News (EN)

“Let’s Dream Together”: migrants in Libya at the meeting with Pope Francis

“Let us dream together”. This was the appeal that Pope Francis made to the movements around the world at the fourth world meeting of popular movements.

We participated in the meeting with the movements of workers in the informal economy, cartoneros, indigenous people, peasants, exploited workers: the discarded and oppressed from all over the world who are self-organising to build another world from below and to fight together. Together today we shared our mutual experiences, we conveyed them to the Pope and together we challenged the inhuman extractivist capitalist system that grips the world, oppressing the poor and the land. For us in MEDITERRANEAN Saving Humans this is the “conspiracy for good”: organising ourselves to resist the violence and inhumanity that systems of power, even when they call themselves “democracies”, unload on women, men and children. As they do along the borders, as in Libya.

With us today were our brothers and sisters from Refugees in Libya, who have been demonstrating for a fortnight in front of the UNHCR headquarters in Tripoli, claiming for themselves and for all other migrants freedom from Libyan concentration camps and denouncing the deportations carried out at sea by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. A system, that of the “Libyan border” that our civilised and democratic governments finance and that has cost the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people.

We have told our brothers and sisters fighting in Tripoli that we are with them, we are together, and we will continue to dream and fight together with them and all the popular movements, to build from below, with our own hands, another possible world, where justice, freedom and universal fraternity are a reality. We are preparing to return to sea with the Italian civil rescue ship Mare Jonio even more convinced than before. Thank you, Pope Francis.

 

Link: https://youtu.be/m1RaNhdRzq8

News (EN)

World Meeting of Popular Movements: “The conspiracy of the good against the immutable”

MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans will participate to the next World Meeting of Popular Movements, which will see the participation and intervention of Pope Francis. The meeting, which will be held online on 16 October, brings together many realities of struggle and social activism from all over the planet, in what is a true global network of solidarity and cooperation that focuses on the struggle for change in favour of dignity, social justice and equality. Street vendors, cartoneros, miners, workers in marginalised and popular trades, movements for the right to housing, farmers and labourers: these are the “profiles” of so many situations of life and work, especially in the marginalised outskirts of cities, representing a humanity on its way to a promised land that has at its centre the rights of human beings and not the profits of a global market that makes the rich richer and richer and the poorer and poorer.

This imposed condition of life, precarious and poor, would seem to be the ineluctable destiny for billions of people, just as the accumulation of enormous wealth in the hands of the very few would seem to characterise the only possible world. But the struggles and determination of an entire planetary people to win better working conditions, better living conditions, and respect for their non-negotiable rights as human beings, draw a horizon of change that is not only possible but necessary.

This planetary movement is a people on the move: for this reason Mediterranea will bring its small and humble contribution as a witness of the struggles at the border. That of the central Mediterranean and the Balkan route, where its activists act, by sea and by land alongside women, men and children who every day challenge the violence and illegality of European institutions that want to prevent their right to a better life.

Migrants, in all their different and specific conditions, at every latitude and in every corner of the planet, find waiting for them the “Pharaoh’s armies”: barbed wire, tortures, concentration camps, killings, sufferings inflicted to keep them still, prisoners, to try to annihilate their dreams, desires, aspirations. Their hopes for a ‘promised land’.

Mediterranea, humbly, participates in this “conspiracy of good” against what seems immutable. Breaking through the barbed wire walls, supporting the people on their way all over the world, is tantamount to reaffirming every day the relevance of the Exodus and the battle for life and against death, to be waged against the armies of Pharaoh.

https://www.humandevelopment.va/en/eventi/2021/el-papa-francisco-participa-en-la-segunda-fase-del-iv-encuentro.html

News (EN)

Trapped at sea, waiting for rescue: 15 people killed by Fortress Europe

a report by Watch the Med - Alarm Phone

On 11 October 2021, Alarm Phone announced its 7th anniversary and commemorated the tragic shipwreck of 8 years earlier, 11 October 2013, when delays in rescue by Malta and Italy led to the deaths of over 200 people (https://twitter.com/alarm_phone/status/1447518820659343360). On the same day, yet another tragedy unfolded off Libya and 15 people suffocated on board, while they were waiting for rescue (https://twitter.com/alarm_phone/status/1447455425226477570).

As shown in the detailed timeline below, Alarm Phone had repeatedly alerted authorities to the wooden boat in distress with 105 people on board. The boat was just a few miles off the coast of Zuwara, Libya. Yet, it took about 10 hours for Libyan authorities to reach the boat. Italian authorities, on the other hand, just kept denying responsibility and refused to support a search and rescue operation. During this time, the boat was embarking water and at least 15 people, trapped on the lower deck of the wooden boat, lost their lives – probably due to the inhalation of toxic fumes.

