Last February, Italy (and EU) has signed an agreement with Libya to maintain the migration, to control their borders. The agreement previous to send economical help to Libya, to help the country to contain migration, but also to built some refugees camps. However, Arjan Hehenkamp, general director of MSF (Doctors Without Borders), told on Monday that the idea that migrants can be housed in a humane way on Libyan soil “is simply impossible”. He underlined the unsafe situation of Libyan State, and added that it’s impossible now, to “think that Libya can be considered part of the solution”. The EU has so far trained about 90 people to work in the Libyan Coast Guard and Italy has promised to give them 10 patrol boats. Thus the solution to fight against human traffic in Libya revealed itself all the problem of Libyan chaos.
Greece has become the main European route for migrants, especially for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. In the last two months, they has taken advantage of Turkish borders pass. Aegean Islands is the first step to reach Eu, passing along Balkan route: 244 855 people have transited from Turkey to Greece since January. To speak about this humanitarian emergency, European Affairs has interviewed Constance Theisen, Msf Humanitarian Affairs Officer in Greece, who has talked about Ngo’s activity there, like medical care and basic needs to migrants.
What’s Msf activity in Greece?
“Our aim in Greece and along the Balkan route (we also work in Serbia) is to try and cover the immediate needs of the migrants and refugees arriving, where needed:
- Lesvos Island: Water and sanitation in Kara Tepe camp and Moria informal camp. Two medical teams for mobile clinics in the camps and in Mytilene town and harbor, where people are sleeping outside. Mental health support with one psychologist. Bus service from the North of the island to the south so that people don’t have to walk the 65km in the sun;
- Kos Island: Shelter, water and sanitation in Captain Elias camp. one medical team for mobile clinics in Captain Elias camp and anywhere in Kos town where people sleep outside. Mental health support with one psychologist. Distribution of non-food-items: kit with blanket, torch, toothbrush, toothpaste, energy bars;
- Dodecanese Islands: one medical team based on a boat for mobile clinics in the islands of Simi, Leros, Tilos, Kalymnos. Distribution of non-food-items: kit with blanket, torch, toothbrush, toothpaste, energy bars. Support in all islands of local activists and municipalities with shelter (tents of shadow nets) to create space where people can sleep;
- Athens: we have a project to help people who have suffered ill treatment (torture…) with medical and psychological support and a social worker;
- At the Northern border between Greece and Macedonia: we work at the crossing point of Idomeni, where people will travel to their final destination through the Balkan cross into Macedonia. one medical team for consultations, one psychologist and we installed toilets and showers. Our team also distributes non-food-items: kit with blanket, torch, toothbrush, toothpaste, energy bars. “
Is Greece a real point of passage towards especially Germany, Sweden and Norway?
“Greece has now become the main point of entry to Europe: 244 855 people have arrived there so far (crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey) versus 119 500 arrivals in Italy (UNHCR numbers 08/09/2015). “
What’s Greece government’s behaviour towards refugees?
“The Greek government has shown no leadership to respond to the crisis in a constructive manner. The only way to fix the problem of so many people arriving in the islands, forced to sleep outside for days before the local police can register them and give them the paper needed to leave the island, is to have more police sent to the islands to register the people arriving and reception/transit camps in all islands where people arrive. Instead, the Greek authorities have sent more riot police to the islands (not meant to register people) and have not shown any initiative to identify spaces (fields, stadiums…) where long-term reception can be organized for the people arriving. They have disregarded its responsibilities: no distribution of food organized in most islands (Kos, Leros, Simi, Kalymnos) or insufficient in all others (Lesvos for instance). And they have abused migrants with excessive use of police force (in 2 days in Lesvos last week, our medical team treated more than 10 people who reported being beaten by the police). “
In yours point of view, what’s differences with Italian government?
“I can not speak for the Italian system as I do not know it very well, but I believe that Italy has put in place a national system of reception, in accordance with EU standards, providing 2 things: upon arrival a medical screening and vulnerability screening to all people arriving ; shelter (centers) all over the country, providing also food.
Instead, in Greece:
- No systematic medical screening (not a single island provides it);
- No systematic screening for vulnerabilities (not a single island provides it);
- No shelter (except in some places on Lesvos and Chios islands);
- No systematic provision of food;
No access to hygiene facilities (except in some places on Lesvos and Chios islands). “
How are land routes prefer more than sea routes?
“The route for Syrians to reach the EU has changed. Why: current situation in Lybia; visa restrictions to Syrians traveling to Egypt; more and more difficult stay in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (see UNHCR reports on access to protection, services and to the local job market there). Once in Greece, since controls in the airports have increased, more and more people chose the land route through the Balkan to reach their final destination. “
What are yours statistics of 2015?
Consultations until July 31st:
- 3236 in Kos;
- 437 in the neighbouring Dodecanese Islands;
- 3000 in Idomeni.
Kits distributed until July 31st: more than 20 000 all over the country. “
About 6,000 migrants are rescued in the Mediterranean and arrived in Sicily in the first weekend of June. Thanks to satellite calls from dinghies, the italian Coast Guard was able to coordinate the many relief efforts. While Frontex, which made use of military boats of different European nationalities, run very well. Just as important were the aid provided by NGOs, such as MSF or Moas, which has rescued more than 2000 people.
