Commentary. There is something beyond mere law—or rather something more primary than law. This is what makes us feel the deep sense of belonging to the same human species.

Carola Rackete, modern-day Antigone, obeys a law higher than Salvini’s

Carola Rackete, the captain of the Sea Watch 3, is certainly what one might call a “tragic figure.” She recalls Sophocles’ Antigone, who chose to pay respects to her brother’s body left unburied and, as a result, was condemned by the laws that the new king had passed. 

Indeed, there is something beyond mere law—or rather something more primary than law: this is what makes us feel the deep sense of belonging to the same human species. When laws disrupt this higher order of things—an unchangeable order, because it is anchored in the very meaning of life—our most solid points of reference are lost, and we run the risk of sliding down the slippery slope toward hierarchical distinctions. This is how one gets racist norms, xenophobia, vulgar nationalism. Through mere law, walls are built and bridges are destroyed, ports are closed, and barbed wire manufacturers see so much demand that they can raise the price for their timeless product. 

This is the side of the divide where we find the Interior Minister’s refusal to allow the shipwreck survivors on the NGO ship to land—on the side of the law of the strongest as opposed to that of justice, aimed ultimately at eroding one more piece of the dam that was built to protect fundamental human rights, erected by the United Nations after the tragedy of World War II.

Nothing less than this is at stake, as the President of the Republic perceptively pointed out on the occasion of World Refugee Day, when he reaffirmed the need for Italy to comply with its duties of solidarity, assistance and hospitality, according to the Italian Constitution and international law. Pretending that one could deal with global issues such as migration, often linked to poverty, wars, and climate change, at the national—or even regional—level shows a short-sightedness that the heat waves of this scorching tropical summer should be pushing us to see in a different perspective, the diametrically opposite one: that of international cooperation, starting with the fight against climate change and the quest for achieving peace. 

Here, once again, the Lega-dominated government is trying to impose its purely instrumental and outrageous conception of transactional cooperation. While there is open warfare in Libya at the moment, and thus can in no way be considered a safe haven, the Security Decree establishes a “performance-based fund for repatriation policies” at the disposal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, which links Italian cooperation with partner countries to the latter’s “notable collaboration” in the repatriation of undocumented immigrants. 

Now, given that the government is making an appeal to respecting the laws—but inconsistently, i.e. only the laws passed by this government, ignoring those of the past—we must remember that the law sets the following as the objectives of international cooperation for development: eradicating poverty and reducing inequality, protecting and upholding human rights, and preventing conflicts and strengthening democratic institutions.

Therefore, the aforementioned fund distorts the ultimate goals of international cooperation, formally introducing, for the first time, a principle of conditionality in granting aid, which would be awarded based on Italian national interests rather than to development goals. Thus, while on one hand they are accusing the NGOs of being on the side of human traffickers, they have decided at the same time to subsidize the establishment of a “repatriation market,” on which partner countries can expect to get paid for collaborating in the process of repatriation. 

This is why, in a recent open letter, over 40 NGOs have called on Prime Minister Conte to exert his powers to allow the survivors still on the Sea Watch 3 to disembark in the coming hours, ensuring the proper care of the minors still on board and of all other persons in need of assistance and support. This—among other things—is what “remaining human” is all about.

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