And Yet We Move - 2018, a contested year

The full article can also be found in Spanish and the introduction in German and French.

311 people escaping from Libya rescued through a chain of solidarity +++ About 113,000 sea arrivals and over 2,240 counted fatalities in the Mediterranean this year +++ 666 Alarm Phone distress cases in 2018 +++ Developments in all three Mediterranean regions +++ Summaries of 38 Alarm Phone distress cases

Introduction

“There are no words big enough to describe the value of the work you are doing. It is a deeply human act and it will never be forgotten. The whole of your team should know that we wish all of you health and a long life and the best wishes in all the colours of the world.” These are the words that the Alarm Phone received a few days ago from a man who had been on a boat in the Western Mediterranean Sea and with whom our shift teams had stayed in touch throughout the night until they were finally rescued to Spain. He was able to support the other travellers by continuously and calmly reassuring them, and thereby averted panic on the boat. His message motivates us to continue also in 2019 to do everything we can to assist people who have taken to the sea because Europe’s border regime has closed safe and legal routes, leaving only the most dangerous paths slightly open. On these paths, over 2,240 people have lost their lives this year.

While we write this report, 311 people are heading toward Spain on the rescue boat of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms. The travellers called the Alarm Phone when they were on a boat-convoy that had left from Libya. Based on the indications of their location, Al-Khums, the civil reconnaissance aircraft Colibri launched a search operation in the morning of the 21st of December and was able to spot the convoy of three boats which were then rescued by Proactiva. Italy and Malta closed their harbours to them, prolonging their suffering. Over the Christmas days they headed toward their final destination in Spain. The successful rescue operation of the 313 people (one mother and her infant child were flown out by a helicopter after rescue) highlights the chain of solidarity that activists and NGOs have created in the Central Mediterranean Sea. It is a fragile chain that the EU and its member states seek to criminalise and tear apart wherever they can.

Throughout the year of 2018, we have witnessed and assisted contested movements across the Mediterranean Sea. Despite violent deterrence policies and practices, about 113,000 people succeeded in subverting maritime borders and have arrived in Europe by boat. We were alerted to 666 distress situations at sea (until December 23rd), and our shift teams have done their best to assist the many thousands of people who saw no other option to realise their hope for a better future than by risking their lives at sea. Many of them lost their lives in the moment of enacting their freedom of movement. Over 2,240 women, men, and children from the Global South – and probably many more who were never counted – are not with us anymore because of the violence inscribed in the Global North’s hegemonic and brutal borders. They were not able to get a visa. They could not board a much cheaper plane, bus, or ferry to reach a place of safety and freedom. Many travelled for months, even years, to get anywhere near the Mediterranean border – and on their journeys they have lived through hardships unimaginable for most of us. But they struggled on and reached the coasts of Northern Africa and Turkey, where they got onto overcrowded boats. That they are no longer with us is a consequence of Europe’s racist system of segregation that illegalises and criminalises migration, a system that also seeks to illegalise and criminalise solidarity. Many of these 2,240 people would be alive if the civil rescuers were not prevented from doing their work. All of them would be alive, if they could travel and cross borders freely.

In the different regions of the Mediterranean Sea, the situation has further evolved over the course of 2018, and the Alarm Phone witnessed the changing patterns of boat migration first hand. Most of the boats we assisted were somewhere between Morocco and Spain (480), a considerable number between Turkey and Greece (159), but comparatively few between Libya and Italy (27). This, of course, speaks to the changing dynamics of migratory escape and its control in the different regions:

Morocco-Spain: Thousands of boats made it across the Strait of Gibraltar, the Alboran Sea, or the Atlantic and have turned Spain into the ‘front-runner’ this year with about 56,000 arrivals by sea. In 2017, 22,103 people had landed in Spain, 8,162 in 2016. In the Western Mediterranean, crossings are organised in a rather self-organised way and the number of arrivals speaks to a migratory dynamism not experienced for over a decade in this region. Solidarity structures have multiplied both in Morocco and Spain and they will not be eradicated despite the wave of repression that has followed the peak in crossings over the summer. Several Alarm Phone members experienced the consequences of EU pressure on the Moroccan authorities to repress cross-border movements first hand when they were violently deported to the south of Morocco, as were several thousand others.

Turkey-Greece: With about 32,000 people reaching the Greek islands by boat, more people have arrived in Greece than in 2017, when 29,718 people did so. After arrival via the sea, many are confined in inhumane conditions on the islands and the EU hotspots have turned into rather permanent prisons. This desperate situation has prompted renewed movements across the Turkish-Greek land border in the north. Overall, the number of illegalised crossings into Greece has risen due to more than 20,000 people crossing the land border. Several cases of people experiencing illegal push-back operations there reached the Alarm Phone over the year.

