Oktober - Dezember 2014 | Fünf Einzelberichte zu Rettungen unter Beteiligung des Alarm Phone
Das Watch The Med Alarm Phone hat seine Arbeit zwar erst am 10. Oktober 2014 begonnen, und doch hat das Projekt bereits jetzt zur Rettung zahlreicher Menschen aus akuter Seenot beigetragen. Vor diesem Hintergrund wurde Anfang Dezember ein Erster Zwischenbericht veröffentlicht, hinzu kamen fünf Einzelberichte, in denen der jeweilige Beitrag des Alarm Phone detailliert dargestellt wird. Kompakt sind diese Berichte hier dokumentiert, wer weitere Informationen möchte (inklusive ozeanographischen Karten) sei auf die Webseite des Watch The Med Alarm Phone verwiesen.
More than 400 Refugees adrift and in distress in the Central Mediterranean
Watch The Med Alarm Phone Report – 12th of December 2014
Case name: 2014_12_09-CM2
Situation: Vessel adrift and in distress in the Central Mediterranean Sea
Status of WTM Investigation: Ongoing (Last update: 12th of December 2014)
Time and Place of Incident: 09th of December 2014, Central Mediterranean Sea
Brief Summary of the Case: A vessel with approximately 400 people on board was adrift in the Central Mediterranean sea for five to six days, about 150 nautical miles off the island of Sicily. The vessel’s crew had disembarked, leaving the refugees, mostly from Syria, behind. Mr L., the brother of one of the passengers on board alerted the Italian coastguard and the Italian Red Cross, as well as the Watch The Med Alarm Phone. The Alarm Phone’s shift team forwarded the number of the Thuraya satellite phone to the Italian coastguard which then located the vessel, coordinated a rescue operation and alerted vessels in vicinity to the refugee vessel in distress. The Icelandic coastal patrol vessel Týr and the Spanish oceanographic vessel Sarmiento de Gamboa directed themselves to the vessel in distress and conducted the rescue operation by transferring the refugees onto their vessels. The refugees were brought to Augusta/Sicily in Italy.
Summary of the Case: On the morning of the 9th of December 2014, Mr L. contacted members of the Watch The Med Alarm Phone and informed the shift team about a vessel in distress in the Central Mediterranean Sea, with approximately 400 passengers on board, amongst them many children. Mr L.’s brother was amongst the refugees who were mainly from Syria and seeking to reach Italy. Following Mr L.’s estimate, the refugee vessel had left Mersin in Turkey on the 4th of December and was thus adrift for 5-6 days. At the time of Mr L.’s call to the shift team, the vessel was located presumably about 150 nautical miles off the Italian island of Sicily. Mr L.’s brother had called him earlier on the 9th of December and Mr L. had in turn notified the Italian coastguard and the Italian Red Cross.
The shift team reached out to the Italian coastguard (MRCC Rome) and forwarded the obtained information as well as the number of the Thuraya satellite phone that the refugees had at hand on the vessel. The coastguard was able to locate the vessel moving towards Italy. They started to coordinate rescue efforts and alerted vessels in vicinity to the vessel in distress. The Icelandic coastal patrol vessel Týr which is part of the Frontex ‘Triton’ patrol operation, arrived first at the scene and began to transfer passengers of the refugee vessel. During the rescue operation, Mr L. notified the shift team that his brother had reached out to him again and confirmed that the Icelandic vessel had begun to transfer passengers but that there would not be enough space on that vessel for all of the refugees. Mr L.’s brother also voiced the concern that the refugees could be pushed-back and not brought to Italy. The Spanish oceanographic vessel Sarmiento de Gamboa then arrived at the scene and disembarked the remaining refugees from the vessel. The refugees who were, apart from two, in good health condition were transferred to Augusta/Sicily in Italy.
The Role of the Alarm Phone: The Alarm Phone was contacted by Mr L. whose brother was one of the passengers on the refugee vessel. Mr L. also reached out to several networks, NGOs and authorities himself. The Alarm Phone’s shift team was able to forward the satellite number to the Italian coastguard and followed the fate of the refugees until they had safely reached Augusta in Italy. The Alarm Phone did not act on its own in this case; several others had equally participated in the important task to alert authorities and the public to in situation of distress at sea. The Alarm Phone constitutes one group amongst many in a civil society that refuses to look away in light of the harrowing situation along Europe’s maritime borders.
With regards to the current developments in the deadly borderzone of the Mediterranean Sea with the abolition of the rescue operation Mare Nostrum it is even more important to monitor the sea space and follow every search and rescue operation conducted therein. The ‘replacement’ operation of Mare Nostrum, the Frontex led operation ‘Triton’ does not prioritise rescue missions but surveillance and control instead. Frontex openly discourages rescue operations beyond the 30-mile-zones off European coasts which means that in the future many more will be left to die in the sea.