Disturbing footage published by the Libyan Observer (TRIGGER WARNING – IMAGES OF DEAD BODIES https://twitter.com/Lyobserver/status/1447855514432442373 ) shows how the 15 asphyxiated people were being pulled out from the lower deck by fellow travellers. The video was shot by the so-called Libyan coastguard, who was evidently NOT helping to retrieve the bodies or checking on the health condition of the rescued – some people might still have been alive. Instead, they just watched and filmed.

In 2014, the Alarm Phone was launched with the aim of preventing deaths due to delays in rescue and non-assistance. Over the past seven years, the situation has only worsened, with the creation of the so-called Libyan search and rescue zone and the so-called Libyan coastguard.

On 11 October 2021, as in several other cases over the past years, we witnessed once again how the task of the so-called Libyan coastguard is not to rescue people, but to deter people from reaching Europe, on Europe’s behalf. To Europe, it does not matter whether people drown or are forced back to Libya: what counts is that they do not touch European soil, no matter the human costs.

This tragedy happened at the same time as thousands of migrants in Libya fear for their lives as they are being hunted down, threatened, detained, and killed by militias and police forces (See: https://twitter.com/RefugeesinLibya). EU member states keep on ignoring the ongoing disaster and continue their collaboration with the Libyan authorities and the UNHCR continuously claims that they cannot provide sufficient assistance.

We are angry, sad, and tired. We stand in solidarity with the families and friends of the 15 people whose lives were stolen by the EU border regime. We demand an immediate end to this organised violence, and this organised abandonment. We demand the abolition of this racist system that produces nothing but suffering and death. We demand to stop killing people at EU borders, to stop financing the so-called Libyan coastguard, to stop financing Frontex operations. We demand the freedom of movement for all.

TIMELINE – 11 October 2021

04:04 CEST – A group of about 105 people in distress calls Alarm Phone via a satellite phone. We later find out that they had departed from Zuwara the evening before. We can hear people screaming in the background. The situation on board appears very critical already in this first call and we do not manage to gather key information about the boat and its GPS position.

05:21 – After several attempts to communicate with the people in distress, we manage to receive the first GPS position of the boat: N33°07′, E12°09′.

05:35 – Alarm Phone speaks again with the people in distress to confirm the position and they read the following: N33°05′, E12°09′. The call breaks. Alarm Phone tries to re-establish contact to confirm key information, whilst being engaged in several other distress cases in other maritime regions.

06:02 – The people in distress call again and report that people are dying and that they want to be rescued as soon as possible, even if it means being returned to Libya.

06:10 – Alarm Phone sends the first mail to Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities, with several NGOs and international organisations in cc, mentioning that the travellers in distress reported that 2 people died.

06:38 – Alarm Phone tries to reach the so-called Libyan Coastguard and Zuwara Coastal Police via phone on several phone numbers, but in vain, as nobody answers the calls.

06:46 – Alarm Phone calls the Italian coastguard, Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome, and informs them about the distress situation. They answer that we should try again to call Libyan authorities and hang up.

07:15 – The people in distress keep calling and say that the engine stopped, and their boat is sinking. They read an updated GPS position:  N 33°04′, E 012°10.

07:35 – We manage to reach a Lieutenant Colonel of the so-called Libyan coastguard, who asks Alarm Phone to send an updated position and promises they will send an asset.

07:40 – The people call again and read a new position: N33°04′, E012°10, which we forward to all authorities.

08:30 – Alarm Phone speaks to the people in distress again. They tell us that there are 5 pregnant women and 10 children on board. Communication keeps being difficult.

08:55 – Alarm Phone starts making public pressure for rescue and tweets: About 105 people are in danger off #Zuwara, #Libya, incl. pregnant women and approx. 10 children. According to people, the weather is deteriorating. We alerted relevant authorities and demand that a rescue operation is immediately launched! #DontLetThemDrown twitter.com/alarm_phone/status/1447455425226477570

10:22 – The people in distress call Alarm Phone and say that they can see a boat approaching them. They think it is a rescue asset, but eventually it does not come close enough. We then realise it was a fishing vessel which left again without helping.

10:48 – The aircraft Seabird of Sea Watch is flying towards the distress case. Seabird reports a boat roughly at N33°00′, E012°13′, and confirms that a fishing vessel in the vicinity  is leaving the scene.

11:10 – The colonel of the so-called Libyan coastguard lets Alarm Phone know that their vessel is underway, and that they will keep Alarm Phone updated.