Libya-Italy/Malta: Merely about 23,000[1] people have succeeded in fleeing Libya via the sea in 2018. The decrease is dramatic, from 119,369 in 2017, and even 181,436 in 2016. This decrease gives testament to the ruthlessness of EU deterrence policies that have produced the highest death rate in the Central Mediterranean and unspeakable suffering among migrant communities in Libya. Libyan militias are funded, trained, and legitimated by their EU allies to imprison thousands of people in camps and to abduct those who made it onto boats back into these conditions. Due to the criminalisation of civil rescuers, a lethal rescue gap was produced, with no NGO able to carry out their work for many months of the year. Fortunately, three of them have now been able to return to the deadliest area of the Mediterranean.

These snapshots of the developments in the three Mediterranean regions, elaborated on in greater detail below, give an idea of the struggles ahead of us. They show how the EU and its member states not only created dangerous maritime paths in the first place but then reinforced its migrant deterrence regime at any cost. They show, however, also how thousands could not be deterred from enacting their freedom of movement and how solidarity structures have evolved to assist their precarious movements. We go into 2019 with the promise and call that the United4Med alliance of sea rescuers has outlined: “We will prove how civil society in action is not only willing but also able to bring about a new Europe; saving lives at sea and creating a just reception system on land. Ours is a call to action to European cities, mayors, citizens, societies, movements, organisations and whoever believes in our mission, to join us. Join our civil alliance and let us stand up together, boldly claiming a future of respect and equality. We will stand united for the right to stay and for the right to go.”[2] Also in the new year, the Alarm Phone will directly engage in this struggle and we call on others to join. It can only be a collective fight, as the odds are stacked against us.

Developments in the Central Mediterranean

In December 2018, merely a few hundred people were able to escape Libya by boat. It cannot be stressed enough how dramatic the decrease in crossings along this route is – a year before, 2,327 people escaped in December, in 2016 even 8,428. 2018 is the year when Europe’s border regime ‘succeeded’ in largely shutting down the Central Mediterranean route. It required a combination of efforts – the criminalisation of civil search and rescue organisations, the selective presence of EU military assets that were frequently nowhere to be found when boats were in distress, the closure of Italian harbours and the unwillingness of other EU member states to welcome the rescued, and, most importantly, the EU’s sustained support for the so-called Libyan coastguards and other Libyan security forces. Europe has not only paid but also trained, funded and politically legitimised Libyan militias whose only job is to contain outward migratory movements, which means capturing and abducting people seeking to flee to Europe both at sea and on land. Without these brutal allies, it would not have been possible to reduce the numbers of crossings that dramatically.

The ‘Nivin case’ of November 7th exemplifies this European-Libyan alliance. On that day, a group of 95 travellers reached out to the Alarm Phone from a boat in distress off the coast of Libya. Among them were people from Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Eritrea. Italy refused to conduct a rescue operation and eventually they were rescued by the cargo vessel Nivin. Despite telling the rescued that they would be brought to a European harbour, the crew of the Nivin returned them to Libya on November 10th. At the harbour of Misrata, most of the rescued refused to disembark, stating that they would not want to be returned into conditions of confinement and torture. The people, accused by some to be ‘pirates’, fought bravely against forced disembarkation for ten days but on the 20th of November they could resist no longer when Libyan security forces stormed the boat and violently removed them, using tear gas and rubber bullets in the process. Several of the protestors were injured and needed treatment in hospital while others were returned into inhumane detention camps.[3]

Also over the past 6 weeks, the period covered in this report, the criminalisation of civil rescue organisations continued. The day that the protestors on the Nivin were violently removed, Italy ordered the seizure of the Aquarius, the large rescue asset operated by SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières that had already been at the docs in France for some time, uncertain about its future mission. According to the Italian authorities, the crew had falsely labelled the clothes rescued migrants had left on the Aquarius as ‘special’ rather than ‘toxic’ waste.[4] The absurdity of the accusation highlights the fact that Italy’s authorities seek out any means to prevent rescues from taking place, a “disproportionate and unfounded measure, purely aimed at further criminalising lifesaving medical-humanitarian action at sea”, as MSF noted.[5] Unfortunately, these sustained attacks showed effect. On the 6th of December, SOS Med and MSF announced the termination of its mission: “European policies and obstruction tactics have forced [us] to terminate the lifesaving operations carried out by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius.” As the MSF general director said: “This is a dark day. Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives. The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed.”[6]

