The slogan “Ferries not Frontex”1 emerged in the days following the 18th of April 2015. More than 800 men, women and children drowned that day in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Only one week earlier, about 400 people had lost their lives in a similar ‘tragedy’. A tragedy? No! It could have been anticipated. The mass dying was a direct and foreseeable consequence of the EU border regime. And the dying continues. This border regime has a clear symbol: Frontex, the EU’s border agency.
In the first months of 2015, this agency proposed and insisted that rescue operations should be limited and that, instead, all resources and capacities should be mobilised for border control. Deterrence and death, selection and deportations: Frontex is the pacemaker for an inhumane politics. Calling for ferries represents the opposite of what Frontex symbolises: Ferries would guarantee safe and legal passages, and function like mobile bridges to connect three continents separated by the sea. A simple way to open the borders for everybody and to stop the death at sea immediately! Ferries not Frontex is thus a vision for an open Europe and a political demand for the here and now.
After 18th of April 2015, as a direct (re)action to the mass death, we considered chartering a big ferry in order to pick up refugees and migrants in Libya. It would have functioned also as a symbolic action of protest and civil disobedience against the deadly border regime, organised by wide alliance of civil society actors. In the end, it was not possible to realise this idea due to security reasons and the lack of funding. But the idea remained vivid and actors such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sent large rescue vessels into the Central Med. Since then, and in correspondence with the incredible and ongoing struggles for the freedom of movement by refugees and migrants mainly in the Aegean Sea and on the Balkan route during the summer and autumn 2015, more and more refugee-welcome initiatives emerged within and beyond Europe. In September and October 2015, the mass movements’ capacity to break through various borders pointed to the possibility of an open Europe, at least for a few months.
At the present time, in February 2016, forms of repression and control, as well as racist parties and propaganda appear on the rise once again. Europe is at the crossroads: Will it create new walls and rigid fences throughout the whole continent, and accept death at sea as a daily consequence of closed borders? Or will it create a path into a different and open Europe for those who are arriving, and also for those of us who are already here? We probably have to expect contestations all over Europe in the coming months, and especially so along the external sea borders. Our campaign and this newspaper seek to contribute to denunciations of deadly European borders and, at the same time, wants to offer a prompt and concrete alternative: Ferries not Frontex!
(1) Ferries not Frontex! 10 points to really end the deaths of migrants at sea: https://alarmphone.org/en/campaigns/ferries-not-frontex/