Pia Klemp, the captain of a migrant rescue ship who faces prison time in Italy after rescuing hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean, has refused a medal awarded by the city of Paris for bravery.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Klemp accused Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo of hypocrisy for recognizing her work, citing poor conditions faced by migrants in the French capital.
Klemp, from Bonn, Germany, was awarded the Grand Vermeil medal in July alongside Carola Rackete, a fellow member of migrant rescue organization Sea-Watch.
In 2017, her ship, the Iuventa, was seized by authorities in the Italian port of Lampedusa, and she was subsequently charged with assisting illegal immigration.
Klemp is currently awaiting trial and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, she told Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung in June. Rackete was arrested in June this year for forcing her vessel into the Lampedusa port with 40 rescued migrants aboard, but was released without charge in July.
“As European governments drag their heels, organizations like SOS Med and Sea Watch make us proud – but also shame us,” Patrick Klugman, deputy for international affairs to Hidalgo, said in a statement announcing the awards.
“Carola Rackete and Pia Klemp are the embodiment of this fight, standard-bearers of European values to which the city of Paris urges our continent to remain true.”
On Facebook this week, Klemp directly addressed Hidalgo, writing: “Your police is stealing blankets from people that you force to live on the streets, while you raid protests and criminalize people that are standing up for rights of migrants and asylum seekers. You want to give me a medal for actions that you fight in your own ramparts.”
In January 2017, the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres said in a statement that Paris police officers harass migrants by taking their blankets and sometimes use tear gas to disperse them.
Klemp added on Facebook: “We do not need medals. We do not need authorities deciding about who is a ‘hero’ and who is ‘illegal.’ In fact they are in no position to make this call, because we are all equal.”
A Paris City Hall spokesperson told CNN: “The City Hall is fully engaged in supporting refugees, including by providing a dignified welcome, worthy and respectful of their humanity.”
Dominique Versini, the mayoral deputy in charge of welcoming refugees, “has invited Pia Klemp to meet and discuss the issue,” the spokesperson said.
Klugman also responded to Klemp’s Facebook post on Twitter. “Dear #PiaKlemp, your worries are justified and your apprehensions are legitimate,” he wrote. “We are waiting for you in Paris to show you the different means implemented in favor of a dignified reception of migrants, despite the tensions that exist on the subject with the State. Your fight is ours.”