And yet, despite this ongoing sabotage of civil rescue from the EU and its member states, three vessels of the Spanish, German, and Italian organisations Open Arms, Sea-Watch and Mediterranea returned to the deadliest area of the Mediterranean in late November.[7] This return is also significance for Alarm Phone work in the Central Mediterranean: once again we have non-governmental allies at sea who will not only document what is going on along the deadliest border of the world but actively intervene to counter Europe’s border ‘protection’ measures. Shortly after returning, one of the NGOs was called to assist. Fishermen had rescued a group of travellers off the coast of Libya onto their fishing vessel, after they had been abandoned in the water by a Libyan patrol boat, as the fishermen claimed. Rather than ordering their rapid transfer to a European harbour, Italy, Malta and Spain sought out ways to return the 12 people to Libya. The fishing boat, the Nuestra Madre de Loreto, was ill-equipped to care for the people who were weak and needed medical attention. However, they were assisted only by Proactiva Open Arms, and for over a week, the people had to stay on the fishing boat. One of them developed a medical emergency and was eventually brought away in a helicopter. Finally, in early December, they were brought to Malta.[8]

Around the same time, something rare and remarkable happened. A boat with over 200 people on board reached the Italian harbour of Pozzallo independently, on the 24th of November. Even when they were at the harbour, the authorities refused to allow them to quickly disembark – a irresponsible decision given that the boat was at risk of capsizing. After several hours, all of the people were finally allowed to get off the boat. Italy’s minister of the interior Salvini accused the Maltese authorities of allowing migrant boats to move toward Italian territory.[9] Despite their hardship, the people on the Nuestra Madre de Loreto and the 200 people from this boat, survived. Also the 33 people rescued by the NGO Sea-Watch on the 22nd of December survived. Others, however, did not. In mid-November, a boat left from Algeria with 13 young people on board, intending to reach Sardinia. On the 16th of November, the first body was found, the second a day later. Three survived and stated later that the 10 others had tried to swim to what they believed to be the shore when they saw a light in the distance.[10] In early December, a boat with 25 people on board left from Sabratha/Libya, and 15 of them did not survive. As a survivor reported, they had been at sea for 12 days without food and water.[11]

Despite the overall decrease in crossings, what has been remarkable in this region is that the people escaping have more frequently informed the Alarm Phone directly than before. The case mentioned earlier, from the 20th of December, when people from a convoy of 3 boats carrying 313 people in total reached out to us, exemplifies this. Detected by the Colibri reconnaissance aircraft and rescued by Proactiva, this case demonstrates powerfully what international solidarity can achieve, despite all attempts by EU member states and institutions to create a zone of death in the Central Mediterranean Sea.

Developments in the Western Mediterranean Sea

Over the past six weeks covered by this report, the Alarm Phone witnessed several times what happens when Spanish and Moroccan authorities shift responsibilities and fail to respond quickly to boats in distress situations. Repeatedly we had to pressurise the Spanish authorities publicly before they launched a Search and Rescue (SAR) operation. And still, many lives were lost at sea. On Moroccan land, the repression campaign against Sub-Saharan travellers and residents continues. On the 30th of November, an Alarm Phone member was, yet again, arrested and deported towards the South of Morocco, to Tiznit, along with many other people. (h https://alarmphone.org/en/2018/12/04/alarm-phone-member-arrested-and-deported-in-morocco/?post_type_release_type=post). Other friends in Morocco have informed us about the deportation of large groups from Nador to Tiznit. Around the 16th of December, 400 people were forcibly removed, and on the 17th of December, another 300 people were deported to Morocco’s south. This repression against black residents and travellers in Morocco is one of the reasons for many to decide to leave via the sea. This has meant that also during the winter, cross-Mediterranean movements remain high. On just one weekend, the 8th-9th of December, 535 people reached Andalusia/Spain.[12]

Whilst people are constantly resisting the border regime by acts of disobedience when they cross the borders clandestinely, acts of resistance take place also on the ground in Morocco, where associations and individuals are continuously struggling for the freedom of movement for all. In early December, an Alarm Phone delegation participated at an international conference in Rabat/Morocco, in order to discuss with members of other associations and collectives from Africa and Europe about the effects of the outsourcing and militarisation of European borders in the desire to further criminalise and prevent migration movements. We were among 400 people and were impressed by the many contributions from people who live and struggle in very precarious situations, by the uplifting atmosphere, and by the many accounts and expressions of solidarity. Days later, during the international meeting in Marrakesh on the ‘Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration’, the Alarm Phone was part of a counter-summit, protesting the international pact on migration which is not meant to reduce borders between states, but to curtail the freedom of movement of the many in the name of ‘legal’ and ‘regulated’ migration. The Alarm Phone delegation was composed of 20 activists from the cities of Tangier, Oujda, Berkane, Nador and Fes. One of our colleagues sums up the event: “We have expressed our ideas and commitments as Alarm Phone, solemnly and strongly in front of the other organisations represented. We have espoused the vision of freedom of movement, a vision without precedent. A vision which claims symbolically all human rights and which has the power to help migrants on all continents to feel protected.” In light of the Marrakesh pact, several African organisations joined together and published a statement rejecting “…the wish to confine Africans within their countries by strengthening border controls, in the deserts, at sea and in airports.”[13]

