The current situation of sea rescue in the Mediterranean.

We are receiving worrying news these days. Sea rescue of the kind undertaken by Sea-Eye is increasingly coming under public pressure. What started last autumn with small messages which were mainly circulated by Russian online media, has reached an “official scale” by now. I briefly summarize the accusations:

“Private rescue organisations create a so-called pull effect through their presence off the Libyan coast. They therefore encourage the migrants to escape in great numbers.”

“The sea rescuers cooperate directly or indirectly with the traffickers. The traffickers inform them of the times each rubber boat is sent off and where it is heading.”

“The NGOs basically function like taxis. They pick up the passengers (migrants) directly off the Libyan coast and take them to the European mainland.”

“The rescuers impede the reconnaissance work und search actions of Frontex and others during their searches for traffickers, escape routes and accomplices.”

This kind of information is sent to the media in more or less drastic versions. Or distributed as interviews (see “Welt” interview with the Director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, on 27.02.). Sea-Eye is now forced to react to this because targeted disinformation discredits our life-saving work, renders supporters unsure, and people are beginning to ask whether we are on the right path.


Therefore now our statements on each issue.

Regarding the accusation of the pull effect: This was also the stated reason for terminating the navy operation Mare Nostrum in 2015. The result was that thousands of people drowned because they were not rescued. This was the reason for Sea-Watch, Sea-Eye, Doctors without Borders (MSF) and others to come to people’s aid with private boats.

The reports from and the fates of migrants are clear. They do not escape in search of adventure, but because of misery and despair. They escape from war, hunger and hopelessness. Before they step onto the boats, most of them already look back on an odyssey of suffering.

Regarding the accusation of cooperation with traffickers: From the beginning, Sea-Eye has adopted a clear position on traffickers and their accomplices; they are murderers, who risk the lives of countless people for money. Any kind of cooperation is out of the question for us. This is also true for any kind of communication.

On the Sea-Eye we receive calls for aid from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome or we react to our own sightings.

Regarding the accusation of functioning like “taxis”: The Sea-Eye does not carry migrants. After the sighting of a rubber boat in distress, we immediately provide people with life vests. If necessary, we relieve the boats through inflatable rafts. The rescued people are then usually carried by boats of the Italian coast guard or the navy units of Frontex.

It is not Sea-Eye’s task to help people to flee, but to save lives!

Regarding the accusation of impeding the work of others: The Sea-Eye crews only have brief contact with the rescued. During the few hours that the rescued people stay on their boats to wait for their evacuation (see above), our task is to calm them down (in order to prevent the boats from capsizing), to provide them with water and to look after the injured and the sick.

The migrants are traumatized and at first almost not responsive. Frontex and the Police have enough time during and after the evacuation to question the refugees. Sea-Eye does not in any way negatively influence the investigations. Not a single migrant can make it to Europe while “bypassing Frontex.”

Why is this disinformation taking place, why are rescuers being discredited?

Many European countries (including Germany) will have parliamentary elections this year. The governments are coming under pressure from right-wing populist movements in their countries. This pressure they pass on to executive institutions and the military.

The attempts to get the refugee crisis “under control” also include proposals to take the migrants “back to Africa.”

But: Not only human rights organisations deplore the cruel conditions in Libya. They consider it impossible to accommodate people there safely and in dignity. Illegal prisons, forced labour, torture and even executions are being talked about. The new German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, pointed to the “insecure situation” and called Libya unsuitable for the return of refugees.

Tunisia has already categorically refused to build reception camps for migrants. The next step is now to undermine rescue organisations like Sea-Eye. By showing us in such a bad light, Frontex and others move the attention away from their real plan: to render it acceptable that boats full of migrants head towards certain death at sea due to the absence of rescuers.

Sea-Eye will not passively accept this dirty propaganda. We have offered  Frontex the opportunity to see for themselves the humanist basis and  independent financing of Sea-Eye. We offer an open dialogue to Frontex. We welcome serious ideas for the improvement of our work. We do not accept discreditation.

As in the past, we will not influence or impede the uncovering of trafficking activities. At the same time we call on Frontex to stop the disinformation campaign against the rescuers.

From the beginning, Sea-Eye e.V. has been committed to complete transparency of action. We have always clearly stated the only task of our organisation:

To save people from drowning.

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