Sea-Watch fears criminalization of civilian rescue forces in the 2017 election year

Sea-Watch strongly rejects the accusation of direct support of migrant smuggling by SAR-NGOs, which was raised by Frontex. “Frontex itself creates the business field for trafficking, since the border protection agency is implementing the EU’s policy of closure. As a result, Frontex is at least complicit for the deaths of over 5,000 people at its borders in 2016 alone”, to quote Axel Grafmanns, CEO of Sea-Watch. “Frontex is now trying to make the civilian rescue forces responsible for this is insidious. A criminalization of those who help where the EU fails, seems to become the European strategy in the 2017 super-election-year.

A few days ago, well-calculated accusation were launched by the border protection agency Frontex in an article of the Financial Times: civilian sea rescue organizations were insinuated to facilitate the work of the human smugglers, or even directly to support their business model. It is superficially argued, that the reduction of the number of emergency calls made by inflatable boats, would prove that smugglers know where the ships of the rescue organizations are located. Therefore the fully overcrowded refugee boats could be directed to them. The trips would be shorter, the business more lucrative.

“This argument intentionally fades out, why the NGOs actually are on the sea. The fact that this is about the rescue of people who are in acute danger to life is being ignored”, says Frank Dörner from the Sea-Watch managing board. “We are actively looking out for boats to prevent accidents. Boats are often found before they send an emergency call in the moment of the distress. Furthermore, here it is embezzled that all the organizations take on a task that actually should have been fulfilled by the EU. Namely to prevent people from dying in their attempt to get to Europe, because there is no other way for them to get there safely”.

The danger of increasing criminalization of the fugitives and the helpers is real

During the development of 2016 we have observed, that the ships of the EU missions have increasingly withdrawn from the immediate rescue operations. “There is the obligation to do everything in the event of an emergency call to help as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, the better equipped ships of the military were often only observers of the civilian rescue”, Dörner says. Such a case occurred, for example, on September 25, 2016, when a warship only watched from distance, as the Sea-Watch 2 and the Astral from the Spanish organization Pro Activa rescued at their capacity limit. “The support of the EU Marine was limited to 12 bottles of water and a few biscuits, and it was only after several requests for support”. It was argued that the Mission’s task was not primarily maritime rescue. “It has to be examined in which cases the international maritime law has been breached,” adds Axel Grafmanns, CEO of Sea-Watch.
In addition, the European mission “Sophia” is training the so-called Libyan coast guard, which is proven to carry out international repatriation from international waters. “This year we were able to document several cases in which the Libyan coast guard pushed back boats from international waters. On October 21, more than 20 people were killed in an attack on one of our rescue operations”, says Grafmanns. “The EU is struggling to close its borders in time for the 2017 super-election year in any means available. The eyes of the civilian rescue organizations are a disturbing factor”.

The direct link between criminal human traffickers and life-saving relief organizations through reports, such as Frontex, or the argumentation of the recent mission report of the EU operation “Sophia”, would suggest that further rhetorical attacks on the helping organizations are to be expected. “Frontex is driving a strategy of uncertainty, which is further fueled by judicial proceedings, as it also takes place against helpers in the Aegean Sea. This will increase the dangers that refugees will face in the future, “commented Dörner.

2016 – Mare Mortum is to be further discouraging

The year 2016 was the deadliest on Europe’s borders, especially in the Mediterranean. “From the Mare Nostrum, where ten thousands of people have been saved by the Italian navy two years ago, has now become the Mare Mortum. And this despite the fact that this sea is probably the best monitored area of the world’s sea!”, Frank Dörner says. “It can only be political calculation, if over 5000 people have drowned or went missing on the way to a safe harbor until today.”

Since the principles of human coexistence are increasingly questioned, Sea-Watch clearly opposes the criminalization of refugees no matter why they leave their country. We demand that people should not be sacrificed to political interests, and the rescue from life risks must not be further disparaged. Together with all the other NGOs, Sea-Watch will continue to save people in the Mediterranean from drowning, and fight for safe ways for refugees to enter Europe without repression. This is the only way to prevent further deaths!

If you have any questions, we are available. You can reach our spokesman Ruben Neugebauer by mail to and by phone via +4915773689421.