11:56 – The people on board lose their satellite phone and keep communicating with Alarm Phone via their mobile phone and WhatsApp. Alarm Phone is also contacted by a relative of someone on the boat, who is himself in contact with the people in distress.

13:19 – The colonel of the so-called Libyan coastguard confirms their vessel is still searching but could not find the people in distress.

13:19 – Alarm Phone tweets an update: ~7 hours since our first alert to authorities, the so-called Libyan Coastguards allege they have launched a search and rescue operation but people on board continue to report their situation is critical. They need to be rescued right now. #DontLetThemDrown https://twitter.com/alarm_phone/status/1447522179600506882

14:11 – The relative of one of the people on the boat calls Alarm Phone after speaking to the people in distress. He confirms that the people are still in distress at sea. He reports that according to the people on board water is entering the boat, that it is a double deck boat and that both engines are broken. He also sends an updated position of the people in distress: N32°58′, E012°12 received [email protected]:00 CEST – Alarm Phone forwards this position to authorities at 14:31.

14:19 – The colonel of the so-called Libyan coastguard informs Alarm Phone that the so-called Libyan coastguard might have found the boat and is now engaged in a rescue operation. He reports that there are dead people on board and that the boat is sinking.

14:52  – The colonel of the so-called Libyan coastguard informs Alarm Phone that their asset is still on scene and engaged in the ‘rescue’ operation. He confirms that the boat is embarking water and that people are piled on each other. He reports that there are dead bodies inside the boat and that it is difficult to get them because the boat is sinking and about to capsize.

18:12 – The colonel reports to Alarm Phone that the Sabratha vessel of the so-called Libyan coastguard recovered 14 dead bodies. He still does not know how many people were found alive.

22:05 – UNHCR Libya tweets an update about two boats intercepted off Libya (https://t.co/A0GYHypYKb): “Bodies of 15 persons recovered as 2 boats arrived at Tripoli Naval Base this evening. 177 survivors were provided aid, some in need of urgent medical help by UNHCR and partner, @RESCUEorg. The passengers had set off from Zwara and Alkhoms the night before (2 boats).”

 

News (EN)

MEDreport September 2021

curated by Silvia Decina and Gabriele Suriano

In September, the number of people who were forced to flee across the Mediterranean and reached Italy totalled 7,209. Since the beginning of the year, 46,291 people have arrived in Italy.
The number of people fleeing Libya and Tunisia continues to rise. It is obvious that this number has doubled in just the first 9 months of this year compared to the entire preceding year. The work carried out by humanitarian vessels is very precious and necessary. Is a Mediterranean Sea without their presence even conceivable?

The death toll is also constantly increasing. According to the IOM, the number of people who have died attempting to cross the central  Mediterranean since the beginning of this year has more than doubled compared to the same period last year. Incidents of refoulement have also continued to increase in this period.

Notably, the largest single autonomous arrival of people coming from Libya was recorded in September – 686 people aboard a fragile, old, 15 meter iron fishing boat.

Read our full report for September 2021 (link to download):

MedReport_2021_09_ENG
News (EN)

MEDreport August 2021

curated by Silvia Decina and Gabriele Suriano

In August, 9,945 people were forced to flee, crossed the Mediterranean Sea and managed to arrive in Italy.

Since the beginning of this year, the total number of people arrived in Italy is 39.082.

Even so, there are many people who have found their death in the central Mediterranean. Despite the pandemic and the extremely critical situation in Libya, the number of landings has not drastically increased, as many had predicted. We cannot ignore, however, the dirty work carried out daily by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, to which Rome and Brussels continue to entrust the control of the southern borders of Europe. A confirmation of the activity of interception by the Libyan militiamen is detectable by analyzing the data of last month and, in particular, the days from July 15 to 19: no landings in Italy despite the numerous departures from the Libyan coast.

Read our full report for August 2021 (link to download):

MedReport_2021-08_English_version
News (EN)

Defund Frontex, Build a European Search and Rescue programme

Over 18,709 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since 2015. Their fundamental right to life was denied to them by the EU and its Member States, whose conscious, deliberate and carefully planned policies continue to condemn innocente lives at sea to date.

Everyone of these deaths is a direct consequence of Europe’s ever-growing obsession with borders; a mindset deeply rooted in the continent’s racist and colonialist worldview, crystallised into a rampant anti-migration political agenda.

Key to the enforcement and advancement of this border-centric, life-depriving agenda lies the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).
Frontex is currently the EU’s most powerful agency, with a €5.6 billion budget and it own army of 10,000 border guards due by 2027. The neglectful growth and expansion of the EU border agency took place during the period in which the Mediterranean Sea became the world’s deadliest migration route.
These events, which don’t merely coincide in time but are in fact closely intertwined, reveal a political choice being made as to where the EU’s priorities – and the valuable resources that come within – lie.

