Alarm Phone Weekly Report 7th – 13th March 2016
Despite stormy weather and attempts of the European leaders to prevent them from coming, refugees continue to cross the Mediterranean and are able to reach Europe, especially from Turkey. According to UNHCR estimates, about 9,942 refugees, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, arrived in Greece from Turkey in the second week of March.
While the EU has pressured Turkey to accept a relocation plan that would make it possible for the EU to return persons that have reached Europe to Turkey – a plan, that clearly violates international human rights conventions – the incidents of violence at various locations along the south-eastern European borders multiply: Several sources have reported that the Turkish coastguard used violence against travellers , trying to hinder people from crossing by attacking their boats and burning their life-vests. Also at the Greek-Macedonian border persons on the move have had to face violence by borderguards, adding to the hardship they face during their precarious journeys.
Especially in Idomeni, where ten thousands of people are stuck due to border closures, the conditions for travellers remain unbearable. The rain has left large parts of the makeshift camps under water. Currently about 12,000 persons have stranded there and still more people keep arriving. The desperate attempt of people to free themselves from the conditions has been met with repression by authorities which has been strongly denounced by some (see footnote). Three refugees drowned while attempting to cross the Suva Reka river to Macedonia. Again we want to emphasize that these senseless human losses could be avoided if there were safe passages for people to reach their desired destination, for example where they have family and friends, who can support them. While the European Union, its border agency FRONTEX and NATO have launched a war against unwanted migrants in the Aegean region, people on the move time and again remind European leaders “we are human beings”, and ask them to open borders, as in a recent protest in a camp in Lesvos.
We are constantly in touch with people on the move as well as their families and friends. Often we receive calls from people who are missing a loved one. On Thursday the 10th of March, for example, we received a call from a man who had lost touch with his brother on the 22nd of January at the Bulgarian-Serbian border. On the weekend, several people called us about a woman who went missing after having reached the Greek island of Pasas While the Alarm Phone is mainly a hotline for people in distress at sea in the Mediterranean, we try to forward cases of missing people and do our utmost to respond to other distress situations. In order to explain to people on the move and the public how the Alarm Phone works, we have recently published two short clips, which you can find here:
Summary of cases
In the past week, the Alarm Phone was alerted to 28 emergency situations, of which 27 occurred in the Aegean Sea and 1 in the Western Mediterranean Sea. Summaries and links to the individual reports can be found below.
Western Mediterranean Sea
On Wednesday, the 9th of March 2016, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a boat in distress in the Western Mediterranean Sea. At 11:40pm we received a call from a contact person with a Moroccan number. The contact person was on a boat and told us that they had left Tanger at 6pm. We kept in touch with the travellers and informed teh Spanish search and rescue agency Savamento Maritimo. After 1am on Thursday morning we could not reach the travellers anymore. The Spanish authorities searched the boat with a helicopter, but stopped the mission on Thursday, because they could not find the travellers. It took five days, but on Sunday, the 13th we finally obtained a confirmation that the travellers had all survived. They had drifted back to Morocco, where they had landed on Thursday morning.
On Monday the 7th of March 2016, we were alerted to three distress cases in the Aegean Sea, near Lesvos. In one case, the travellers were rescued by the Greek Coastguard to Greece, in the second case, the Turkish Coast Guard picked up a boat in distress between Dikili, Turkey and Lesvos. In the last case, we had no direct contact with the travellers, but we were told that they made it to Greece without any assistance.