Whereas the British newspaper The Guardian claims that at least 500,000 migrants will land on Italian shores by the end of 2015, despite the Italian and European authorities try to stop any alarmism, situation is dramatic.
Palermo and Trapani have received 860 and 548 people each one. These numbers are set to rise in the coming hours. If the rescue at sea have worked through cooperation at the European level of military vessels in the Mediterranean, mainly British, Irish, German and Swedish, places such as Caritas or shelters seem close to collapse.
“In Palermo there is no enough capable bridge structure. We are in an emergency especially in view of the number of people ready to leave Libya. It will be a summer of fire. We put the volunteers in the field and do not pull back,” he reported in La Repubblica Don Sergio Mattaliano, Director of Caritas of Palermo.
40 % of migrants, Syrians, Sudaneses and Eritreans, after initial reception, seeking money to leave for big cities like Rome, Milan, Turin or Bologna. Like in Greece, many of them have to plan to reach Germany, Sweden and Norway. Others, including a large part of minors, remain inside the shelters, only to be routed to other centers located throughout Italy.
Moas has also involved. It haven’t never rescued so many migrants like in these two last days: “This was the single largest back-to-back operation in which M.Y. Phoenix was involved. Within minutes of locating one overcrowded vessel, we spotted another and then another. This kept happening until we found ourselves involved in the rescue of five boats carrying more than 2,000 migrants (6400 since last August) between them”, Ret’d Lt Col. Ian Ruggier who was coordinating efforts on board M.Y. Phoenix said.
“Since proving our capabilities, we have received a huge amount of support from people all over the world who have refused to sit back and watch desperate people drown. Now, our effort also seems to have inspired a number of other organisations to offer their own vessels to the cause. This is a great example of civil society responding to a global problem. We are incredibly proud of what we’re witnessing”, MOAS founder Christopher Catrambone said.
Immigration has become an International issue. The European Union and Onu try to find a solution to this emergency because Italy and Malta can’t be left alone. To talk about these questions, European Affairs has interviewed Martin Xuereb, Director of Migrants Offshore Aid Station (Moas).
When and why was Moas founded?
“Moas was setup in 2014 in Malta. The idea came to Regina and Christopher Catambrone after that 400 migrants drowned close to Lampedusa during the summer of 2013. After the visit of the Pope in Lampedusa, again in 2013, when he made an appeal to help these people in any possible way, Regina and Christopher had the spark. They started thinking about an organization to save lives in Mediterranean context because none deserves to die out at sea. I became involved in February of 2015, when they proposed this project to me to help, aid and save migrants’ lives”. We are a private entity and we depend on the donations people make. We hope that our message, that life is precious no matter who the person is, ispires others to donate.
What’s yours working activity?
“We started this project last year. We went out at sea where after a 16-day operation we saved 3000 people. We came back in September and October. At the end of October, we started thinking about an operation in 2015. Now, one thing that is very different from 2014, it’s our partnership with Msf. They have taken over and provided host rescue assistance. Moas has a 40 metre boat (Phoenix). Again, it’s two Remote Piloted Aircraft and two RHIBs (rigid-hulled inflatable boats) that can react and fly if there is higher requirement of information: they are coordinated by the Rescue Coordination Center. Then, we have two dinghies that can be deployed if there is a boat out at sea that needs assistance. The choice to take migrants on board is taken in coordination with the Rescue Coordination Centre. When migrants are on boats, Msf, with their doctors , nurses and logistics thing will take over to provide them with medical care and to feed them”.
How are competences learned during humanitarian rescues on the high seas important?
“Searching rescue is very challenging. You need capability, knowledge and attitude to most risk. Obviously, you need to work for the love of it, but more importantly you need to be able to do professionally rescues because we are dealing with people’s lives”.
What were results in the last year?
“3000 people were saved in 60 days of operation in 2014. In 2015, starting from May 2nd, we have rescued 1,441people, from unseaworthy boats in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. MOAS carried out six separate rescue missions, providing shelter and lifejackets to 106 children, 211 women and 1,124 men on board the 40-metre (130 ft.) vessel M.Y. Phoenix”.
What institutions and entities you are collaborating with?
“First of all is Rome’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre. Then, we are receiving the support of the Rescue Coordination Centre in Malta. They have the responsibility to coordinate rescue missions and we are happy to receive tasks from them. Their relationship is very positive. They’re very much aware of our capability, of the fact that we do not only have boats out at sea, but we also have drones and clinic on board. While like every other boat out there, we have legal obligation to assist boats in distress: we have made it our mission. The difference between us and merchant ships is that our mission is that of saving lives.
After European Council tripled Triton’s funding, have immigration became an European issue?
“I think that this is an International issue that requires a Global solution. We are saying that Europe should not be weak. We would want to see a wider perspective. I need to say this because everyone needs to be aware that most of the rescues are being conducted in International waters. Why should Italy take responsability by itself when rescues are conducted in International waters? Rescue missions should be coordinated by someone else. We think that people should come to the rescue: not only states, but also private companies and entities. As Moas, in conjunction with Msf, we want to bring on the table a new modus operandi”.