Shortly after the international meeting in Marrakesh, the EU pledged €148 million to support Morocco’s policy of migrant containment, thus taking steps towards making it even more difficult, and therefore more dangerous for many people on the African continent to exercise their right to move freely, under the pretext of “combating smuggling”. Making the journeys across the Mediterranean more difficult does not have the desired effect of ending illegalised migration. As the routes to Spain from the north of Morocco have become more militarised following a summer of many successful crossings, more southern routes have come into use again. These routes, leading to the Spanish Canary Islands, force travellers to overcome much longer distances in the Atlantic Ocean, a space without phone coverage and with a heightened risk to lose one’s orientation. On the 18th of November, 22 people lost their lives at sea, on their way from Tiznit to the Canary Islands.[14] Following a Spanish-Frontex collaboration launched in 2006, this route to the Canary Islands has not been used very frequently, but numbers have increased this year, with Moroccan nationals being the largest group of arrivals.[15]

Developments in the Aegean Sea

Over the final weeks of 2018, between the 12th of November and the 23rd of December, 78 boats arrived on the Greek islands while 116 boats were stopped by the Turkish coastguards and returned to Turkey. This means that there were nearly 200 attempts to cross into Europe by boat over five weeks, and about 40 percent of them were successful.[16] Over the past six weeks, the Alarm Phone was involved in a total of 19 cases in this region. 6 of the boats arrived in Samos, 3 of them in Chios, and one each on Lesvos, Agathonisi, Farmkonisi, and Symi. 4 boats were returned to Turkey (3 of them rescued, 1 intercepted by the Turkish coastguards). In one distress situation, a man lost his life and another man had to be brought to the hospital due to hypothermia. Moreover, the Alarm Phone was alerted to 2 cases along the Turkish-Greek land border. While in one case their fate remains uncertain, the other group of people were forcibly pushed-back to Turkey.

Thousands of people still suffering in inhuman conditions in hotspots: When we assist boats crossing the Aegean Sea, the people are usually relieved and happy when arriving on the islands, at least they have survived. However, this moment of happiness often turns into a state of shock when they enter the so-called ‘hotspots’. Over 12,500 people remain incarcerated there, often living in tents and containers unsuitable for winter in the five EU-sponsored camps on Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos, and Leros. In addition to serious overcrowding, asylum seekers continue to face unsanitary and unhygienic conditions and physical violence, including gender-based violence. Doctors without Borders has reported on a measles outbreak in Greek camps and conducted a vaccination campaign.[17] Amnesty International and 20 other organizations have published a collective call: “As winter approaches all asylum seekers on the Aegean islands must be transferred to suitable accommodation on the mainland or relocated to other EU countries. […] The EU-Turkey deal containment policy imposes unjustified and unnecessary suffering on asylum seekers, while unduly limiting their rights.”

The ‘humanitarian’ crisis in the hotspots is the result of Greece’s EU-backed policy of containing asylum seekers on the Aegean islands until their asylum claims are adjudicated or until it is determined that they fall into one of the ‘vulnerable’ categories listed under Greek law. But as of late November, an estimated 2,200 people identified as eligible for transfer are still waiting as accommodation facilities on the mainland are also severely overcrowded. Those who are actually transferred from the hotspot on Lesvos to the Greek mainland are brought to far away camps or empty holiday resorts without infrastructure and without a sufficient number of aid workers.

Criminalisation along Europe’s Eastern Sea Border: A lot has been written about the many attempts to criminalise NGOs and activists carrying out Search and Rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Much less publicly acknowledged are the many cases in which migrant travellers themselves become criminalised for their activist involvement, often for protesting against the inhuman living conditions and the long waiting times for the asylum-interviews. The case of the ‘Moria 35’ on Lesvos was a case in point, highlighting how a few individual protesters were randomly selected by authorities to scare others into silence and obedience. The Legal Centre Lesvos followed this case closely until the last person of the 35 was released and they shared their enquiries with “a 15-month timeline of injustice and impunity” on their website: “On Thursday 18th October, the last of the Moria 35 were released from detention. Their release comes one year and three months – to the day – after the 35 men were arbitrarily arrested and subject to brutal police violence in a raid of Moria camp following peaceful protests, on July 18th 2017.” While the Legal Centre Lesbos welcomes the fact that all 35 men were finally released, they should never have been imprisoned in the first place. They will not get back the 10 to 15 months they spent in prison. Moreover, even after release, most of the 35 men remain in a legally precarious situation. While 6 were granted asylum in Greece, the majority struggles against rejected asylum claims. Three were already deported. One individual was illegally deported without having exhausted his legal remedies in Greece while another individual, having spent 9 months in pre-trial detention, signed up for so-called ‘voluntary’ deportation.[18] In the meantime, others remain in prison to await their trials that will take place with hardly any attention of the media.

