The real disaster is not that we save lives in the Mediterranean, but that there are not enough state ships to save people from drowning, said Axel Grafmanns, Managing Director of Sea-Watch, on May 10th 2017 before the defense committee of the Italian Senate:
“I grew up in the former German Democratic Republic, so I know exactly what it means to live at a deadly border. This is one of the reasons that lead to my engagement in Sea-Watch’s humanitarian mission. Pope Francis I said, “We cannot accept the Mediterranean to become an enormous cemetery.” At this time, Operation #MareNostrum had run out and it was during this period that Sea-Watch was founded. (…)
Our ship, the #SeaWatch2, operates in the Mediterranean Sea 24 miles off the Libyan coast with a crew of 16-17 volunteers who spend their free time saving lives. State vessels have almost completely withdrawn and the MRCC has hardly any options to send state boats to support the NGOs. Recently we have been left alone often, like last weekend, for example, when we had about 300 refugees on our 30 m boat with just one toilet, for 57h without any help coming. Apart from the fact that this is very dangerous – imagine what would have happened if we had also gotten bad weather. (…)
We are a non-profit organization and as such we are subject to German law. This status is not easily assigned; we have to formulate a statute which defines the goals and structure of the association and it must be confirmed by the court. We make every effort to be completely transparent, we publish an annual report every year in which we take a close look at how we spent the money and what we spent it on, at our structure, and which of our goals we have achieved, and which we haven’t. We are 100% donation-funded and do not receive any governmental support. To give you an idea of who these donors are: they are, for example, parishes, smaller companies, private individuals or parent-child initiatives in day-care centers and schools. (…)
Another comment on the criminalization of NGOs. The allegations by #Frontex are very interesting. So far, nothing concrete has been expressed. Everything is quite nebulous. To clarify these allegations, Jugendrettet e.V. and Sea-Watch e.V. have invited the President of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, in an open letter to a dialogue in Berlin. Unfortunately, we have received a cancellation. And the answer we received is very interesting. In this letter, Mr. Leggeri emphasizes that he did not intend to accuse us of working with criminals. And he assures that he is committed to Search and Rescue, which we welcome. He also offered an invitation to meet us in Warsaw. Of course we are ready to meet him, but we expect him to make concrete statements. What does he object to, and how can Frontex increase its commitment to save lives?
I do not understand the criticism of our NGOs by EU institutions. The European Union is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize! How then can this criticism be justified by a sponsor of the Nobel Peace Prize of organizations that are committed to human rights? The catastrophe is not that we are saving human lives out there at sea, but that there are not enough state boats to rescue people. (…)
Regarding the relationship with #Libya, I can answer that quite soberly: NO we do not have any contact with Libya, but allow me to amuse myself about the question. Who has contacts with Libya? The official institutions of the European Union do. There is a training program for the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. Libya is a civil-war country, according to our knowledge there are three different coast guards, different governments, and numerous militia. How can the EU work with such a country? Yet the European Union does. Perhaps we should clarify this question: Why do you co-operate with a civil-war country? The EU, she has received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012! What is the background here of cooperating with Libya? We have no contacts to Libya. Actually, today we faced a confrontation with the Libyan Coast Guard, during which our ship has almost been almost destroyed, and we witnessed a pushback, which violates international law, into a country where disastrous conditions prevail, where people are being persecuted, raped and abused.
I am, of course, aware of the media turmoil that currently prevails in Italy. So I would like to answer the question we are frequently asked as follows, by redirecting it to the European Union: How criminal are your partners in Libya? That is the real question. (…)
We have no intention to hinder the work of the authorities. I would like to emphasize that we are pursuing a humanitarian mission, our task is to save human lives, so what do you think we should do? Let people drown and just watch? This is the reason why a few German families have founded the Sea-Watch e.V., because we no longer want to watch helplessly. Since 2000, according to official data more than 40,000 people have drowned, the dark figure is even higher.
It is not because of us that people want to reach the Italian coast, but people flee because they are hungry, and thirsty, because they live in fear and they don’t have a perspective. Why does no-one from Italy cross the sea in the other direction? Our countries in Europe offer prospects, opportunities that other people in other countries do not have and therefore they flee. There are famines in East Africa, in many parts of the continent there is war and misery. We are not the reason why people take to the sea. The reasons are hunger, distress and misery.
The humanitarian crisis does not exist because of us, but because of hunger, wars and misery. Our critics speak of facts. It is not a fact, however, that people flee because of our NGOs. A recent study conducted by the University of Oxford, which you can find on the internet, shows that there is no connection between rescue ships and the migration movement.
I grew up in a country with a Stalinist dictatorship, my grandparents in the National Socialism. It is a common question in Germany we ask our older generations: What did you do about it? I will have an answer if one day my children ask me: What have you done to prevent the dying of 40,000 people in the Mediterranean Sea? I would like to say that I have done what I thought was right. Maybe my attempts were not enough, but we did our best – faulty and not perfect perhaps. I want to ask you, what do you do about it? You are speaking of fighting the “migration flow”. You cannot “fight” this. You can change laws, but we cannot “fight” #Migration. We hear about a “traditional way to leave the country”. There is no longer a traditional way to leave a country. Which country can you still run from today? We’re witnessing times where escape is criminalized. (…) The real problem is that we can no longer look away aloof when so many people die – more than 40,000 since the year 2000, and last year alone, there were over 5,000 confirmed deaths. And this is just the official number, the dark number is higher. That is why we do what we do, we want to change that! (…)
The Mediterranean is the deadliest border in the world, perhaps we should agree on uncompromising implementation of the inalienable human rights. Human rights are not arbitrary, they always apply. We demand: human rights no compromise! You are talking about an alliance against human traffickers, I propose to you an alliance for human rights. We are neutral, while the police are partisan, which is a reason why we do not want to have any police officers aboard our ship. It contradicts our humanitarian values and the Code of Conduct that I have also provided. I urge you to form an alliance for human rights with us. I want to invite all of you!”
On Thursday, May 18th 2017, at pm, the next hearing will be held in Rome, this time before the “Schengen Committee” of the Italian Senate. There Axel Grafmanns will also insist that escape is not a crime – and the real catastrophe in the Mediterranean is the inaction of the European Union.