Sailing through the crisis, planning hope. A letter to all the ground and sea crews

Dearest member of the ground and sea crews,

Our thoughts join those of everyone who, at this very moment, are trying to understand what is happening, while pushing away their fears and the uncertainty about the future. We share our ideas and state of mind, the images we gather from our peculiar observation points. Our social relations are an essential resource – that is where we can look for the strength to cope in this period; by breaking the silence and the solitude, while maintaining the necessary physical distance. We are drawing a new map of mutually supportive, free-thinking communities, in order to reset our compass and imagine new routes, to continue to sail even in a country in lockdown, in the midst of a global pandemic.

We start off with a difficult, but inevitable message.

Between January and February this year, Mediterranea had achieved the release of the ship mare Jonio and the sailboat Alex: a fundamental achievement that doesn’t erase the bitterness for all the time and resources wasted in legal appeals, hearings, inspections and more, while we could have been at sea doing our job, helping people who need it.

We were ready to set sail again, as tenacious and determined as ever: the ships were ready, and so were our crews.

The development of the coronavirus pandemic, and the indisputably necessary measures adopted to try to contain it, protecting the frailer among us, and those more exposed to the risk, require us to suspend our operations at sea. We are both legally and morally obliged to comply with the current health regulations and travel restrictions that make it impossible for our crew to reach Licata, the departure port, to embark within a reasonable timeframe. These same measures have questioned the very sustainability of our mission itself.  Hence the decision to suspend the departure of our mission at sea, while closely monitoring the situation, until the end of the  COVID-19 emergency allows us to become operational once again.


Mediterranea though is not translating #StayingHome into #StayingDocked

The effects of this forced choice are cause of great suffering for us, because people risk their lives at sea every day. After three weeks of bad weather, departures have inevitably started again. The only relief is the hopefully possible presence in the central Mediterranean Sea of other vessels of civil society, of what we refer to as the “Civil Fleet”, which we will support in any way possible. The fact that our ship cannot set sail does not mean that we are stuck. As we know very well, our beloved Mare Jonio is made of more than its steel, its engines, its rudder and its hull: it is made of what we bring to it ourselves, of what is within each one of us, and how we manage to bring it together. Our ship now will now need to sail through this crisis thanks to its crews that carry it in their hearts everywhere they go. 

Our crews are made of those 100+ doctors and paramedics who are part of the Mediterranea ground and sea crews, who have been on the front line in the Italian hospital since day one of this epidemic. Our crews are the dozens of activists who are lending their hand to the public services in the various areas affected by the contagion, working in the ambulance and assistance services. As we’ve said since the beginning, Mediterranea will only stop when its mission won’t be necessary any more. And if this is true for sea rescue, it applies to our commitment on land today. Mediterranea’s existence will make sense for as long as anyone is forced to risk their life in the Mediterranean Sea, or anywhere else in the world. 

Mediterranea will exist for as long as the absurd logic of closed borders — proven to be completely irrelevant by the virus — will continue to produce injustice and incivility, death and suffering.

There is safety in numbers

Nothing could be a better teacher than the current situation. If there is a silver lining in the current dramatic condition, it is the evidence of the vulnerability and interdependence of each of us as human beings, beyond all differences and borders. The challenge is to now turn this newfound awareness into an ability to create mutually supportive, open communities, which will be safe precisely because they are open, and mutually supportive. This pandemic is the clear demonstration of the fact that brutal violence on the borders does not protect anyone. The conditions of marginalization, inequality, misery and terror in which millions of people live on the threshold of Europe, are among the first causes of danger and unsafety for everyone.

We continue to fight the war on misinformation

We believe it is serious that even in the current situation there has been no shortage of a certain type of propaganda, directed at fostering division and racism instead of rebuilding the sense of community we so badly needed, denying the emotional impact we all felt when some people were rejected at borders “solely” for being Italians. We all read those articles that naively, or in bad faith, stated that the departures from Libya had decreased “thanks to the coronavirus”, while conveniently failing to mention adverse weather conditions and the recapturing at the hand of the Libyan that had stopped many refugees from reaching Europe. Most importantly, these articles also omit to mention that “zero arrivals” often means “more shipwrecks”. This translates into more torture and violence for those who continue to be held and often to die in Libyan camps, known for what the United Nations have called the “unimaginable horrors” consumed within them.

Our duty as Mediterranea is to break the silence: even while facing a global pandemic, we must not forget the horrors that continue to torment our world, especially since they weren’t caused by natural disasters, but by the deliberate choices of those in power. It is our duty to continue denouncing the role that European institutions, national governments, and all authorities play in this atrocity. It is our duty to continue condemning and opposing those policies that, together with the attacks on refugees on the Greek-Turkish border, are destroying the very idea of Europe. Even at this moment, we cannot avoid thinking about the bombing of Idlib in Syria and about its consequences on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people; we cannot ignore the Erdogan’s blackmailing of European rulers, paid for by the bodies of those who are trying to escape certain death; we cannot ignore the claims of the European Union, which declared repressive action (including attacks and the “refugee hunt” organized by neo-Nazi groups that no one tried to stop?) on the Greek border as compatible with human rights, with the 1951 Geneva Convention, and with those very values on which western democracies should be based.

The situation in Lesvos, a microcosm where the escalation of border violence has become a media spectacle, reminds us of the role played by Lampedusa over the past decades: both islands have been turned into borders, used as bottlenecks by their respective government policies.

What is happening highlights the disastrous nature of the EU-Turkey agreement of 18th March 2016, which was used as an example for writing the Memorandum between the Italian government and the Libyan militias: that same Memorandum that makes us accomplices of a repressive and bloodthirsty regime. That same Memorandum that sanctions the exclusion of a part of humanity from the right to live, to flee from death, not to see its children die. And now that the coronavirus, which can bypass all borders, is also reaching the Greek islands and conflict areas where millions of refugees are blocked, a health disaster of unprecedented proportions is looming.

In the face of all this, even with the suspension of our mission, we mustn’t stop our work. From the beginning, our action at sea has been supported and made possible by the exceptional support of our ground crews in Italy, Spain, Belgium, the United States, France, Germany and the UK who believed in us. Thousands of people that have gifted us with miles and  hope, and the determination to carry on, against and despite the Italian Security Decrees put into place by the previous government — and that are still in place today.

On land, just like at sea

It is time to reciprocate, to act on land just as we always have at sea. Although scattered, we need to act as one crew, sharing the same space and from this invent new practices for solidarity.

We stand with those who are asking for immediate investments in public health, income and protection for affected workers, for social and community spaces, for associations and social enterprises, heavily affected by the forced suspension of their activities.

We are trying to make ourselves useful to those who will suffer from this crisis more than others, for those whose rights are denied, for those who, after disembarking in Italy, decided to stay here, to try to build a life of dignity and who are facing an increasing number of obstacles today. We are trying to support all those who are forced to face material, physical, psychological difficulties, including the simple prescription to stay at home — because not everyone has a home, and not for everyone home is a guarantee of freedom and respect.

We are trying to activate every resource within Mediterranea in every way we can, to place our collective experience and our individual skills at the service of others.

Today more than ever, we feel the need to recognise ourselves as a community, made of those who continue to work daily in our operational teams, of our ground crews, and of all those we have met along the way and whom we’ll meet again soon, so that in the aftermath of this emergency, it will be the virus of solidarity that will spread, by surfing on fears. Only in this way will everything really be fine.

Mediterranea Saving Humans