Humanitarian activists involved in spotting and rescue released after 3 months: The four activists, Sarah Mardini, Nassos Karakitsos, Panos Moraitis and Sean Binder, were released on the 6th of December 2018 after having been imprisoned for three months. They had been held in prolonged pre-trial detention for their work with the non-profit organization Emergency Response Center International (ERCI), founded by Moraitis. The charges misrepresented the group as a smuggling crime ring, and its legitimate fundraising activities as money laundering. The arrests forced the group to cease its operations, including maritime search and rescue, the provision of medical care, and non-formal education to asylum seekers. They are free without geographical restrictions but the case is not yet over. Mardini and Binder still face criminal charges possibly leading to decades in prison.[19] Until 15 February the group ‘Solidarity now!’ is collecting as many signatures as possible to ensure that the Greek authorities drop the case.[20]

Violent Pushbacks at the Land Border: During the last six weeks, the Alarm Phone was alerted to two groups at the land border separating Turkey and Greece. In both situations, the travellers had already reached Greek soil, but ended up on Turkish territory. Human Right Watch (HRW) published another report on the 18th of December about violent push-backs in the Evros region: “Greek law enforcement officers at the land border with Turkey in the northeastern Evros region routinely summarily return asylum seekers and migrants […]. The officers in some cases use violence and often confiscate and destroy the migrants’ belongings.”[21] Regularly, migrants were stripped off their phones, money and clothes. According to HRW, most of these incidents happened between April and November 2018.[22] The UNHCR and the Council of Europe’s Committee for Prevention of Torture have published similar reports about violent push backs along the Evros borders.[23]

CASE REPORTS

Over the past 6 weeks, the WatchTheMed Alarm Phone was engaged in 38 distress cases, of which 15 took place in the Western Mediterranean, 19 in the Aegean Sea, and 4 in the Central Mediterranean. You can find short summaries and links to the individual reports below.

Western Mediterranean

On Tuesday the 13th of November at 6.17pm, the Alarm Phone was alerted by a relative to a group of travellers who had left two days earlier from around Orán heading towards Murcia. They were around nine people, including women and children, and the relative had lost contact to the boat. We were also never able to reach the travellers. At 6.46pm we alerted the Spanish search and rescue organization Salvamento Maritimo (SM) to the distress of the travellers. For several days we tried to reach the travellers and were in contact with SM about the ongoing rescue operation. We were never able to reach the travellers or get any news from the relative. Thus, we are still unsure if the group managed to reach land somewhere on their own, or if they will add to the devastating number of people having lost their lives at sea (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/1085).

On Thursday the 22nd of November, at 5.58pm CET, the Alarm Phone received news about a boat of 11 people that had left Nador 8 hours prior. The shift team was unable to immediately enter into contact with the boat, but called Salvamento Maritimo to convey all available information. At 11.48am the following day, the shift team received word from a traveler on the boat that they were safe (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/1088).

At 7.25am CET on November 24, 2018, the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to a boat of 70 people (including 8 women and 1 child) that had departed from Nador 3 days prior. The shift team was able to reach the boat at 7.50am and learned that their motor had stopped working. The shift team called Salvamento Maritimo, who had handed the case over to the Moroccan authorities. The shift team contacted the MRCC, who said they knew about the boat but could not find them, so the shift team mobilized their contacts to find the latest position and sent it to the coast guard at 8.55am. Rescue operations stalled for several hours. At around 2pm, the shift team received news that rescue operations were underway by the Marine Royale. The shift team remained in contact with several people and coast guards until the next day, when it was confirmed that the boat had finally been rescued and that there were at least 15 fatalities        (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/1087).

On Friday the 7th of December 2018, we were alerted to two boats in distress in the Western Mediterranean Sea. One boat was brought to Algeria, the second boat rescued by Moroccan fishermen and returned to Morocco (see for full report: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1098).