On Tuesday the 7th of March 2016, we were alerted to one boat in distress in the Aegean Sea. At 7:31pm, we received an urgent distress call from people on a boat. They were screaming and crying for help. With the assistance of a translator, we understood that they were about 50 persons, mostly women, and that water was entering the boat. We could not find out where exactly they had started or where they were going, but it seems like they had decided to paddle to reach the land. At 8:17pm we called them again and by then, the travellers had made it to Kastellorizo. They had arrived on a beach, which was far away from the next village. We tried to call the local police, but without success. We then tried with the Port Police. They said that they would look for the people, but only if they had an exact position. Otherwise the travellers would have to walk. We sent a WhatsApp message to the travellers, asking them for a GPS position, but the message was not delivered. We could not reach them anymore and hope that they encountered people on the island. (See: http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/469)
On Wednesday the 9th of March 2016, we were alerted to 12 distress cases in the Aegean Sea near Lesvos, Pasas, Chios, Agathonisi and Samos. We were active in 8 of the cases. Out of these four were distress cases at land and four at sea. Three groups stranded on the Greek island of Pasas and one group on Samos. They were all picked up, and in the Pasas cases transferred to Chios. One boat in distress with about 85 travellers headed to Lemnos, but still close to the Turkish Coast was picked up, but we could not find out by whom and were they were brought. Another boat in distress on the way to Chios was rescued by the Greek Coastguard and safely arrived in Greece. In one case, in which the engine had stopped working, travellers on another boat came to assist by pulling the boat with the broken engine. In the 4 cases, in which we did not become active, the safe arrival of all travellers was confirmed to us.(See:http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/470)
On Thursday, the 10th of March 2016, we were alerted to 2 distress cases near Lesvos, in the Aegean Sea. The waves were high and the small boats of the travellers were in danger of capsizing. In both cases, the travellers were eventually picked up and brought to Greece. Another group of travellers, we were informed about decided not to leave Turkey, because of the bad weather conditions.http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/471
On Friday, the 11th of March 2016, the Alarm Phone was alerted to 1 distress case in the Aegean Sea, near Samos. At 10.45pm we were alerted to a boat heading to Greece and given their contact number. We managed to reach the travellers. They told us that they could see Samos, but they had not internet connection to send us their exact position. At 11.05pm we called the Greek Coastguard and informed them about the case. They promised to search for the boat. At 11.35pm we reached the travellers and they told us that they had been rescued. At 11.45pm we also talked to the Greek Coastguard who confirmed that all travellers were on a Greek patrol boat. (See:http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/473)
On Saturday, the 12th of March 2016, the Alarm Phone was alerted to 4 cases of distress in the Aegean Sea. In one case a man had reached the Greece by swimming. He stranded without dry clothes, water or food on a rock formation near Kastellorizo, where he was picked up by the Port Police. A group of 48 travellers stranded on Pasas, from where the Chios Port Authorities picked them up. In the two other cases travellers were in distress at sea, because their engine was not working. Both groups were rescued by the Greek Coastguard. http://www.watchthemed.net/index.php/reports/view/474
On Sunday, the 13th of March 2016, the Alarm Phone was alerted to 4 cases of distress in the Aegean Sea. 2 cases of distress near Lesvos reached us in the early morning hours: one involved 60 travellers. They eventually made it to the Greek island on their own. In the second case, 55 travellers were in distress as they were facing high waves in an inflatable boat. The Greek Coastguard rescued them. Alerts about the other two distress cases reached us on Sunday evening. In one case two women stranded on a rocky part of Samos. Doctors without borders picked them up. The fourth case was a distress case at sea near Chios. Again the travellers were in panic because of high waves. However, they reached land by themselves.
This is an alarm number to support rescue operations, not a rescue number. We ourselves cannot rescue anyone, we do not have boats or helicopters.
What to do if you are in distress at sea and pushbacks:
- First call the coast guards and tell them about your situation of distress.
- Then call the Alarm Phone. We will make sure that your distress call is noted and acted upon.
- If you are not promptly rescued by the coast guards, call the Alarm Phone again. We will inform the public media and politicians to put pressure on the rescue services.
We want to support you in protecting your lives and your right of freedom of movement. See also Safety at sea.
For general information about the situation in certain european countries for refugees – see: http://w2eu.info
How it started
The Watch The Med Alarm Phone was started in October 2014 by activist networks and civil society actors in Europe and Northern Africa. The project set up a self-organized hotline for refugees in distress in the Mediterranean Sea.
