A Tunesian fisherman, once hailed as the rescuer of migrants, has been arrested and faces the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence for aiding and abetting human trafficking. Family and friends say he and his crew were "only doing their duty."
He was called a hero for saving migrant lives at sea, but now he stands accused of being a human trafficker: Tunisian fisherman Chamseddine Bourassine has seen an abrupt turn of fortunes.
Bourassine is currently incarcerated in a jail in Agrigento, Italy, alongside his crew after rescuing 14 migrants some 24 miles off Lampedusa. His fishing boat has been seized and Bourassine - along with his five-member crew - is facing many years in jail for aiding and abetting illegal immigration.
Friends and relatives demand his release
Relatives and friends have been protesting in Tunisia, Palermo and Paris to call for his release. "My father always did his duty. He waited for the Coast Guard to arrive to rescue the migrants. He called the Coast Guard of Lampedusa and Malta but there was no response. But seeing that after three hours no one was coming to help, he rescued those men," said Ramzi Lihiba, the son of one of the fisherman.
Bourassine's brother Mohammed travelled from Paris to Palermo to protest against Chamseddine's arrest. "We are very worried," he said. "It isn't fair. All the family stands behind him. We want clarification, immediately"
Bourassine is famous in Tunisia and Italy
Chamseddine Bourassine is well known in Tunisia. He is the leader of the Fisherman's Association in Zarzis, his hometown, and made a name for himself for having saved many migrants off the Tunisian coast. He is also the protagonist of a documentary by Italian director Giulia Bertoluzzi entitled "Strange Fish," which will be screened in Milan at the Visioni del Mondo festival on September 15.