On Saturday, the 8th of December 2018, we were informed by a contact person at 3.25pm CET to a boat in distress that had left from Nador/Morocco during the night, at about 1am. There were 57 people on the boat, including 8 women and a child. We tried to establish contact to the boat but were unable to reach them. At 4.50pm, the Spanish search and rescue organisation Salvamento Maritimo (SM) informed us that they were already searching for this boat. At 8.34pm, SM stated that this boat had been rescued. Some time later, also our contact person confirmed that the boat had been found and rescued to Spain (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1099).

On Monday the 10th of December, the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to three boats in the Western Med. Two had left from around Nador, and one from Algeria. One boat was rescued by the Spanish search and rescue organisation Salvamento Maritimo, one group of travellers returned back to Nador on their own, and the boat from Algeria returned to Algeria (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/1101).

On Wednesday the 12th of December the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted two boats in the Western Med, one carrying seven people, the other carrying 12 people. The first boat was rescued by the Spanish search and rescue organization Salvamento Maritimo (SM), whilst the second boat was intercepted by the Moroccan Navy and brought back to Morocco, where we were informed that the travellers were held imprisoned (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/1102).

On December 21st, 2018, we were informed of two boats in distress in the Western Mediterranean Sea. The first had left from Algeria and was probably rescued to Spain. The other one had departed from Tangier and was rescued by the Marine Royale and brought back to Morocco (for full report, see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/1110).

On the 22nd of December, at 5.58pm CET, the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to a boat of 81 people (including 7 women) that had left the previous day from Nador. The motor was not working properly. They informed that they were in touch with Salvamiento Maritimo but as they were still in Moroccan waters, Salvamiento Maritimo said they were unable to perform rescue operations. The shift team had difficulty maintaining contact with the boat over the course of the next few hours. The shift team also contacted Salvamiento Maritimo who confirmed that they knew about the case. At 7.50pm, Salvamiento Maritimo informed the shift team that they would perform the rescue operations and confirmed the operation at 8.15pm. We later got the confirmation by a contact person that the people were rescued to Spain (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/1111).

On the 23rd of December 2018, at 1.14am CET, the Alarm Phone received an alert of a boat with 11 men and 1 woman who left from Cap Spartel at Saturday the 22nd of December. The Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to this rubber boat in the early hours of Sunday the 23rd of December. The shift team informed the Spanish Search and Rescue organisation Salvamento Maritimo (SM) at 4:50am CET about the situation and provided them with GPS coordinates of the boat. SM, however, rejected responsibility and shifted it to the Moroccan authorities but also the Moroccan Navy did not rescue the people. Several days later, the boat remains missing (see for full report: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1112).

Aegean Sea

On Saturday the 17th of November the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to two boats in the Aegean Sea. The first boat returned back to Turkey, whilst the second boat reached Samos on their own (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/1086).

On the 19th of November at 8.40pm CET the shift team was alerted to a boat of 11 travelers in distress near the Turkish coast on its way to Kos. The shift team called the Turkish Coastguard to inform them of the situation. At 9.00pm, the Coastguard called back to confirm they found the boat and would rescue the people. The shift team lost contact with the travelers. At 9.35pm, the Turkish coast guard informed the shift team that the boat was sunk, one man died and one person had hypothermia and would be brought to the hospital. The other 9 people were safe and brought back to Turkey (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/1090).

On the 20th of November at 4.07am CET, the shift team was alerted to a boat with about 50 travelers heading to Samos. The shift team contacted the travelers but the contact was broken for both language and technological reasons. The Alarm Phone contacted the Greek Coastguard about rescue operations. At 7.02am, the shift team was told that a boat of 50 people had been rescued, and the news was confirmed later on, although the shift team could not obtain direct confirmation from the travelers themselves (see:http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/1089).

On the 23rd of November at 7.45pm CET, the Alarm Phone was contacted regarding a group of 19 people, (including 2 women, 1 of whom was pregnant, and a child) who had crossed the river Evros/ Meric and the Turkish-Greek landborder 3 days prior. The shift team first contacted numerous rescue and protection agencies, including UNHCR and the Greek Police, noting that the people were already in Greece and wished to apply for asylum. Until today we remained unable to find out what happened to the people (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/1091).

On the 26th of November at 6:54am CET the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to a group of 30 people (among them 7 children and a pregnant woman) who were stranded on the shore in southern Turkey, close to Kas. They wanted us to call the Turkish coastguard so at 7:35am we provided the coastguard with the information we had. At 8:41am we received a photograph from our contact person showing rescue by the Turkish coastguard (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/1092).

On the 29th of November at 4am CET the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to a boat carrying 44 people (among them 19 children and some pregnant women) heading towards the Greek island of Samos. Shortly afterwards the travellers landed on Samos and because of their difficulties orienting themselves we alerted the local authorities. At 9:53am the port police told us that they had rescued 44 people. They were taken to the refugee camp (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/1093).