By choosing not to deploy the necessary resources to save lives at sea, the EU’s deliberation inaction has caused the death of thousands of people at sea. By relentlessly reinforcing its border policing, and by externalising further border control by the means of dangerous partnerships, the EU’s calculated action has condemned thousands of innocent lives.

Meanwhile, Frontex has not only become the central actor in implementing the EU’s wish to prevent people from seeking safety in Europe; the Eu border force has also used its expanded powers to pursue an agenda of its own, which further endangers the lives of people on the move.

The time is long-overdue to reverse this course. We must dismantle the structures that have caused – and continue to cause – violence and death at sea. In their place, we must build new systems and structures that create safety for all.

Read the full document, researched and authored by Frag Den Staat and Sea-Watch, down below:

DefundFrontex_briefingpaper
News (EN)

EU deals with contractors in order to surveil migrants

By Andrea Palladino, first published in Domani

Sovereign Global UK, a company owned by the businessman Fenech, who was arrested for violating the embargo on the sale of arms to Libyans, appears in the ESA’s Rapsody project, which is supposed to control the Mediterranean with drones. 

It is a grey area in the heart of the Mediterranean, a shadowy zone where the word ‘sovereignty’ is above all business. Weapons and ammunition manufacturers, brokers specialising in security and the supply of contractors, ships loaded with automatic rifles that function as real floating santabarbara (powder keg). In this no man’s land where traffickers and governments meet, migrants are first and foremost a lucrative business.

The ultra-technological project named Rapsody and sponsored by the European Space Agency (Esa) is an unexpected gateway into this world. An acronym for Remote Airborne Platform with Satellite Oversight Dependency, it involves the creation of a latest generation drone system designed for the European Maritime Safety Agency (Emsa), the European Commission operational arm in the Mediterranean. The drones will have powerful cameras capable of filming and taking pictures of the waters, images to be used for Search and Rescue operations, an activity that in Italy, Spain, Greece and Libya means trying to save the lives of thousands of migrants crammed into fragile rubber dinghies. Or – according to Frontex philosophy – turn them over to the Libyan Coast Guard, to send them back to the detention centers in Tripoli.

The project has as main contractor the Portuguese company Tekever, which is specialized in drones. It is partnered by Dsl, a spin-off of the University of Bremen, which deals with electronics. Alongside these companies there is England’s Sovereign Global UK. Nothing to do with technology: it is a piece of a holding company created in 2013, operating between Britain, Djibouti, West Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Malta. It has a well-known specialization in the industry: private security, contracting and arms supply. Until a few years ago, it operated a small fleet, with ships transformed into arsenals, real depots of automatic rifles available to armed escorts of convoys in the Gulf of Aden. The founders and managers are two Frenchmen, Bruno Pardigone and Jerome Paolini. Entrepreneurs who, through a complex Maltese and English corporate network, report to one of the most important arms dealers in Europe, James Fenech, a businessman arrested last year for violating the arms trade embargo with Libya.

Sovereign Global is not a new name in the complex migration scenario. Until March 2017 it owned the ship Suunta, a vessel that after a quick change of ownership and name change – it is now called C Star – was leased to the neo-fascist and racist organisation Génération Identitaire. After its departure from Djibouti, the ship was used by far-right militants for a long anti-NGO campaign in the central Mediterranean.

On board were a dozen Italian, French, Austrian and German leaders of Génération Identitaire. From the on-board radio they contacted the rescue ships, ordering them to move away from the area where the migrants were shipwrecked. For the French Interior Ministry, which disbanded the neo-fascist organisation last March, it was a paramilitary militia.

Photo Credit: Domani newspaper

Esa’s silence
Little information is available on the Esa Rapsody drone system. On the project page of the European Space Agency website, there is a list of companies involved, a few hints about their use (maritime security, anti-pollution and search and rescue operations) and little more.

No information is available on the tender for the selection of contractors and the amount funded. A presentation published on 30 November on the ESA website provides some technical data: the drones used are equipped with various sensors, laser illuminators, maritime radar, and Ais sensors to track the position of ships.

The space agency did not wish to respond to a request for more information on the choice of partner and contractors: “It’s holiday season at ESA, the people you need are all out of the office,” was the press office’s response to an email sent by Domani.

