Weekly Reports: Where is Europe’s Outrage? Continued Border Transgressions and Struggles in times of Mass Drownings, Push-Backs, and Europe’s Silence

 WatchTheMed Alarm Phone Monthly Report 30th May – 26th June 2016

 

In the past four weeks, the WatchTheMed Alarm Phone was involved in 19 distress cases, of which 7 took place in the Aegean Sea, 7 in the Central Mediterranean and 5 in the Western Mediterranean Sea. While in most cases the safe arrival of all travellers could be confirmed, in some cases we had to witness the loss of life and human rights violations:

On the 11th of June, we were alerted to an illegal push-back operation of a refugee boat between Cesme and Chios. The boat had already entered Greek territory, when the Greek coastguard threatened the passengers with gun violence and forced them back to Turkey. A boat part of the Frontex mission was present but did not intervene. The Alarm Phone statement denouncing the incident can be found here: https://alarmphone.org/en/2016/06/15/watchthemed-alarm-phone-denounces-illegal-push-back-operation-with-frontex-present/?post_type_release_type=post.

On the 20th of June, after having sent a confidential letter to the Turkish authorities, the Alarm Phone published a joint statement with Sea-Watch to demand an independent investigation of a fatal distress case that had occurred on 19.03.2016 in the Aegean Sea, during which the Turkish Coastguards had denied entry to humanitarian search and rescue vessels in the area. The statement can be found here: https://alarmphone.org/en/2016/06/20/support-for-a-co-ordinated-humanitarian-search-and-rescue-operation-is-denied-does-the-turkish-coast-guard-hold-responsibility-for-the-deaths-of-two-persons-at-sea/?post_type_release_type=post

On the 26th of June, the Alarm Phone was informed about a boat that had capsized during an interception carried out by the Marine Royal (Moroccan Navy). Only 5 of the 8 passengers survived. In the name of the survivors and the families of the deceased, we published a statement, mourning the lost lives and demanding an investigation of the incident: https://alarmphone.org/en/2016/06/27/statement-26th-of-june-2016-three-deaths-in-the-straight-of-gibraltar-caused-by-the-arrival-of-the-marine-royal-moroccan-navy/?post_type_release_type=post

2,896 deaths in the Mediterranean have already been counted – merely over the first six months of this year. The real figure of human loss at sea remains unknown. On the 3rd of June, for instance, in a shipwreck south of Crete/Greece, the Greek Coastguard rescued about 340 persons and recovered nine bodies, while hundreds of other passengers were never found (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36443326). As MSF remarked in the beginning of the year, the death toll at sea resembles that of a war zone. Humanitarian organisations operating rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea have repeatedly denounced the lack of official rescue capacities present in the maritime zone off the coast of Libya. Humanitarian actors and crews of private cargo vessels work tirelessly to rescue people in distress. Whenever they move to disembark travellers, the likelihood of further disasters in the waters off Libya increases as their absence is not adequately compensated for.

Despite mass drowning and illegal push-back operations by the Greek coastguards in the presence of Europe’s border agency Frontex, we experience how EU institutions, national governments, and the mainstream media remain largely silent. Whereas past mass shipwrecks caused at least some reactions, even if often hypocritical ones, the silence that we now witness points to the normalizing of border cruelty and migrant deaths. While these lost lives are sought to be silenced, there are struggles that protest loudly and that do not accept the continuation of mass murder at sea. Migrant and solidarity communities and groups will not cease to denounce the cruelty that the European border regime commits, within the territories of European member states and far beyond.

From 24th-26th of June, migrant and solidarity activists, including Alarm Phone members organized a “Defencing Festival” at the Slovenian-Croatian border. In camps on both sides of the border, the divisive line in-between was protested (https://www.facebook.com/defencing/). From 15th-24th of July, there will be a no borders campaign and meeting in Thessaloniki where presumably thousands of migrant and activist groups will join forces to struggle against the cruel border policies of Europe (http://noborder2016.espivblogs.net/). Meanwhile our daily struggle of listening and responding to cases of distress in the Mediterranean continues. Summaries and links to last month’s individual reports per region can be found below.

Western Mediterranean Sea

On Thursday the 2nd of June 2016, at 11.15am, an Alarm Phone member alerted the shift team to a rubber boat, carrying 32 persons, including 2 women and one baby, who had left from Nador, Morocco at 3am local time. The engine of the boat had stopped working and the travellers were in panic. We passed on the information to the Spanish Coastguard in Almeria. The Spanish search and rescue agency Salvamento Maritimo searched for the boat with a helicopter and eventually spotted the boat at about 13 nautical miles from Melilla. At 5pm the Coastguard in Melilla confirmed that the travellers had safely arrived in Melilla and that the Red Cross had taken over (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/518).

