Weekly Report: The situation is dramatic and the humanitarian crisis is far from being adequately addressed

This week, once again, thousands successfully overcame Europe’s maritime borders, especially the Aegean Sea and the Central Mediterranean Sea. The Alarm Phone was alerted to more than ten groups in distress somewhere in the Greek-Turkish borderzone, to two vessels between Morocco and Spain, and to six vessels off the coast of Libya. On the 22nd of August alone we witnessed a record number of travellers being rescued from various vessels in distress in the Central Med. We were supporting six vessels on that day, carrying hundreds of people. Also on the 22nd, thousands overcame armed borderguards and fences toward Macedonia, successfully moving further toward Central European territories. Many of them had overcome the Aegean Sea only days earlier. Of course, while there are many reasons to be hopeful, we also witnessed the hardship and suffering of those on the move. Obstacles are placed in their paths that make journeys dangerous and lengthy. Our friends on the Greek islands encountered injured people, the elderly, children and pregnant women who, after incredibly strenuous sea crossings, had to walk for hours until they found some refuge and had to struggle for days and weeks afterwards in order to be allowed to leave the islands. The situation is dramatic and the humanitarian crisis is far from being adequately addressed. Nonetheless, through their stubborn movements, these travellers enact the freedom of movement and subvert the European border regime physically, thereby challenging policies and technologies of population control, including the Dublin III regulation. Under immense pressure, German authorities announced that Syrians would not be returned to other EU countries of entry or transit anymore – a huge success for the people concerned and their supporters.

On Monday the 17th of August the Alarm Phone was contacted by someone who informed our shift team about a vessel on which his friends had left from Port Tangier/Morocco in the early hours of the day. He told us that there were 8 people in total and he passed on a mobile phone number. When we could not reach the group we contacted the Spanish search and rescue organisation Salvamento Maritimo and passed on the information we had received. Shortly afterwards we were able to get in touch with the travellers themselves. They told us that they were in the process of being intercepted by the Moroccan Navy (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/217).

A few hours later we were contacted by Nawal Soufi’s activist collective and told about a distress situation in the Aegean Sea, between Turkey and the Greek island of Samos. We received the GPS coordinates of the vessel as well as the phone number of one of the travellers who, however, could not be reached. The Samos Port Authority told us that they would send a rescue boat to the location of distress. At around noon, the Port Authority reported that they could not find the vessel but would continue with the search. They told us that they already had 6-7 cases in the area around Samos Island. At approximately 2pm, they said that they could not find a vessel in the given location but that it was likely that it had been rescued earlier already when the Greek coastguards rescued up to 400 people. Nawal’s collective alerted us to a second emergency case, near the island of Agathonisi/Greece. The Greek coastguards who confirmed that they had already rescued a vessel in a very similar position. Since this was the only vessel that had been located in this area, it can be presumed that it was the vessel that had been rescued earlier. The collective informed us about a third distress situation, this time still near the Turkish coast. Once again, the travellers could not be reached. The Turkish coastguard later confirmed the rescue of the vessel in question (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/219).

On Tuesday the 18th of August, our shift team received a call from a person who informed us about a vessel in distress in the Western Mediterranean Sea. He told us that his relative was amongst a group of 9-10 travellers, including one woman and one child, who had left Tarifa/Morocco in the night. When we called the group they told us that they could see the Spanish coast already. However, due to loud winds it was difficult to fully understand them. Shortly afterwards the travellers informed us that they had already been intercepted by the Moroccan Navy and were in the process of being returned to Morocco. They also reported that the Moroccan authorities had beaten some of them with batons. Later on we were able to re-establish contact with one of the travellers. He was in prison in Tangier and told us that the authorities refused to release them. One of our Alarm Phone members went to the police station and then learned that the group had been released in the meantime (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/218).

