PRESS RELEASE – Despite drop in migrant arrivals, more Europeans are being criminalised for their solidarity, new study shows

A new EU-funded study shows a rise sharp in citizens being criminalised for helping migrants and refugees across Europe, including by offering shelter and food.

The report provides the most in-depth list of cases of criminalisation of solidarity to date. It finds that between 2015 and 2019, at least 158 individuals have been investigated or formally prosecuted for offering humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees across 11 European countries. The vast majority of cases occurred in France, Italy and Greece.

Despite a drop in migrant arrivals, the number of cases increased dramatically in 2018, with 104 individuals reported – twice as many as 2017. The criminalisation of solidarity does not only affect human rights defenders, volunteers and crew members rescuing people at sea, but also ordinary citizens, doctors, journalists, mayors and religious leaders.
Seán Binder, who spent 106 days in pre-trial detention for his humanitarian work as a coordinator of civilian rescue operations in Greece in 2018, added:
“Humanitarian response and asylum seeking are enshrined in the EU charter of fundamental rights and international law – humanitarians are engaged in both legitimate and legal activities. In fact, civilian humanitarianism is a highly skilled operation that works to complement the lifesaving of the authorities, instead of hampering them. For instance, in my case, we were the only actors who provided immediate medical services and interpreters where the authorities had none.”

“Beyond the legal proceedings highlighted in the report, Caritas Europa is also deeply concerned by all the other means used to deter acts of solidarity. This includes examples of violence and harassment by the police towards volunteers and obstacles to food distribution to migrants”, says Maria Nyman, Secretary General of Caritas Europa.

The report calls the EU institutions to tackle the rising criminalisation of solidarity and uphold human rights within our Union, as sanctioned in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, protect human rights defenders in the EU and reform the EU’s Facilitation Directive to avoid it being used to criminalise solidarity by EU member states.

Michele LeVoy, the Director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), emphasised:“All these cases can be related to one EU law—the 2002 Facilitation Directive—which fails to distinguish between human smuggling and humanitarian assistance. We—European civil society organisations and humanitarian actors— are concerned by the EU’s lack of action. The new Members of the European Parliament must hold the next set of European Commissioners to account when screening their policy positions on the criminalisation of solidarity.”


• The report Crackdown on NGOs and Volunteers Helping Refugees and Other Migrants can be found here.
• The co-authors of the study are Lina Vosyliūtė (Centre for European Policy Studies) and Carmine Conte (Migration Policy Group) on behalf of the Research Social Platform on Migration and Asylum (ReSOMA), a platform to mobilise European researchers, experts and key stakeholders in migration, asylum and integration. ReSOMA partners include Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Migration Policy Group (MPG) The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), The Social Platform…To learn more about ReSOMA, visit…
• The criminalisation of solidarity is often legislated in terms of facilitating the entry or transit of migrants in the Member States, while a few cases are related to the facilitation of stay or residence and other grounds.
• The data collection confirms that since the emergence of the “refugee crisis”, there has been an escalation of judicial prosecutions and investigations against individuals on grounds related to the EU’s Facilitation Directive in the Member States.
• Ambiguity in the EU’s Facilitation Directive on the distinction between smuggling and humanitarian assistance, enables EU Member States to criminalise humanitarians. A revision of the Facilitators’ Package is thus needed in light of EU citizens right to good administration, protection of human rights defenders and protection of humanitarian actors from criminalisation.
• In the evening of 20 June (21:00-01:00), Caritas Europa will project pictures of volunteers who have been unduly criminalised on the building of the Info Station of the European Parliament in Brussels (Place du Luxembourg). For journalists wanting to attend or take pictures, contact Leticia Lozano at
• For further information on the report, contact Hind Sharif from at or at +32 2 230 59 30.
• For further information on the history of the criminalisation of solidarity in Europe and on criminalisation cases before 2015, contact Gianluca Cesaro at

Image credits: Alisdare Hickson