The return of Blackwater
In the heart of the Maltese village of Mellieha, with just over seven thousand inhabitants, is the Fieldsports armoury. Seen from the outside, it is a small shop window, a stone’s throw from the main church: if you ask around,’ says the Maltese newspaper The Shift, ‘the inhabitants describe the shop as a simple meeting place for local hunters. It is an appearance. This is the starting point of the empire of James Fenech, a businessman who is now considered one of Europe’s leading arms dealers, including warriors. He sells to everyone, including the European Commission: Fieldsports turns out to have been in 2017 the supplier of arms and ammunition to the European Union’s Eucap Sahel mission, created six years ago to deal with the crisis in northern Mali, one of the key strategic nodes at the origin of migratory flows.

Fenech was, for more than a year, partner and co-director of Pardigon in a British company specialized in war material, the founder of Sovereign Global, the supplier company of the ESA. And the two also share solid ties with the giant contractor Blackwater.

The American group, which has become famous for the heavy shadows on its operations in Iraq, was founded by Erik Prince, a businessman who has always been tied to the world of contractors. Fenech uses the name and logo of Blackwater to produce – through its subsidiary Pbm limited – high precision ammunition. The factory is not so far away: for two years it has been operating in Poggibonsi, in the province of Siena, run by Fenech’s Italian partner Nicola Bandini, another well-known arms dealer.

James Fenech is today under investigation in Malta on the charge of having given logistic support to a group of mercenaries contracted by two companies of Dubai, traceable – according to Bloomber – to a former affiliate of the American Blackwater.

Pardigon itself has had close relations with the Blackwater world. According to a cable disclosed by Wikileaks, the founder of the Sovereign group in 2013 helped the American mercenary company to set up in Djibouti.

Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, had signed a long article in the Financial Times on 3 January 2017 proposing that the European Union should entrust contractor companies with the management of the migration crisis. In the financial statements of Sovereign Global, Pardigon and Paolini wrote clearly in 2014 that the future of their business lay in that direction.

After the collapse of the anti-piracy escort business, the group managed to secure a valuable contract to support the Nigerian Coast Guard. With one foot in the door of Esa’s space surveillance project over the Mediterranean, the Libyan front is not so far away.

News (EN)

This is how Frontex will monitor migrants from space

By Andrea Palladino, first published in Domani

Anyone carrying a cell phone in the Mediterranean may soon be under surveillance by the European agency, Frontex. This information will also be shared with the Libyan Coast Guard. 

Grainy photographs, a set of gray dots, three lighter stripes on a dark background with blurred shapes: they were Chinese rubber dinghies loaded with migrants having departed a few hours earlier from the Libyan coast- 370 people. Among them, nine children and four pregnant women. On October 10, 2015, Frontex announced, with great fanfare, the latest rescue in the central Mediterranean in coordination with the Italian authorities. It was not one of many routine operations: those vessels had been identified by analyzing satellite images scanning the waters between Libya and Italy. An unstoppable flow of data, images and coordinates entering the Eurosur Fusion Service platform was proudly announced to be a life-saving technology by the European border control agency.

Six years have passed. The strategy has already changed. The political and operational objectives are different now. The Libyan Coast Guard operates in those waters with a single rule of engagement: bring all shipwrecked migrants back to detention centers. It operates with money, equipment and technology kindly provided by Brussels and Rome. But above all, it operates with  valuable information that comes directly from the sky. Being very similar to the very powerful U.S. spy agency specializing in “sigint” or signals intelligence, it is a real NSA of the Mediterranean. Every second, this enormous amount of information, including interceptions, scanning of radio waves, high-precision photographs, eavesdropping on telephone conversations, GPS positioning, tracking of routes with millimetric precision, enters the “Fusion service” system managed by Frontex which is capable of generating intelligence reports.  Saving migrants is no longer the objective. This big eye on the Mediterranean is the long hand of Europe that is able, silently, to reject those who try to escape from Libya.

The partnership – The NSA of the Mediterranean operates mainly thanks to the collaboration with the military and security industry. Large companies specializing in intelligence have found a gold mine in the management of data to be provided to states committed to locking down borders. 

They’re aiming for space, asking for a ride for their satellites on billionaires Bezos’ and Musk’s missiles. They have a huge business in mind: “surveillance as a service” or rather,  the selling of data collected by spying from space. Data would be sold not only to states, but also to private individuals if they are willing to pay. 

In 2019, Frontex signed a contract for a pilot surveillance project in the Mediterranean with US-based HawkEye360. According to documentation published in the official European Gazette, the requested service involves “the interception of radio waves emitted by maritime radars, Ais transponders, satellite phones and, potentially of other assets, with geolocation of the equipment.” 