On Monday, the 3rd of December 2018, the Alarm Phone was alerted at 5.30am CET to a boat in distress south of Chios, with 43 people on board, among them 14 children. We were able to reach the boat at 5.35am. When we received their position, we informed the Greek coastguards at 7.30am and forwarded an updated GPS position to them ten minutes later. At 8.52am, the coastguards confirmed the rescue of the boat. The people were brought to Chios Island. On the next day, the people themselves confirmed that they had all safely reached Greece (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1095).

On Tuesday the 4th of December 2018, at 6.20am CET, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a boat in distress near Agathonisi Island. There were about 40 people on board. We established contact to the boat at 6.38am. At 6.45am, we alerted the Greek coastguards. The situation was dangerous as the people on board reported of high waves. At 9.02am, the Greek coastguards confirmed that they had just rescued the boat. The people were brought to Agathonisi (see for full report: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1096).

On Wednesday the 5th of December 2018, at 00:08am CET, the Alarm Phone was alerted by a contact person to a boat in distress near Chios Island, carrying about 50 people. We received their GPS position at 00.17am and informed the Greek coastguards to the case at 00.30am. At 00.46am, we learned from the contact person that a boat had just been rescued. The Greek authorities confirmed this when we called them at 00.49am. At around 1pm, the people from the boat confirmed that they had been rescued (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1097).

On Friday the 7th of December 2018, the Alarm Phone was contacted at 5.53am CET by a contact person and informed about a group of 19 people who had crossed the Evros river to Greece and needed assistance. We assisted them for days, but at some point contact was lost. We know that they were returned to Turkey and thus suspect an illegal push-back operation (see for full report: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/1109).

On Thursday the 13th of December the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to two boats in the Aegean sea. In both cases we were not able to reach the travellers, but we were in contact with both the Turkish and Greek coast guard and were in the end able to confirm that one boat had arrived to Lesvos on their own, whilst the others had been rescued by Turkish fishermen (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/reports/view/1100).

On the 17th of December, 2018, at 6.39am, the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to a boat of 60 travellers. Water was entering the boat, and so the travelers were in distress. Though the shift team had a difficult time remaining in contact with the boat, they contacted the Greek Coastguard to inform them of the situation and the position of the boat. Although the team was not able to remain in contact with the travelers, they received confirmation at 8.18am that the boat had been brought to Greece (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1103).

On the 18th of December at 2.11am CET, the Alarm Phone was alerted to two boats. The first, of 29 travellers, had landed on the island of Symi and needed help to exit the place of landing. The second was a boat of 54 travellers (including 16 children, and 15 women) that was rescued by the Greek Coastguard later (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1104).

On the 21st of December, our shift teams were alerted to 2 boats on the Aegean. The first boat was directed to Chios Island and was likely rescued by the Greek Coastguard. The second boat was in immediate distress and after the shift team contacted the Greek Coastguard they rescued the boat (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1105).

On the 23rd of December 2018 at 6am CET, the Alarm Phone received information about a boat in distress heading to Samos with around 60 travellers (including 30 children and 8 women, 4 pregnant). The shift team made contact with the boat and was informed that one of the women was close to giving birth and so the situation was very urgent. The shift team then called the Greek Coast Guard. At 8.07am, the shift team received confirmation that the boat had been rescued (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1106).

Central Mediterranean

On Monday the 12th of November at 6.57pm, the Alarm Phone was called by a relative, asking for help to find out what had happened to his son, who had been on a boat from Algeria towards Sardinia, with around 11 travellers on the 8t of November. Following this, the Alarm Phone was contacted by several relatives informing us about missing people from this boat. Our shift teams tried to gain an understanding of the situation, and for days we stayed in contact with the relatives and tried to support them, but it was not possible to obtain information about what had happened to the travellers (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/1094).

On November 23rd at 1.24pm CET, the Alarm Phone shift team was called by a boat of 120 travelers that was in distress and had left the Libyan coast the night before. The shift team remained in touch with the boat for several hours, and helped recharge their phone credit when it expired. As the boat was in distress, and there were no available NGO operations near the boat, the shift team had no choice but to contact the Italian Coast Guard, but they refused to engage in Search and Rescue (SAR) activities, and instead told the Libyan Coastguard. The boat was intercepted and returned to Libya (see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1107).

On December 20th, 2018, the Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to two cases in the Central Mediterranean Sea. The first was a boat of 20 people that was intercepted and brought back to Libya. The second concerned 3 boats with 300 people in total, that were rescued by Open Arms and brought to Spain (for full report see: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/1108).