Facing these developments and the ongoing misery in the Mediterranean Sea we will not be silent. Family members and various activist/migrant networks and communities raise their voices and work in solidarity to scandalise the situation along Europe’s external borders and to mobilise rescue operations. We would like to thank the relatives in particular who decided to not remain alone with their worries but who broke the silence instead and took the brave step to reach out for help.
Tragedy in the Western Mediterranean Sea - 29 people presumed dead, 28 survivors
Watch The Med Alarm Phone Report – 5th of December 2014
Case name: 2014_12_4-WM1
Situation: Vessel in immediate distress in the Western Mediterranean Sea
Status of WTM Investigation: Ongoing (Last update: 6th of December 2014)
Time and Place of Incident: 4th and 5th of December 2014, Western Mediterranean Sea
Brief Summary of the Case: A rubber vessel embarked from Morocco toward Spain on the 4th of December with 57 people on board, including 9 children. When the Spanish sea search and rescue organisation Salvamento Maritimo discovered the vessel south of Almería on the 5th of December, 28 passengers were rescued. However, during the journey 29 people had fallen overboard and went missing, amongst them 8 of the 9 children on board. The search and rescue operation was called off after three days of searching, and those who are missing are presumed dead. A shift team of the Watch The Med Alarm Phone was alerted to the case through migrant communities who had ties with those on the vessel. The shift team could not establish direct contact with the passengers on the boat but followed the case and was in regular contact with the migrant community as well as with Salvamento Maritimo.
Summary of the Case: On the evening of the 4th of December, a vessel with 57 people on board embarked from Northern Morocco and sought to reach Spain. During their journey the vessel’s engine cut out and the vessel was in danger of capsizing. Members of a migrant community, who were awaiting the arrival of the vessel, alerted both Caminando Fronteras and the Watch The Med Alarm Phone shift team.
Caminando Fronteras alerted the Spanish sea search and rescue organisation Salvamento Maritimo (SM) which quickly began a large search and rescue operation, including two planes and one helicopter as well as two rescue vessels. SM had also alerted cargo vessels in the region of the situation of distress. However, the search remained without success in the evening of the 4th.
On the 5th, SM finally found the vessel and rescued the 28 survivors who showed symptoms of hypothermia. Amongst the survivors are one child, 17 men and 10 women. One pregnant woman and the only child that survived were brought to hospital by helicopter while the Red Cross was caring for the other survivors in Almería. The SM continued to search for those who had fallen overboard during the journey and went missing. However, no one was found and the search and rescue operation was called off after three days. Those 29 who remain missing, amongst them 8 children, are presumed dead.
Members of the Watch The Med Alarm Phone were in direct contact with the migrant community that was expecting the arrival of the people on the vessel. They exchanged information regularly with them as well as the SM. Direct contact with the people on the boat could not be established, due to a presumed lack of a satellite phone on board. A member of the Alarm Phone was also in close contact with the migrant community when it became clear that many had gone missing and died which was a difficult but important task. All Watch The Med members wish to express their sincere condolence to the families and friends of those who went missing.
An activist from ‘Afrique-Europe-Interact’ and ‘Droits de Migrants’ knows the family of the young children Assun and Waten who died in the tragedy. He wrote a text to commemorate them and the other victims. Donations are collected for the funeral of the children and money transfers can be made to the non-profit account of Afrique-Europe-Interact with the keywords ‘Droits de Migrants’: http://afrique-europe-interact.net/?article_id=1258&clang=0
Refugee Boat in Distress off the Coast of Libya
Watch The Med Alarm Phone Report – 14th of November 2014
Case name: 2014_11_14-CM1
Situation: Vessel in immediate distress in the Central Mediterranean Sea
Status of WTM Investigation: Ongoing (Last update: 14th of November 2014)
Time and Place of Incident: 14th of November 2014, Central Mediterranean Sea
Brief Summary of the Case: The Alarm Phone shift team was alerted to a case of immediate distress in the Mediterranean Sea. A vessel carrying up to 200 refugees off the coast of Libya was in danger of capsizing, with no other vessels in vicinity. The Italian coastguard alerted vessels to the situation of the refugees and a vessel directed itself to them. The shift team accompanied the refugees through repeated phone calls and reassured them that help was on its way. The vessel reached the refugee boat and conducted a successful rescue operation.
Summary of the Case: On the morning of the 14th of November, the shift team of the Alarm Phone received a message from Father Mussie Zerai, alerting them to a vessel in distress. The vessel was presumably carrying up to 200 refugees from Syria, Palestine and Africa on board, including women and children. Father Zerai provided the satellite phone number and the coordinates of the vessel located in the Central Mediterranean Sea and stated that he had already notified both the Italian and Maltese coastguards.
