Dear Sea-Watch supporters,
The following is a short summary of our recent projects in addition to events influencing our present activities.
Owing to alarming developments recently, we have been forced to extend our rescue capacities in the central Med; we have acquired and equipped an airplane to be transferred to North Africa for our mission. Using “Sea-Watch Air” we hope to detect refugee boats more frequently and prevent tragedies similar to those that occurred on 27th May as well as improving our capacity to observe political players from the air and improve coordination of our rescue missions.
After a wooden refugee boat had capsized in the central Med, our crew had to participate in the recovery of 45 bodies. The amount of refugee boats is increasing dramatically. Within the first two weeks of June alone our crew engaged in the rescue of over 20 boats carrying more than 1,000 people.
Political developments in Europe such as the negotiations with the EU and the Libyan “government” concern us; we are worried they are planning an agreement similar to the “Turkey-deal”. There also is an increase in reports of human rights violations by the Libyan Coastguard.
While still being on stand-by in the Aegean we published a statement together with other NGOs blaming the deaths of two people on the Turkish Coastguard. Meanwhile, several push-backs have been documented in the Greece-Turkey border area.
We observe the political situation with undiminished concern and demand a #safepassage!
Thanks to you and your ceaseless support in the form of donations, kind and uplifting words reaching us by different ways, we never feel alone in our mission. We are happy to know that so many of you support our cause. Thank you!
A detailed breakdown of the developments addressed above:
1. Central Med
Airplane to assist rescue: “Sea-Watch Air” starts mission
To oversee the situation in the Central Med better and detect refugee boats faster we are going to deploy an airplane in the near future.
The already fully equipped microlight airplane began its journey from Germany towards Tunisia on 21st June. After completion of a preparation period including pilot training and test flights, the aerial reconnaissance will start shortly and continue as long as flight conditions are favourable and the crisis in the Med prevails.
We are going to use the airplane for aerial reconnaissance in the Central Med to extend our humanitarian mission in cooperation with Humanitarian Pilots Initiative (HPI) under the name “Sea-Watch Air”.
The catastrophic conditions for refugees call for a more efficient marine Search and Rescue (SAR) operations and aerial monitoring. This enables us to scan the entire SAR area and to coordinate the rescue efforts of the NGOs deployed in the area.
Our most challenging missions so far
Our mission on the 27th May shows that there still has not been any positive change in the Central Med: After a successful rescue mission resulting in the taking of 126 people on board since there was no other vessel available, we were called to assist in another rescue. A wooden boat had capsized. Arriving at the scene of the tragedy, we were able to rescue 20 people out of the water alive, however afterwards our crew had to assist in the recovery of countless drowned refugees. While the refugees rescued beforehand from a rubber boat rested on the decks of the “Sea-Watch 2” our boat crew marked the bodies drifting in the water, using life jackets to prevent them from sinking. The Italian navy then recovered the bodies out of the water. Once again people lost their lives on the way to safety. Those deaths are a direct result of the sealing-off politics of the EU.
Our boat crew found a dead baby amongst the bodies drifting in the water. A picture of this scene made worldwide headlines.
On 23rd June another unbelievable mission occurred as more than 40 refugee boats passed our rescue area. Every available rescue unit in the search and rescue area participated in the joint effort. Our crew participated in the recovery of more than 15 boats over a 12-hour period. Amongst the rescued were many women and children. Unfortunately, one body was recovered.
Sea-Watch is not willing to accept these scenes, produced by the European politics. The EU must provide safe entryways into Europe for refugees seeking asylum.
In light of these tragic events, we demand #SafePassage.
Human rights violations by the Libyan coastguard
While it seems like the EU favours an agreement with Libya – similar to the one with Turkey – to further their politics of sealing off EU borders, there has been an increase in accusations against the Libyan Coastguard. Amnesty International accuses the Coastguard of severe offences while handling refugees.
The organisation reported that refugees have been hit and shot at by the Coastguard in the progress of arresting them and transferring them into Libyan detention centres, where they face torture and maltreatment. In one case the Coastguard were accused of abandoning a sinking ship, refusing to assist.
In May, Amnesty International interviewed 90 migrants in Italy, 20 of which reported shootings and beatings by the Libyan Coastguard.
2. Aegean Sea
We published a common statement with ProActiva Open Arms, WatchTheMed Alarm Phone, Human Rights at Sea and CADUS concerning the events of 19/03/2016 addressed to the Turkish authorities who denied support in a coordinated humanitarian rescue operation:
Sea-Watch, ProActiva Open Arms, WatchTheMed Alarm Phone, Human Rights at Sea and CADUS demand an independent investigation of a distress in the Aegean Sea on 19/03/2016 resulting in two deaths. While travelling towards Lesbos two people – a young man and an 8-year-old child – fell from a boat carrying 27 people and drowned, while several NGO’s in the vicinity of the accident were denied entry to the Turkish rescue area.
The reply of the commanders of the Turkish Coastguard left many questions unanswered and stated incorrect facts. The statement said the Turkish Coastguard had no information about missing persons in the first 1.5 hours after the incident. The Sea-Watch and WatchTheMed teams insisted that they called the Coastguard several times by phone informing them that two people have gone overboard.
The five organisations who signed the statement agree that it shows scandalous failings of the Turkish Coastguard, denying entry to the zone of the accident and refusing the offered help, even after the Coastguard confirmed two people missing.
We demand an independent investigation including access to the relevant logbooks and complete disclosure of any documented conversations regarding the incident. All five organisations will participate in this investigation providing all available information.
Illegal push-backs in the Aegean Sea
Human rights organisations have reported about violent or deadly push-back operations by governmental authorities. We strongly criticise a newly documented incident caused by the Turkish Coastguard. The procedure infringed European and International laws. WatchTheMed documented a push-back on 11th June initialised by the Greek Coastguard. A refugee boat, located between Chios (Greece) and Cesme (Turkey) was forced back with armed force towards the Turkish Coast even though it was already within Greek territory. Two Frontex vessels, located nearby the refugee boat, witnessed this illegal push-back and did not intervene.
I hope to deliver better news in the next newsletter.