On Sunday, the 5th of June 2016, the Alarm Phone was alerted to one case in the Western Mediterranean. At 1.30pm, a migrant living in Morocco informed us about a boat that had left at 3am local time near Layoune, Morocco. At 1.40pm, we called the Spanish rescue agency Salvamento Maritimo in Las Palmas, who were already informed about the boat. At 10.45pm we found a news article by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo about the rescue of 58 persons who had left from Bojador the night before and who would be brought to the harbour of Gran Canaria. Among the travellers were 3 children and 1 pregnant woman. A few minutes later, S.M. confirmed that the travellers had been rescued and were brought to Gran Canaria (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/519).

On Monday, the 20th of June 2016, the Alarm Phone was alerted to one case in the Western Mediterranean Sea. 13 travellers had left near Cap Spartel, close to Tanger, Morocco on a rubber boat equipped only with paddles and no engine. They had left in two boats, but as one boat had deflated right after the start, the travellers continued their journey in one boat. We managed to establish direct contact with the travellers and informed the Spanish search and rescue agency Salvamento Maritimo (S.M.) about the case. They were already searching for the boat. At 9am, we called back S.M. who announced that they had rescued a dinghy some minutes earlier, but they could not say whether this was the boat we had been in touch with. At 11.55 we spoke with S.M. again and they confirmed that the boat rescued was very likely the one we had been in touch with (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/525).

On Friday, the 24th of June 2016, at 8.05am, a contact person alerted the Alarm Phone to a boat, carrying 8 persons (7 men 1 woman) in distress in the Western Mediterranean Sea. At 8.15 we talked to the travellers directly and they confirmed what the contact person had also told us, that they had started near Tanger. We immediately called the Spanish search and rescue agency Salvamento Maritimo (S.M.), who was already informed about the case and informed us that they had already started to search the boat in distress. We then attempted to reach out to the travellers again to tell them that help was underway, but the connection was too bad to communicate. We also got in touch with a person in Morocco, who called us about the same case. At 9.30am the contact in Morocco told us that the travellers saw two big boats near them. At 10am, we also reached the travellers and they said that they could see a white boat and the Spanish shore. They also recounted that they had talked to the Red Cross. At 10.30am, our contact person in Morocco confirmed the rescue of the boat to Spain (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/526).

As already mentioned above, on Sunday, the 26th of June 2016, Alarm Phone was alerted to a case of interception by the Moroccan Navy, during which 3 persons died. (for the full report see here: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/531).

Aegean Sea

On Monday, the 30th of May 2016, after a long silence in the Aegean, we were informed about a group of travellers who had stranded on the Greek island of Samos. At 3.43am a contact person alerted us to the group of 15 travellers, who had stranded on a rocky part of the island. Shortly after the alert had reached us, the group was picked up by the Coastguard and was brought to the port (see: http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/517).

On Tuesday the 7th of June 2016, the Alarm Phone received a Facebook message by a contact person, alerting us to a distress case in the Aegean Sea. Shortly afterwards we received the phone number of some of the travellers as well as their GPS coordinates, showing the boat still close to the Turkish coast. We were informed that there were 45 people on board who spoke Kurdish and Arabic. Our shift team kept monitoring the trajectory of the vessel and, once it had crossed into Greek waters, we informed the Greek coastguards. Later on they confirmed that they had sent out a patrol boat to the location. At 6.48am our contact person informed us that the boat-people were able to see the coastguard vessel approaching. At 7.11am the Greek coastguards confirmed to us that they were escorting the vessel to the shores of Samos. At 8.06am we learned that the people had been transferred onto the patrol boat of the coastguards. At 9.58am, the Greek coastguards confirmed that the group had been brought to Samos, which was also confirmed by our contact person later on (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/520).

 

On Saturday the 11th of June 2016, the Alarm Phone experienced a push-back operation by the Greek coastguards. We received a WhatsApp message at 3.59am from a contact person, alerting us to a vessel in distress off the Turkish coast, near Cesme. There were 53 people on board, among them 14 children and three elderly people. At 4.05am we received a second GPS position, showing them still in Turkish waters. They said that the Turkish Coastguards were following them. At 4.41am we learned that they had ‘escaped the Turkish Coastguards’. At 4.52am we were informed that they had reached Greek water and were moving toward a boat of the Greek Coastguards. We received pictures showing them being transferred onto the Greek Coastguards vessel. The pictures clearly showed also the presence of a Romanian vessel there, which is part of the Frontex mission. The Coastguards stated that they would bring them to Chios/Greece. However, at 5.22am, we received the information that the Greek Coastguards were not transferring them to Chios. We received photos showing them on a vessel of the Turkish Coastguards. The Greek Coastguards forced the people under the threat of force to move onto the vessel of the Turkish Coastguards. At 5.23am, we received a new location. This location showed that they were in Greek waters, about five hundred meters beyond the borderline. At 5.36am they confirmed that they were being pushed-back. At 7.09am we received an updated GPS position, showing them in the harbour of Cesme/Turkey. Later on we received the information that the group was taken to a prison (for direct testimonies and the full report, as well as our public statement denouncing the push-back, see here: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/521).