The shift team was able to locate the boat near the Libyan coast, northwest of Zuwarah, with no vessel in immediate vicinity. An Alarm Phone member tried to reach the people in distress through a satellite phone and finally after 5 attempts managed to speak to the migrants in Arabic. They stated that the engine did not work anymore and that water was entering the vessel, endangering the lives of several hundred passengers on board. They also stated that there was a dead woman on board. The shift team alerted the Maltese and Italian coastguards by email and also called the Italian coastguards. They already knew about the boat in distress and were working on a rescue solution but the shift team could provide them with more information about the situation on board. The Italian coastguard stated that they had advised a merchant vessel to come to rescue but they could not specify how long it would take to reach the vessel in distress.
The refugees called again, telling the shift team that they saw a boat in the distance. The shift team informed the Italian coastguard about these developments and the coastguard confirmed that this was the vessel they had instructed to conduct a rescue operation. He also stated that the vessel would bring the refugees to an Italian harbour. The shift team told the refugees in another call that the boat would come to rescue them. The refugees said that their boat was full of water, unable to be steered anymore and that people were starting to panic and hurt themselves. They also stated that a woman on the boat had just given birth, but the child had died immediately. The shift team heard the refugees scream ‘we are going to die’. Minutes later, the shift team received another call from the refugees announcing that the boat had stopped next to them and had begun a rescue operation.
The Role of the Alarm Phone: This case was the first in which the shift team of the Alarm Phone had direct contact with boatpeople in immediate distress in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Acting on Father Zerai’s request to reach out to them, the shift team was able to gain important information about the location of the vessel, the situation of distress, the number of passengers on board and their health condition. Father Zerai had already alerted the Italian coastguard which was actively trying to send vessels in vicinity to the refugee boat. The exchanges between the shift team and the Italian coastguard were productive and show how pivotal it is that rescue operations are continuously conducted within the Mediterranean Sea, not merely along European coastlines.
The role of the shift team was to accompany the refugees in their distressing situation and to remain in contact with them as much as possible. The shift team immediately and successfully reached out to one of the Alarm Phone members who spoke Arabic. The people on the boat trusted the alarm phone members immediately and they called themselves several times in order to ask for more help and to emphasize the danger of their situation. The shift team was also able to gather important information which they passed on to the Italian coastguards, making known to them that they were following the case as well. In this particular case, the main role of the alarm phone team was to give psychological support to the people in distress. In addition, the shift team acted as a kind of mediator, passing information from the people in distress to the coastguards and vice versa.
While the situation was dramatic and highly dangerous for the people at sea, the shift team was able to assure them in various phone calls that their case was known and that a rescue operation was underway. Had the Italian coastguard not acted immediately to the distress calls or had the vessel not redirected its course to start a rescue operation, the shift team would have launched a public call to draw attention to the boat in distress, pressurising state and EU authorities to act.
"They want to see us drown" – Survivors of a push back operation in the Aegean Sea
Watch The Med Alarm Phone Investigation – 25/26 October 2014
Case name: 2014_10_25_pushback_CHIOS-GR-CESME-TR
Situation: Push-back operation by Greek Coastguards
Status of WTM Investigation: Ongoing (Last update: 31st of October 2014)
Time and Place of Incident: Night of 25th-26th of October 2014 between Chios/Greece and Cesme/Turkey
Brief Summary of the Case: Witness Mr D. reports of a push-back operation by the Greek coastguard when he and 32 other passengers, all of Syrian nationality and including a pregnant woman, were leaving Cesme in Turkey to reach the Greek island of Chios on a rubber vessel in the night of the 25th-26th of October 2014. The Greek coastguard intercepted the vessel and later boarded it, then took away the gas tank of the engine and punctured the vessel. The coastguard left the vessel behind in Turkish waters, without an engine and a hole in the vessel. The passengers were able to call the Turkish coastguard which rescued them and brought them back to Cesme.
