Over the past three days, more than 10,000 travellers were rescued from precarious boats in the Central Mediterranean Sea and two fatalities have been confirmed. On Monday alone, more than 5000 people, including many children, were rescued off the coast of Libya and many more lives would have been lost, had it not been for the Search and Rescue (SAR) NGOs, who worked at and beyond their limits. It is only due to their tireless efforts that we have not yet heard of major shipwrecks and mass fatalities.
Since Saturday, we as the Alarm Phone have dealt with emergency situations in the Central Mediterranean daily. Yesterday, on the 26th of June 2017, we were following one boat in distress whose passengers had lost orientation and their fate remains unknown. The Moonbird, an airborne reconnaissance mission launched by the NGO ‘Sea-Watch’ and the ‘Humanitarian Pilots Initiative’ (HPI), had informed our shift team around noon about a boat that carried about 160 people and had asked us to reach out to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome to demand a rescue operation. In several phone calls with the Italian authorities between then and 5pm, they suggested first that the boat had probably been rescued, despite evidence to the contrary. Only later did they state that they were very overwhelmed and had a lack of capacity so that they could not deal with the boat in question. We also contacted the SAR NGOs, but overburdened with several ongoing rescue operations, they were unable to follow up on the boat in question. We are not giving up our hope that the travellers survived and that they will not be amongst Europe’s growing toll of border deaths, which currently stands at over 2000 officially counted fatalities.
Once again, we see how certain European forces, including some assets of Eunavfor Med and Frontex, deliberately stay away from the most critical distress area and leave it to the non-governmental actors to carry out large-scale rescues. On top of that, Frontex, as well as many European politicians and institutions, have launched cynical criminalisation and delegitimisation campaigns, seeking to prevent NGOs from conducting rescues.
We can expect thousands of people to set out from Libya over the next days and weeks trying to cross the Mediterranean. After forcing them onto this precarious maritime route through its border policies, will Europe adhere to its politics of abandonment and let thousands more drown?
Once again, we call for the freedom of movement for all!