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'Time We Cast All Medals Into Spearheads of Revolution:' Refugee-Rescuing Boat Captain Rejects Humanitarian Award

"We do not need authorities deciding about who is a 'hero' and who is 'illegal.'"

Captain Pia Klemp in 2017.

Captain Pia Klemp in 2017. (Image: Seawatch)

German boat captain Pia Klemp, whose work to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean Sea has earned her praise from around the world and criminal prosecution in Italy, on Tuesday declined a medal of honor from the French city of Paris, saying that the award was "hypocrite honorings" from a city government that treats its least fortunate in the same way that migrants are treated by European authorities.

"We do not need medals," Klemp wrote in a public Facebook post. "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."

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced the award of the Grand Vermeil Medal for bravery to Klemp in July. 

In her post rejecting the award, Klemp drew a direct line between Hidalgo's policies and the treatment of refugees and migrants:

Madame Hidalgo, you want to award me a medal for my solidarian action in the Mediterranean Sea, because our crews 'work to rescue migrants from difficult conditions on a daily basis'. At the same time 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. I am sure you won't be surprised that I decline the Medaille Grand Vermeil.

Klemp's rejection of the medal, said writer Marie Myung Ok Lee, was an example of "unshakeable leadership."

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As Common Dreams reported in June, Klemp's efforts to save migrants making the perilous journey from North Africa to Europe have earned her the wrath of Italian authorities. Klemp faces up to 20 years in prison for her humanitarian work with the group Sea Watch. 

"In another era, Pia Klemp would have saved Jews from extermination," Peter Scott Smith, son of famed World War II vet Harry Leslie Smith, tweeted at the time.

In her Facebook post, Klemp called for an end to award ceremonies and for true change in both Paris and the Mediterranean.

"What we need are freedom and rights," wrote Klemp. "It is time we call out hypocrite honorings and fill the void with social justice. It is time we cast all medals into spearheads of revolution!"

"Documents and housing for all!" said Klemp. "Freedom of movement and residence!"

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