The situation in the Mediterranean has yet again seen itself covered by a shadow of shame with an increase of distress calls that has yet never been observed during previous SAR missions. Together with other NGOs, we have managed to save around 6000 lives at sea during one day. Approximately 1400 migrants, on around ten boats, have surrounded our ship in one afternoon. This is a distress situation for the migrants in question, but also the ships involved in the rescue operations since our fleets are not prepared to operate with such large numbers of people at once.
To see the EU military assets on the horizon observing the distress situation from afar, refusing involvement, in such overwhelming situation for an operation that has been taken over by civil society actors has made more than one crew member put into question the values and morals of our European Institutions. Being able to count on the powerful assets of the EU navy in the area of search and rescue operations would increase the efficiency of our operations and avoid more deaths in the mass grave that has become the Mediterranean, our border. Unfortunately, we have been left alone more than once.
We have taken over the role of our governments who now remain silent, observing the sequency of search and rescue operations without handing out one of their many free hands, preferring to push us into this distress situation where we are doing our best to save each and every individual from the unseaworthy boats, sometimes overcrowding our own ships.
As a reminder, Sea-Watch’s aim is to rescue migrants in distress, distribute life vests, give necessary emergency medical care and hand over the rescued migrants to larger vessels who will then shuttle them to a safer place on shore. Once that we have shuttled all migrants from their boat onto our ship, we can observe EU military vessels finally getting involved in the operation considering that their one and only task in these rescue missions is to burn the remains of the emptied migrant boat in the most effective way.
Assisting to the scene of a burning boat 10m from our overcrowded with migrants ship, Nico Jankowski, speedboat driver on Sea-Watch’s 12th crew stated: “Seeing them coming in the end of an operation to just burn the emptied migrant boats with disproportionate means is outrageous. Knowing that this is what EU tax money is spent on is simply unbelievable”. We agree that he lifted and important subject: With the amount of money that is invested in EU navy, and the capacity and effectiveness they can reach, it is a shame to see what it is spent on when civil society NGO’s are still left alone to accomplish search and rescue missions.
Winter being a few weeks from now, this is the last chance that some migrants are taking to cross the Mediterranean before the risk of dying during the passage becomes too big. As a consequence, the number of rescues have become much denser than during any previous mission.
In their three first mission days, the Sea-Watch 2 crew has rescued around 4000 migrants from unsafe over-packed unseaworthy boats. Previously, Sea-Watch has rescued around 2000 people throughout seven missions. This shows the densification of the operations, but also the unpreparedness of SAR NGOs regarding the increasing number of rescues during a mission.
The fact that the crew has had to guest hundreds of migrants several times overnight has highlighted the slow reaction, and maybe also the unpreparedness of governmental organizations. Coastguard ships have taken more time than predicted to transfer our rescued migrants to their vessels.
This situation also puts a spotlight on the dependence on SAR NGOs who have become the most important actors in the rescue zone, without which, most migrants would be forgotten at sea. At this particular moment, the distress of migrant boats is increasing. This is not a moment to start turning our European backs at them. Ignoring this situation is allowing people to die at our borders, or sending them back to Libya where their lives and destiny are unsecure.
Intern at Human Rights at Sea,
on secondment to Sea-Watch.
Photo credit: Joshua Krüger for Sea-Watch.