On Sunday the 12th of June 2016, at 3.40am, the Alarm Phone received a message from a contact person, alerting our shift team to 30 people who were about to leave Turkey on a boat in the direction of Samos. We agreed that he would monitor the situation and contact us if the group entered a situation of distress. At 4.35am, the same contact person informed us about another group on their way to Lesvos. Again, our contact person agreed to stay in contact with the group of 40 people and alert us if need be. Hours later we were informed that the second boat had safely arrived on Lesvos Island while the first boat had been intercepted by the Turkish coastguards (see:

http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/522).

On Thursday the 16th of June 2016, at 11.23pm, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a group of travellers seeking to cross the Aegean Sea from Cesme/Turkey. We received several GPS positions of their boat, showing their trajectory toward Chios Island. At 3.02am we were informed that the Turkish coastguard was following them and the travellers were worried that they might be caught and returned. However, already at 3.19am we learned that they had succeeded to reach Chios Island (see:

http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/523).

On Friday, the 24th of June 2016, at 1:17am, a contact person informed the Alarm Phone about a boat in distress in the Aegean Sea. We were told that the engine had stopped working and that the passengers were in panic, as water was entering the boat. The travellers had left from Turkey around midnight. The contact person provided us with a number, but we could not reach the travellers. Two other contact persons called us about the same boat. They had family members on board and were worried, as they could not reach them. At 2:10am we called the Greek Coastguard to see whether they knew about the case. They told us to call the Turkish Coastguard. At 2:15am, the first contact person called us to say that the travellers had safely arrived in Mytilene (see:

http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/527).

On Saturday, the 25th of June 2016, just before midnight the Alarm Phone was informed about 30 travellers (with several children, pregnant women and a disabled person among them) attempting to cross from Cesme, Turkey to Chios. On Sunday, at 1.50am they confirmed their safe arrival in Chios. (see:

http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/528)

 

Central Mediterranean Sea

On Sunday the 12th of June 2016, the Alarm Phone dealt with 4 emergency situations in the Central Mediterranean Sea. We received direct calls from 4 different satellite phones, alerting us to 4 vessels that had left from Northern Africa, from Libya as well as Egypt. We were able to re-charge the 4 satellite phones so that the travellers could continue making distress calls. Boat 1 with about 133 people on board was rescued by MSF’s Dignity I rescue vessel but unfortunately one of the travellers had passed away (case 1). Boat 2 with about 125 people on board was located very close to the Libyan coast with a malfunctioning engine and eventually the people were rescued by a cargo vessel and returned to Libya. Boat 3 with about 130 people on board was rescued by the Italian coastguard and boat 4 was rescued by merchant vessels and Frontex forces and brought to Italy. Overall, approximately 585 people were rescued, 1 dead body discovered, 125 people returned to Libya (see full report: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/524).

On Friday, the 24th of June 2016, at 7.49, the Alarm Phone received a direct call from a boat with about 100 travellers on the way from Libya to Italy. They urgently asked for help. They had left from Tripoli the day before around 1am. The officer of the Italian coastguard, to whom we passed on the Thuraya telephone number, promised to try to localize the boat. We charged the Thuraya phone and asked the travellers to send us their coordinates, but did not receive any answer. At 9.09am, we reached out to the Coastguard again, who had, in the meantime, localized the boat. The Italian Coastguard sent an Italian warship to rescue the boat. At 1.15pm, the start of the rescue operation and at 3.43pm the successful rescue operation was confirmed. The Italian Coastguard said that the warship had rescued about 100 persons from a rubber boat. At 8.22pm, a contact person whose family members had been on the rubber boat also confirmed their rescue and told us that they had been brought to Italy (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/529).

On Sunday, the 26th of June 2016, the Alarm Phone was involved in two distress cases in the Central Mediterranean Sea. At 7.53am, we received an e-mail from Father Mussie Zerai concerning two boats on the way from Libya to Europe, carrying 120 people and 135 people respectively, who were in urgent need of assistance. The second boat was rescued by a German boat, as the travellers confirmed to us. The first boat is very likely to have been rescued again, but the boat could not be identified, because there were a lot of simultaneous rescue operations. On Sunday afternoon, the Italian Coastguard stated that they had coordinated the rescue of about 3,324 persons from 26 boats. Besides the Italian Coastguard and the Navy, civil rescue missions like MSF and Sea Watch again played a key role in the rescue efforts (see: http://watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/530).

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