The no-bid contract was awarded directly for 1.5 million Euros. According to information available on the company’s website, HawkEye360 is financed by Advance which specializes in media and  technology, by Airbus, the aerospace company, by Esri, the international data analysis group, and by other holding companies active in cybersecurity, the space industry and intelligence services (Raytheon, Razor’s Edge, Night Dragon, Sumitomo, Space Angels and Shield).  In early July, HawkEye360 completed the launch of the last microsatellites specialized in radio frequency interception and currently has a network of 20 active satellites.

In the American company’s promotional video of its radio signal interception systems, it is possible to see the targets. In addition to maritime VHF channels and radar emissions, the satellites are able to scan the L band, that is the radio frequencies used by cell phones, satellites and the Galileo positioning system. Basically, all devices that emit waves can be monitored. “For example, according to a report published at the end of July by the American NGO Privacy International, the data would allow Frontex to track ships in the Mediterranean or potentially people in motion using satellite phones. In essence, anyone carrying a cell phone in the Mediterranean would be tracked. Frontex, responding to a request for further information from Privacy International, states that the system is currently only in a “pilot project” phase and that the agency “is not intercepting any communication.” However, the entire project is subject to secrecy constraints.  The European agency wrote to Privacy International stating, “Revealing information about the technologies used in the operational area by Frontex and member states  (…) could benefit criminal networks.”

Shared information – The information entering the Eurosur platform used by Frontex to monitor the Mediterranean is shared not only with EU member countries. The system’s regulations also provide for access by North African countries, including Libya. As previously stated, the European Border Agency provides valuable information to the Coast Guard in Tripoli to locate boats carrying migrants. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The 2019 Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights report revealed how “information collected by aircraft, drones and satellites from member states and EU agencies is shared with all relevant authorities, including those in Libya.” Valuable data for the Coast Guards in Tripoli, “this information appears to be particularly conducive to further interception and deportation by the Libyan Coast Guard to unsafe ports which is against international maritime law and human rights,” the Council of Europe report explained.

This time, aid for Libya’s efforts to push-back migrants comes directly from space. 

 


www.editorialedomani.it/fatti/cosi-frontex-sorvegliera-i-migranti-dallo-spazio-v2zqrxxo

News (EN)

ONE YEAR AGO THE MAERSK ETIENNE CASE BEGAN. MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans: “WE STAND WITH THE PEOPLE OF THE SEA, FOR THE SAFEGUARD OF HUMAN LIFE AND THE RESPECT OF INTERNATIONAL LAW”.

One year ago, on 5th August 2020, in the Central Mediterranean Sea, the tanker MAERSK ETIENNE, flying the Danish flag and owned by the company Maersk Tankers, picked up an Alarm Phone alert and, under the coordination of the Maltese Authorities, went to the rescue of 27 people (including a woman and several minors) in distress on board of a small wooden boat. Once the people were embarked on the vessel, a real odyssey began for the rescued people and the ship’s crew, punctuated by a long series of open violations of international maritime law, serious omissions and guilty inactions by the European Institutions and States involved in the case: Malta as the first responsible party, Denmark as the flag country, the Brussels Commission and coastal countries such as Italy.

Despite appeals from European and worldwide associations representing shipowners, civil society and United Nations organisations, the Maltese Authorities refused to assign a Place of Safety (PoS) for the disembarkation of the shipwrecked people rescued by the MAERSK ETIENNE, resulting in the longest stand-off on the high seas in the history of the Mediterranean. The Danish merchant vessel was totally inadequate to host for weeks 27 people who had already endured years of unspeakable horrors of detention in Libya and had just lived the terrible experience of drifting at sea and being shipwrecked. While States and European Institutions stood by and watched, after 38 days of useless suffering on board for the survivors and great discomfort for the crew of the tanker, when the situation had become totally unbearable, only the emergency intervention of our ship MARE JONIO, which set sail on 10 September 2020 from the port of Licata for mission #09 of MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans, put an end to this shame.

The 27 shipwrecked people were transhipped onto the MARE JONIO, where they could receive first medical care and count on a proper reception. Then, in the face of repeated refusals by the Maltese Authorities to assume their responsibilities, on the evening of 12th  September our ship disembarked all the people in the port of Pozzallo, with the authorisation of the Italian Ministry of the Interior and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome (IT MRCC) and the applause of the international community. For this case – despite the fact that all the actors involved, first of all us, have provided wide documentation to prove that they acted in full compliance with international and national maritime law – eight MEDITERRANEA shipowners, seafarers, and activists are under  investigation since 11 months, with very heavy charges, by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Ragusa. We are sure that, in the end and we hope soon, the truth will emerge in all its clarity.