Also on Tuesday, we learned through Nawal’s collective about a group in distress in the Aegean Sea. When we could not reach them we contacted different Greek authorities responsible in the area who were either uncooperative or not responsive to our requests. Several hours later the Greek coastguards informed us that they could not find a vessel in the given position but that it might have already reached Samos Island in the meantime. In the late evening, at around 11.15pm, we were contacted by someone who knew of two vessels in the Aegean Sea, close to Lesvos Island, Greece. He passed on the coordinates of the vessels as well as two mobile phone numbers. Despite trying several times, the travellers could again not be reached. After passing the coordinates on to the Greek authorities they confirmed that they had been alerted already to a case in the same area about 30 minutes earlier. They stated that the travellers had already reached Lesvos Island. Shortly after midnight, our contact person confirmed the safe arrival of the group in Greece (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/220).

On Wednesday the 19th of August, we were contacted by someone who passed on a phone number and GPS coordinates of a vessel in distress near the island of Lesvos, Greece. Information on the exact situation were limited and, at first, the group of travellers could not be reached. The Greek coastguard told us that they would look into the situation. Hours later they called us back and said that they had been able to reach the travellers but needed someone who spoke Arabic to communicate with them. One of our Arabic speaking members then tried to get hold of them but was unable to reach them. At about 3.12pm we learned from our initial contact person that the group was safe and shortly afterwards we were able to speak to them directly. They were 75 people on board, including 13 children and 8 women. Water had started to enter their vessel but now they had been rescued and were in Greece. Shortly afterwards we passed these information on to the Greek coastguards (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/221).

On Thursday the 20th of August 2015, the Alarm Phone learned about a group of about 50 people, including many children, between Turkey and the Greek island of Kos. It was not clear, however, whether this case had already been resolved or not as the information from our contact person related to a situation several hours earlier. When the group of travellers could not be reached we contacted the Greek coastguards who informed us that they had been alerted to about twenty vessels in the Aegean Sea during the night. They were still in the process of rescuing some of them. After forwarding the GPS coordinates of the vessel in question, the coastguards stated that they had rescued a vessel with 41 travellers in this area. We were not able to reach the group also afterwards so that we hope that they were indeed rescued. In the evening we were contacted by Nawal’s collective and alerted to a group of people who, already on Lesvos Island, were disoriented and needed support. They were 39 people, plus 12 children and 2 elderly, with one in urgent need of medical care. We advised them via WhatsApp to slowly move toward Skala Sikamineas where other groups were already waiting to be transferred by volunteers to Mytilene the next day. Hours later they informed us that they were still walking but very tired and without food and water. They told us that now they were about 100 people. Afterwards, they could not be reached again until the following day when they said that they were moving toward Mytilene. We were then finally informed that they had found support and were waiting for the bus to bring them to Mytilene (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/222).

On Saturday the 22nd of August the Alarm Phone was alerted to a distress situation in the Aegean Sea, close to Turkey via WhatsApp. In several attempts initial contact to the group of travellers could be established but the connection was too bad to make out further details. We received their GPS coordinates that showed them in Turkish territorial waters. Already shortly afterwards they told us that they had been rescued by the Turkish coastguards. However, at about 1pm they contacted us again to point us to a potential distress situation and ask for our help. They knew of a group stranded on the Greek island of Kalolimnos who needed to be transferred. There were women and children amongst them and they had already been there for a day. We contacted the Greek coastguards who knew already of the people on the island. They said that they were working on the case (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/223).

Also on Saturday, the Alarm Phone was alerted to six different emergency situations in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Coordinated by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome, 22 rescue operations were launched in total during which a record number of travellers, approximately 4400, were rescued. From about 5.56am until the late evening when the success of the rescue operations was confirmed, our shift teams worked tirelessly on various distress cases. In two cases we were in continuous direct contact with the travellers and in all cases we were able to monitor the credit level on the satellite phones kept by the people on board. We successfully recharged some of these phones so that they could be continuously used. Our shift teams were also in direct contact with the private rescue vessel Sea-Watch which was involved in the rescue of people on two rubber vessels in the Central Med (for a detailed summary of the cases see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/224).

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