 

 

[1] This figure from the UNHCR concerning arrivals from Libya in Italy (https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean/location/5205), last updated on 24/12/2018, does not reveal the precise number of arrivals in Europe via Libya, as some of the rescued were brought to other EU member states, such as the 311 rescued by the NGO Open Arms, who were brought to Spain.

[2] https://sea-watch.org/en/manifesto/

[3] https://af.reuters.com/article/africaTech/idAFKCN1NH1QR-OZATP?fbclid=IwAR3f73kiJ3g4ebSzxhr1INEp-8s1RsjM0jy65S_Ev9tEbGFlajH20PZEeDE

https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2018/11/13/a-misrata-la-resistance-desesperee-de-migrants-interceptes-en-mer_5383107_3210.html; https://www.taz.de/Archiv-Suche/!5551039&s=Libyen/; https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/libya-migrants-refusing-disembark-ship-must-not-be-forced-detention;

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/17/migrants-fleeing-libya-refuse-to-leave-ship-and-be-sent-back-to-country; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-46255984

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/barricaded-refugees-ready-die-return-libya-detention-181118162855287.html

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/20/italy-orders-seizure-aquarius-migrant-rescue-ship-hiv-clothes?fbclid=IwAR0MUVtIY27K2Mc5Y0YxBnWKod9ayAwWavjVQx2l4Q_E6dGwoalT3Jbw43c

[5] https://www.msf.org/sinister-attacks-italian-authorities-lifesaving-search-and-rescue-mediterranean

[6] https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/news/mediterranean-msf-rescue-ship-aquarius-forced-terminate-operations?fbclid=IwAR0bd_mQYGZlNYOJjamy66Ok_Cmp1aqij1osUsxAaiz-Xt4YpykKrNxr3Ww

[7] https://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2018/11/22/news/migranti_le_ong_tornano_in_mare_per_salvare_vite-212324210/?fbclid=IwAR1i6cD-Qhabb_zkAgBriCwIGzMWL8X9dj_pWxiPYHgEYwu72BHhp9bdTDY

[8] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/11/stranded-refugees-and-migrants-must-be-immediately-allowed-to-dock-in-italy-or-malta/; https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/migrants-brought-malta-spanish-fishing-boat-after-long-standoff-442845009

[9] https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/italien-migranten-105.html

[10] https://www.lastampa.it/2018/11/12/italia/scontro-tra-barchini-nel-mediterraneo-scomparsi-migranti-lappello-delle-famiglie-aiutateli-b3frN0fXrE80lnTaQmMmaM/pagina.html

https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2018/11/17/migranti-naufragio-al-largo-della-sardegna-due-morti-e-8-dispersi/4771676/

https://www.unionesarda.it/articolo/news-sardegna/sulcis-iglesiente/2018/11/18/il-racconto-dei-superstiti-li-abbiamo-visti-scomparire-136-798467.html

[11] http://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/13708/libye-quinze-migrants-morts-de-faim-retrouves-dans-un-canot-a-la-derive

https://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFKBN1O310G-OZATP

[12] https://elpais.com/politica/2018/12/09/actualidad/1544345368_332692.html?autoplay=1

[13] http://www.statewatch.org/news/2018/dec/appeal-by-african-civil-society.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0Np2Ej6ELDCyNd5svxZ4HLO5bs3WADPThF1KQGGG5MF6EUecOwJ8fd2mU

[14] https://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/entry/22-migrants-marocains-perdus-au-large-des-iles-canaries-apres-le-naufrage-de-leur-embarcation_mg_5bf29cbee4b0f32bd58b5e29?utm_hp_ref=mg-maroc

[15] https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-europe-migrants-africa/african-migrants-turn-to-deadly-ocean-route-as-options-narrow-idUKKBN1O210G

[16] https://www.facebook.com/AegeanBoatReport/

[17] https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/story/preventing-and-containing-outbreaks

[18] http://legalcentrelesvos.org/2018/11/29/the-case-of-the-moria-35-a-15-month-timeline-of-injustice-and-impunity/

[19] https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/05/humanitarians-released-bail-greece

[20] http://www.solidaritynow.org/en/sara_and_sean/

[21] https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/18/greece-violent-pushbacks-turkey-border

[22] https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/18/greek-police-accused-beating-migrants-trying-to-enter-from-turkey?__twitter_impression=true&fbclid=IwAR2d5XHl4z9_Hg1DbkbQPiSycaiAZGP4ccxllZ9eQYji0d7sqG2F5N-w9eM

[23] https://www.unhcr.org/desperatejourneys/, https://rm.coe.int/16808afaf6

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