But the real issue is that one year after that rescue, nothing at sea has substantially changed. On the contrary! European States continue to discourage and openly obstruct rescue operations by merchant vessels. Captains and shipowners who perform their duty to protect human life at sea are, in most cases, faced with problems and difficulties from the very authorities that are supposed to coordinate and facilitate search and rescue operations. Or, even worse, it is the European States that ask or impose on Masters and Owners of commercial ships to openly violate international law, either by not intervening or by handing over people in danger into the hands of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, thus favouring the deportation of women, men and children to the hell of Libya.

One year after the beginning of the MAERSK ETIENNE case, MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans reaffirms, with conviction and strength, that we will never stand by and watch; that we are and will be on the side of people fleeing and in danger, on the side of the crews of merchant vessels, of the maritime Workers’ Unions and of the Shipowners’ organisations, for the absolute safeguard and protection of human life at sea, and to force States to respect international law. In a few weeks’ time, our ship MARE JONIO will be returning to sea and we can already assure you that we will continue to operate according to these unwavering principles.

MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans

5th of August, 2021

News (EN)

Interview with Iasonas Apostolopoulos, Rescue Coordinator with Mediterranea and MSF

Interview by Argiris Panagopoulos published today on AVGI, SYRIZA's newspaper

Iasonas Apostolopoulos, Mediterranea and MSF rescue coordinator: EUROPE FINANCES CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

It is unacceptable to cancel a person’s decoration for criticising the government. In fact, when this happens on the anniversary of the fall of the military junta, with pressure behind the scenes and with the entire far right celebrating even before the decision to cancel the decoration is announced, it is clear that the far right has strengthened itself at centre stage by influencing even two centre-right figures, such as the foreign minister and, even more seriously, the president of the republic, who have completely submitted to the logic of exclusion of the extreme right,” stressed Iasonas Apostolopoulos from the Doctors Without Borders ship in the port of Augusta, Sicily, in which he is a rescue team leader.
In the Aegean, after March 2002, a great innovation was started for the first time in the world: the Coast Guard not only does not save, but also causes shipwrecks. In fact, people arrive on the Greek islands alone and disappear,” added Iasonas Apostolopoulos, who has distinguished himself outside Greece by working on the Mare Jonio rescue ship, which has also received praise from Pope Francis.

Q: We have learned in recent days that you are an ‘aggressive critic’ and that is why you should not take the medal from the president of the republic, but since you are in the port of Augusta in Sicily, you have reminded me that crimes of opinion existed only during fascism and then everyone became a free citizen.
I think they shouldn’t underestimate people. Many people were indignant, because they were basically asking for a certificate of social conduct, my opinion had to be the same as theirs or be declared as such. Those who are not in line with state policy must be eliminated. This is what they told us. Between democratic inclusion and far-right exclusion, far-right exclusion won at the highest levels of the state, but fortunately not in society. I was surprised by the solidarity and support I received in Greece and beyond…
Ultimately, the paradox would be instead to reward me, not to reward me, because what we do has a very strong political character, unfortunately, because we have reached the point where saving lives at sea has become a political act. We take people out of the water because the ‘official’ states refuse to do so. We preside over a constitutional obligation of states, but the lives of refugees and immigrants do not count as those of Europeans. I wish we didn’t have to exist and that the authorities would do what they have to do.

Q: Today you are on the Doctors Without Borders ship, because the ship you were on before, the Mare Jonio, was hijacked..
The persecution and criminalisation of rescues is another major problem in the anti-immigration policies of European governments. Obstructing the rescues we carry out increases the death toll in the Mediterranean. When more people die at sea, they think it will deter others from coming.
The criminalisation of rescue began in March 2017 by PD minister Marco Minniti and the agreement he signed with Libya, and culminated with Matteo Salvini, who closed ports and arrested ship captains, considering them accomplices of the traffickers.
What can one say in the face of these miseries? Even Pope Francis himself wrote a letter to Luca Casarini, addressing all of us who save lives and not just the Mediterranea, where we were at the Ionian Sea, telling us that he was beside us. Is the leader of such a large religious community also a trafficker of immigrants?

Q: Minniti used to call you ‘immigrants’ taxi drivers’ and then Salvini arrived..
Exactly, the wildest expression of the same policies arrived. The policy is the same, but it takes different forms. With the Draghi government they found a more cunning way to stop rescue ships, a more technocratic way, which has to do with a more bureaucratic function of state repression.
With Port Authority inspections they can stop us for the slightest violation, for any technical irregularity, related to refugee safety. This is their new trick. Ports are not closed with Salvini’s racist ravings. Now we are told that they have no problem with rescues, but they control the ships in such a way as to prevent them from sailing. This is something similar to what the Greek Police – ELAS says, throwing refugees out into the streets because they are not living in proper conditions in the buildings they were living in. We are talking about Orwellian situations.

