archaeological finds

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Italy as well as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Greece, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.

Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and amarble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.