Weekly Report: These tragedies will keep on happening, again and again, if Europe does not allow for other ways to reach its territories

In the aftermath of the disaster that occurred off Zuwara/Libya on the 5th of August, the Alarm Phone was approached by members of the Eritrean community in Germany (some of whom are Alarm Phone members as well) who have relatives and friends in Libya wanting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. They had lost contact to them and were very worried that they might be amongst those whose vessel capsized, possibly leaving up to 200 people dead. So far, we could not verify whether any of our friends’ loved ones are amongst the travellers, the disappeared or the rescued. We directly experience how distressing it is for them to not know about their relatives’ and friends’ fate. We are grateful that several vessels were involved in the rescue of nearly 400 people. Without their commitment more people would have lost their lives. At the same time we know that these tragedies will keep on happening, again and again, if Europe does not allow for other ways to reach its territories. We strongly believe in the freedom of movement for all and know that the only option to counter maritime deaths effectively is the opening of safe and legal routes toward Europe. We call for the creation of a humanitarian ferry line between Libya and Europe.


On Sunday the 2nd of August, in the afternoon, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a vessel carrying 17 people who had left Tangier/Morocco in the early hours of the day. We learned that the travellers could see a vessel of the Moroccan Navy and it seemed very likely that they were shortly afterwards intercepted and returned to Morocco.

On Monday the 3rd of August, our shift team received a distress call from a vessel in the Western Med with 7 people on board, including one 3 year old child. The Spanish search and rescue organisation Salvamento Maritimo stated that they still were in Moroccan waters and when the travellers asked us to also alert the Moroccan Navy, we reached out to them. In the morning of the following day, the Moroccan Navy confirmed the rescue of 2 vessels, one of which was the vessel in question. A few hours later we were told about another distress situation in the region. Again it was a group of 7 who reached out to us and reported that they had lost orientation but were still able to see the Spanish coast. At about 8.45am, we spoke to Salvamento Maritimo which told us that they had rescued a group of 7 people a few minutes earlier and it seemed highly likely that this was the vessel in question. The travellers could not be reached anymore. In the afternoon Salvamento confirmed that they had been disembarked in Tarifa/Spain (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/196).


Also on Monday, only minutes passed midnight, the Alarm Phone was contacted by Nawal Soufi’s activist collective who informed us about a group of travellers stranded on the Turkish island of Gökçeada. We learned that they had run out of food and water 2 days earlier and that at least two of them urgently needed medical care. We then contacted the Turkish coastguards and the UNHCR. A few hours later, the Turkish coastguard stated that they had informed the local authorities on Gökçeada who had already found 16 people and were searching for more people in the area.

At about 4am, the activist collective told us about a second case, this time somewhere between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of Kos. We reached out to the travellers and they reported that there were between 50 and 60 Syrian refugees on a vessel, including 16 children and 10 women. They said that they were fine and would reach Kos independently. They also told us about a second refugee vessel that had encountered a police or military vessel that then towed them somewhere. They were not certain what had occurred to the second vessel and were worried. At about 4.50am, they told us that they had reached Kos and were well (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/199).


On Tuesday the 4th of August, at around 3.30am, Nawal Soufi’s activist collective alerted us to a case of distress and passed on a phone number as well as GPS coordinates. The travellers could, at first, not be contacted. We reached out to the Hellenic coastguard/Greece which stated that the travellers were in Turkish waters. We then turned to the Turkish coastguard and informed them about the situation. After a while, the travellers could be reached. Communications were difficult and people were shouting in the background. It became clear that they were in acute distress and that there were many children on board. Shortly afterwards, we were informed that they had been rescued by the Turkish coastguard.

At approximately 4.50am, we received a second emergency case through the activist collective. We obtained both the GPS coordinates and a phone number but were unable to reach the travellers directly. We informed both Greek and Turkish coastguards as well as the UNHCR. About 4 hours later we learned through the Turkish coastguards that they had been rescued.

In the afternoon, we were alerted to a third distress situation by the collective. They passed on GPS coordinates and a phone number which, at first, could not be reached. The vessel was north of the Greek island of Lesvos. When contacting the Greek coastguards they merely told us that the people on the vessel should call 112. A few minutes later we received an update from the collective which had been informed about the rescue of the travellers. We were then able to reach them directly via WhatsApp and they confirmed that they had arrived and were safe (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/200).


In the evening of the 4th of August we received a call from someone located in Morocco who told us that his friends, a group of 11 travellers, had left Morocco in the early morning. He had lost contact to them and was worried about their well-being. We contacted Salvamento Maritimo. For many hours, no new information about the whereabouts of the group could be obtained. Finally, in the afternoon of the following day, our contact person informed us that his friends had been intercepted and returned to Tangier.

On Wednesday the 5th of August 2015, the Alarm Phone was contacted by a person who told us that his 7 friends were on a vessel in the Western Med. They had left around 1am from Cap Spartel/Morocco and he had lost contact to them. He said he would reach out to us again once contact to the travellers could be re-established. We contacted Salvamento Maritimo and informed them about the vessel. We were then called again by the contact person who said that the group had been intercepted by the Moroccan Navy (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/197).


On Thursday the 6th, we were informed by a contact person about a vessel with 9 men, 2 women and 2 children on board. Salvamento Maritimo had already obtained the number of the passengers and informed us that the Moroccan Navy was in the process of approaching them. We later received the confirmation also from the travellers.

We were then notified about a second vessel with 11 men on board that had left from Tangier. Our contact person also knew of this second vessel and passed on a mobile phone number. We called the travellers and they asked to be rescued by Salvamento Maritimo. However, when we spoke to Salvamento minutes later, they confirmed that the group had just been intercepted by the Moroccan Navy. We then also informed our contact person about the second interception (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/198).


On Saturday the 8th, we were contacted by a group of five travellers who had left from Cap Spartel/Morocco during the night on a rubber vessel without an engine. They asked for help and also said that one passenger was sick. We contacted Salvamento Maritimo and informed them about the emergency case. Salvamento then reached out to the passengers who, in turn, told us that Salvamento would send a rescue vessel. At about 8.03am, the people were still in distress but stated that they could see a large white vessel in vicinity. About half an hour later Salvamento confirmed that the people were intercepted by the Moroccan Navy. A few minutes later we were able to reach the travellers again who also confirmed the interception (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/201).


Also on the 8th, the Alarm Phone was notified by Nawal Soufi’s collective about a distress situation in the Aegean Sea. They told us that a group of 25 people had been stopped at sea by armed Greek coastguards who stole their money and took way their petrol. The coastguard left them behind in the middle of the sea. At first, the travellers themselves could not be reached. A few hours later the activist collective confirmed that Turkey had rescued the group. In the early evening we were able to establish direct contact, via WhatsApp, to one of the travellers. He reported that they had been at sea for three hours until the Turkish coastguard found and rescued them. He clearly stated that the Greek coastguard took away their petrol, making it impossible for them to move on. Three armed men wearing facemasks “told us to raise our hands and then asked to have the gasoline”. He said that they handed it over as they were afraid for the children on board. Our contact person also reported that he met others who had been returned to Turkey and who had also been attacked, even more violently, by Greek coastguards. Following his account they had been approached by a small vessel that was part of a larger vessel and their patrol was taken away, too. Our contact person said that all the travellers were Syrians which they had also made known to the Greek coastguard (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/203).