Q: However, they accuse you of collaborating with traffickers..
If there is anyone who collaborates with traffickers and their gangs, it is the official European states who openly and publicly finance some bandits with Kalashnikovs from Libya, people who with countless evidence are involved in kidnapping, torture, rape, mass rape. In Libya we have regular slave markets, militias that kidnap people and keep them in private prisons and sell them for all kinds of hard labour. An African immigrant sells himself for about 400 dollars.
I have not rescued a single sub-Saharan African who has not told me that he would rather jump into the sea than go back to Libya. When I was on the Mare Jonio, most of the women as soon as they came on board asked us for a pregnancy test to see if they were pregnant because they had been raped by many different rapists. Unfortunately, all and sundry of the women were raped. Many times a woman is raped in front of her husband as torture.
Almost once a month, executions are carried out in prisons to ‘make room’, executing those who are not sold. We are talking about the same slavery as in the 18th century. These gangs are financed by European governments and authorities. Europe thinks that the detention centres in Libya are a lever to stem the flow of migrants because of the fear and the “barbaric” reputation they have acquired. Europe finances crimes against humanity.

Q: You are now on the Médecins Sans Frontières ship, which, as you say, has just been released. What does this mean?
The ship is new and has just rescued 410 refugees. The ship is a new 78-metre monster with a helipad, and it is the most modern and seaworthy civil society ship the Mediterranean has ever seen. However, they found irregularities. These were political rather than technical controls, by a group specialising in NGO ships, coming from Genoa, in violation of the provisions of the law that states that the control of ships is the responsibility of the port services of the port in which they are located.

Q: Whether we are talking about the Sicilian Channel or the Aegean, it seems that the Mediterranean is an open graveyard for Europe..
This is exactly what is happening. The policy of the European Union is common to its borders and is based on prevention, of turning refugees and immigrants into illegals, of excluding them, it wants the non-inclusion of people and their exploitation as cheap labour. Nothing to do with the protection of human rights.
We read in newspapers and on websites all over the world about Greece: “Boats arrive, people disappear”. The Greek authorities catch them and put them in hidden places and warehouses and before long they are in the middle of the Aegean Sea, in inflatable rescue boats. They use a rescue tool to torture people and put them in danger. Talk about mob behaviour. In October 2020, refugees called the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Lesvos and were told where they were. UNHCR informed the Greek authorities and the refugees disappeared. UNHCR was eventually forced to publish announcements about the disappearances of migrants who had come into contact with the High Commission from Greek territory, with detailed descriptions of the landscapes and places where they were.

Q: You have said many times you know what is happening in Greece from the foreign media writing about the refugee situation.
In Greece it seems to me that there is an omertà. A veil of silence, this is not censorship. What is happening is a crime, and a serious one, like kidnapping, and the perpetrators should be prosecuted.

Q: No judicial authorities seem to be interested in the complaints..
They don’t seem to want to see or hear. It’s only the NGOs that are talking, and especially the small NGOs, such as Alarm Phone, Sea Watch and others. All these NGOs are in the crosshairs of the state. Within a year there have been three police operations against NGOs on Lesvos, while there are no refugees. The supportive people of Lesvos have made public the illegal rejections. Mare Liberum alone made public 300 of them. They were attacked by the Greek Coast Guard, their ship was smashed to pieces and their laptops were confiscated.
We learn that 35 people in solidarity run the risk of seeing their struggles criminalised and penalised, but we have yet to see any prosecutor proceed with prosecutions and indictments. They just want to intimidate and terrorize the solidarists and the people close to them. They are trying to preserve the denialist narrative of bad NGOs taking money from Soros and to divert attention from illegal returns by bringing charges against solidarity people.

In the last five months there has been no shortage of good news. Frontex is referred to a landmark case before the EU court for refoulements in Greek waters. Greece does not dare to speak, but the case against Frontex has begun. We have five cases against Greece at the Strasbourg Court and one at the Hague Tribunal for crimes against humanity committed by Greece. The issue is open and there are many voices in Europe calling on Greece to stop illegal rejections. The only hope for some humanity in Europe can only be based on movements and solidarity from below. In Palermo we tried to unite and build bridges between the movements of the sea and those of the land. The possibilities of reception in Europe are enormous. For example, more than 100 German cities want to welcome refugees, but the German government denies it.