Summary of the Case based on Mr D.’s witness account: The WTM shift team got in contact by phone on the 26th of October 2014 at 8:49 a.m.. Mr D., calling from a police station in Cesme (Turkey), explained that he and 32 other Syrian refugees were pushed-back by Greek coastguards in the night before when they sought to reach Greece in order to apply for asylum. The shift team reports that Mr D. was audibly shaken and still in shock when recalling the incident of the previous night. In his witness account, he recounted how they boarded a rubber vessel in the area around Cesme/Turkey in order to reach the island of Chios/Greece on the 25th of October. Approximately after one hour, the Greek coastguard intercepted the vessel. The coastguard forced them to shut off the engine. The refugees followed their commands. After they turned off the engine, the coastguard vessel moved away and left them behind. The refugees were stuck in the middle of the sea. After a lengthy period of time they tried to reignite the engine. After some time, they were successful and they reignited the engine. Immediately after, the coastguard re-emerged. The coastguard ordered them to leave their vessel and to embark on theirs. Following Mr D.'s account, the coastguards were shooting in the air. He stated that he was screaming to make the coastguard understand that they were all Syrian refugees on the vessel, and had fled from war and dictatorship: “I have here a 9 months pregnant lady, so please don't do that.” The Greek coastguard entered the now empty refugee vessel. They took away the gas tank of the engine. They drove them to a place where there were no boats, “in the middle of the sea”. They forced them back on the rubber vessel. Then the coastguard punctured the vessel and left them behind in Turkish waters with a hole in the vessel and without an engine. Mr D. stated that the coastguard wanted “to see us drown”. The passengers were able to alarm the Turkish coastguard and after a long time they were rescued by them and brought to Cesme. The survivors were to be brought to Izmir and released there.
Refugees on the Greek island of Symi – Danger of Push-Back
Watch The Med Alarm Phone Report – 21st-23rd of October 2014
Case name: 2014_10_21-Symi
Situation: Arrival of Refugees on the Greek island Symi – Danger of Push-Back
Status of WTM Investigation: Ongoing (Last update: 23rd of October 2014)
Time and Place of Incident: 21st-23rd of October 2014, Aegean Sea and Symi
Brief Summary of the Case: Up to 75 Syrian refugees arrived on the Greek island of Symi on the 21st of October 2014. They might have been in distress at sea and in a precarious situation after reaching land, without food, water and orientation. They were afraid of being pushed-back by Greek authorities. The shift teams of the Alarm Phone were able to establish direct contact with them, followed their movements where possible and notified several actors/organisations. The group of refugees was found on the 22nd of October and detained at the local police station.
Summary of the Case: On the 21st of October 2014, one of the Watch The Med Alarm Phone shift teams was notified of a case in the Aegean Sea where a vessel with about 75 Syrian passengers on board was potentially in a situation of distress. The vessel was located near the island of Symi, in the South-East of Greece, North of Rhodos. At first, there was no direct contact between the people on the vessel and the shift team. The shift team notified the Greek coastguards on Rhodos who forwarded contact details of the coast guards/port authorities of the island of Symi. The shift team was able to obtain contact details of the refugees through other contact persons. When they called them, the refugees had arrived on Symi but were afraid of being pushed-back. The shift team wrote an email to the Greek UNHCR, informing them about the situation on Symi.
On the 22nd of October, the shift team was able to reach one member of the group of refugees who spoke English. He stated that they were 63 people and had spent the night on a mountain or hill without water, food and shelter. Pregnant women and elderly persons were amongst the group. At the time of the phone call, they were trying to find a town. When the refugees asked to inform the police to search for them, the shift team tried to contact a local police station but could not communicate as the personnel there did not speak English. Instead, they reached the port authorities who claimed that they were aware of the group and were looking for them. They stated that the group was dispersed so that some but not all had already been encountered by the police. Later on the same day, the shift team reached the refugees again by phone. They had found a road and were walking towards a town. The shift team passed this information on to the police but the police made clear that they would not organise transport, food or water for the refugees. The shift team then reached out to the Red Cross and the UNHCR.
On the 23rd of October, the shift team was unable to reach the refugees. The Symi port authorities claimed that they had found everybody (76 people) and had brought them to a “secured place” where they would spend 2-3 days before being released and able to move freely. They stated that all of the refugees were in good health condition. However, the facility used to detain people on Symi seems to be the local police station with no adequate facilities to address the needs of such a big group of people requiring care. The UNHCR later sent a local team to be present there and were then in direct contact with the refugees.
The Role of the Alarm Phone: In cases such as the ‘Symi case’, where a group of refugees had already reached European mainland, the interventions of the Watch The Med Alarm Phone are important for several interrelated reasons. Illegal push-back operations by Greek coastguards frequently occur when refugees and migrants are still on vessels trying to reach Greek shores (as documented by the Alarm Phone in another case only a few days later: http://watchthemed.net/reports/view/84). While the risk is the most acute during sea journeys, the risk of being pushed-back is given even after arrival on Greek mainland. With regards to the ‘Symi case’, the direct contact to the refugees established by the Alarm Phone allowed to gain insights into their location, the size of the group, and their well-being. The shift teams were also able to offer some initial advice. Regular calls to the local police and port authority demonstrated the Alarm Phone’s awareness of the situation, thereby reducing the risk of a subsequent push-back operation. Furthermore, the Alarm Phone teams informed other actors and drew the attention of several individuals, groups and organisations (UNHCR, Red Cross) to the case.