Struggling for Freedom of Movement since 2014: The Alarm Phone turns 7

CommemorActions in Dakar and Palermo in September 2021. Source: Alarm Phone

Today, we remember the dead and missing of the shipwreck that occurred on 11 October 2013. On that day, 268 people died in the central Mediterranean Sea, within the Maltese Search and Rescue zone.

A big fishing boat with over 400 people on board, mainly from Syria, had left from Zuwara/Libya. They travelled north but the boat sank after being shot at by a Libyan vessel. Many hours before it capsized, people on board had called and informed Italian and Maltese authorities about their dire situation. Nonetheless, rescue efforts were delayed for several hours and patrol vessels only arrived one hour after the boat had sunk. 212 people were rescued, but 268 people died. Without this intentional delay, everyone could have been rescued.

This happened only 8 days after another shipwreck that had occurred on 3 October 2013, when 368 people had died near Lampedusa. 

Despite the public outcry after these shipwrecks, the violent border regime that caused these deaths is still present, with thousands of lives being lost in the Mediterranean Sea since. Most of these deaths could have been prevented, if only the border regime that caused them would have been abolished.

The shipwrecks of October 2013 were a turning point for us. We asked ourselves: “What would have happened if the authorities’ non-assistance would have been watched and monitored in real-time? What would have happened if the people on the boat could have directed a second call to an independent phone-hotline, through which a team of civil society members could raise alarm and put immediate pressure on authorities to rescue?” 

One year later, on 11 October 2014, we started our work as the Watch The Med Alarm Phone, a self-organised hotline in solidarity with people on the move and in distress at sea. Since then, our activist network has been operative around the clock, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from both sides of the Mediterranean Sea. We have supported people on over 4,000 boats in distress, in all regions of the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the Atlantic. 

Every single day, our transborder activist network has to witness the violence of the EU border regime, the innumerable situations of non-assistance by state actors, and the left-to-die politics of EU member states. Every single day, we mourn with desperate families and friends who lost their loved ones. We try to support those in search of their missing friends and family members after they embarked on a dangerous journey and disappeared. 

At the same time, we also witness the strength of the people who cross the Mediterranean sea and who defy the EU border regime. We listen to their brave voices on the phone when they call us from the middle of the sea. We also receive messages from people who made it autonomously to European shores. Their calls, their voices, and their strength are at the centre of our work. They give us motivation to continue this struggle on their side.

All the experiences we have made over the past seven years make us even stronger in our conviction that we must struggle on, collectively. We promise that we will fight on, every hour of every day, for the freedom of movement for all and against Europe’s racist borders.