Priest probed for aiding illegal immigration

TRAPANI- Don Mussie Zerai, a priest once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, is under investigation for allegedly facilitating illegal immigration, according to Public Prosecutor’s Office reports.

 The inquiry follows statements made by two security workers on the Vos Hestia ship of Save the Children, who claimed that team leaders on NGO boats have a secret group chat and mentioned Don Zerai’s name. They said that the priest received communications from migrants on board dinghies and acted as a go-between by communicating with NGO crew members to set a day, time and position for rescue missions.

 “I only found out about the investigation on Monday,” Mussie Zerai said, “and I want to get to the bottom of it. I came back from Ethiopia to Rome precisely because of this. In the past, I have received lots of telephone calls every day. Today I receive a lot less, I don’t know why, but my intervention has always had a humanitarian goal.”

 “Even before speaking to NGOs,” Zerai added, “I always alerted the operation centres of the Italian Coast Guard as well as Malta’s. I have never had a rapport with Iuventa nor have I joined a group chat. I have always communicated through my mobile phone.”

 Zerai is an Eritrean priest that has lived in Italy for years and who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.  He is the founder and president of Habeshia, an intelligence agency which offers telephonic assistance to migrants about to depart.

 In 2004, Zerai received a phone call from a friend telling him of a SOS message received over satellite of a boat in trouble in a strait in Sicily. The priest organised the rescue effort and 130 Eritreans were consequently saved. Since then, the story has been passed on as well as the priest’s telephone number. La Reppublica reported how his mobile phone has become a port of call for not only migrants at sea but many others in humanitarian crisis, in refugee camps and prisons. Zerai then gets in contact with the international organisations active in the area.

 Prosecutors in Trapani’s investigation into illegal immigration has already led to the seizure of NGO Jugend Rettet’s Iuventa boat and looks set to investigate other regional figures for potential involvement.