It offers the affected boat-people a second option to make their SOS noticeable. The alarm phone documents and mobilises in real-time. In this way, pressure to rescue is built-up, wherever possible and push- backs and other forms of human rights violations of refugees and migrants at sea can be opposed.
Thus, the Alarm Phone is not a rescue number, but an alarm number to support rescue operations.
In this respect, the responsible coast guards are informed of the launch of the project. The critique of the deadly border regime is directed first and foremost to the politically responsible actors of the EU. If coast guards do not act promptly, it will be sought, on the one hand, to enforce rescue operations through public pressure. On the other hand, attempts will be made to alert cargo ships and commercial vessels in vicinity to the vessel in distress.
The number of the Alarm Phone will be disseminated mainly through direct contacts with migrant and refugee communities in the important transit countries of Northern Africa and in Turkey. We are also distributing leaflets that inform about the risks of crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Besides notes on how to reduce the risks, the Alarm Phone number is provided.
The project is actively involved in all three regions through which migrants and refugees attempt to reach the countries of the EU:
- The Aegean Sea (between Greece and Turkey)
- The Central Mediterranean Sea (between Libya/Tunisia and Italy)
- The Western Mediterranean Sea (between Morocco and Spain).
Who we are:
The Alarm-Phone is carried out by volunteers, most of whom have been active at the external borders of Europe for many years in networks such as Welcome to Europe, Afrique Europe Interact, Borderline Europe, Noborder Morocco or Watch The Med.
Activists of the project are based in Tunis, Palermo, Melilla, Tanger, Cadiz, Marseille, Strasbourg, London, Vienna, Bern, Berlin and many other cities. They are involved in local groups, in research and/or in campaigns in the mentioned three regions. Some members have made their own personal experiences of crossing sea-borders in the past.
The team members train with handbooks that incorporate experiences of people who have been contact persons of boat-people already for years. They use online-maps and draw from the know-how of the monitoring project Watch The Med which investigates cases of death and failure to assist in the Mediterranean Sea since 2011.
The project is supported by a wide spectrum of civil society members on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea who have signed our call. Amongst them are well-known intellectuals and journalists, survivors of shipwreck tragedies as well as relatives of those who disappeared when travelling to Europe. The project is endorsed by self-organizations of migrants, who have experienced the deadly borders themselves, and by outraged citizens who regard the present situation as unbearable.
In the short-term, the project focuses on rescue missions and the prevention of human rights violations. In the same time we know: The death of refugees and migrants at sea could already be a matter of the past if the border- and visa-regimes were dissolved. It’s a fact that without a radical change the recent tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea will be followed by many more deaths to come in our future.
The project reacts immediately on current developments like the ten-point-action-plan released on April 20th 2015 by the Joint Foreign and Home Affairs Council of the EU. Or to the call of the EU for the reinforcement of Frontex’ Triton mission with campaigns.
The history of the last 20 years in the Mediterranean shows that stepping up the militarization of migration routes is only cause to more death. Each and every time a route into Europe has been blocked by new surveillance technologies and increasing policing, migrants have not stopped arriving. They have simply been forced to take longer and more dangerous routes.
International organizations as well politicians from across the whole political spectrum have denounced smugglers as the main cause of death in the Mediterranean Sea. People smugglers only exist due to, and as long as, border regimes exist that prevent refugees and migrants from the ability to enter countries legally and that forces them instead onto secret, expensive and dangerous routes. Smuggling networks would be history in no time if those who now die at sea could instead reach Europe legally. The visa regime that prevents them from doing so was introduced only 25 years ago.
Insofar, the project aims to create a Mediterranean space of mutual solidarity, with open borders for all people.
An Initiative of: Welcome to Europe, Afrique Europe Interact, borderline-europe, Noborders Marocco, Forschungsgesellschaft Flucht und Migration, Voix des Migrants