It is widely acknowledged that the Mediterranean Sea is the world’s most dangerous flight route. Since the beginning of this year 3.501 people have died or are considered missing. For those of us working to save people in distress at sea, last week’s sad news of the tragedy off the coast of Egypt, unfortunately came as no surprise. We have learnt that neither Egypt or the EU’s misguided policy choices on border control can or will stop human determination.
SOS MEDITERRANEE was founded in May 2015 and has been operating its rescue ship the AQUARIUS in the Mediterranean for six months. In this time we have been able to save 3.821 people from distress at sea and transferred an additional 2.227 refugees from other ships and tended them aboard the AQUARIUS. That is an average of 636 people a month or 21 people saved per day. At the same time an average of 16 people drown in the Mediterranean per day.
Considering that we are only one of several organizations helping those in distress at sea between Libya and Italy, it is easy to imagine how many people take on this treacherous journey across the Mediterranean day by day and how many people remain unaccounted for. What we have learned in these past six months, from personal accounts of those we welcome aboard our ship, is that they have no other option. Many of the rescued left their home countries fleeing persecution and violence, only to find themselves caught amidst the violence in Libya. Many have told us that Europe is their last hope and that they would rather die at sea than stay in Libya.
Yet policy responses fail to acknowledge this reality and instead focus their efforts on increased border enforcement and the targeting of human smugglers. Whilst human smuggling and trafficking undoubtedly need to be addressed, they are only by-products of this mass movement; opportunists taking advantage of the movement across the Mediterranean and hardly the underlying factors. We believe that safety at sea is fundamental and our work follows this principle.
We recognize that our work is a response to the absence of any meaningful political action in the Mediterranean and hope to be able to continue our work by providing humanitarian assistance, because we believe that no one deserves to die at sea.
This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 30 September 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.