[ 27. Jul 2018 ]

Developments in the Western Mediterranean Sea, June/July 2018

During the six week period covered in this report, the Alarm Phone was involved in 176 Cases in the Western Mediterranean Sea alone. According to UNHCR data released on 23rd of July, 23,993 people have crossed into Spain in 2018 so far, among them 3.158 travellers who crossed the land borders to the Spanish colonies Ceuta and Melilla.


The figure of 20.835 successful sea crossings is very impressive1, especially considering that most of the boats crossing the Strait of Gibraltar are rubber boats, carrying only a small number of people, mostly between 4 to 12 travellers per boat who have to paddle as in most cases they do not have an engine. The figure would be even more impressive if the high number of interceptions and crossing attempts was taken into consideration. There are no official statistics on interceptions conducted by the Moroccan Navy, the Marine Royale, or on interceptions conducted by the Moroccan military, the ‘Forces Auxiliaires’, in the woods where people are (often violently) arrested already in the attempt to reach the water.

Of the 176 Alarm Phone cases in the Western Med during the period covered in this report, 71 boats were rescued by the Spanish rescue authority and 79 boats picked up (mostly intercepted, in some cases rescued out of severe distress) by the Moroccan Marine Royale. Thus, nearly 45 percent of attempts to cross were successful.2 This means that the level of engagement of the Moroccan authorities is a crucial factor in how many attempted crossings end with a boza, with the arrival in Spain. Morocco is a key partner for the EU in its externalization of migration control.

As many travellers are trapped in Libya due to the recent EU attempts to block the Central Mediterranean route, numbers of crossings in the Western Mediterranean continue to rise17. The EU border agency Frontex warns that the next ‘migration corridor’ would be from Morocco to Spain. Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri announced that 6.000 travellers had successfully crossed into Spain via Morocco in June 2018 alone, the UNHCR counts even 7.313 crossings. Leggeri called Spain his ‘greatest worry’.18 Obviously, he is not worried about the people who have no safe escape routes anymore and who have to risk their lives at sea.5 The political consequences in terms of border policing in light of the increased crossings in Western Mediterranean remain to be seen. What is already clear is that routes are shifting further south and become hence even more dangerous. Boats started to cross again from Mauritania to the Canaries,6 with 434 arrivals counted by UNHCR so far this year.7 Even further south, boats start to leave from Senegal towards the Spanish islands: On 16th of June, the Mauritanian Coast Guard intercepted boat with 125 Senegalese travellers.8 The Western Mediterranean, as does the whole Mediterranean Sea, remains a lethal border zone9. As was the case in our previous reports, also in this six week period, the Alarm Phone accompanied people who eventually lost their lives at sea. In these cases, and where possible, we tried to stay in contact with their relatives and friends.

Shift experiences: Perspectives of a shift team member

“As more and more boats have been crossing from Morocco to Spain during the last weeks, Alarm Phone shifts are getting really busy and there is seldom time to digest what has happened, even if there are major incidents. We have been involved in a couple of lethal cases lately in the Western Mediterranean Sea and given the ongoing struggles it was barely possible to take the space and time to process. 49 people went missing in the night of 13th of June. They had left from Nador at 2am in the morning and couldn’t be reached anymore. For two days, both Morocco and Spain had been searching unsuccessfully for the boat with aerial and naval assets. We were communicating with our whole local network, relatives and friends of those on board. Then the news came that 4 people had been rescued out of the plain water by Salvamento Marítimo somewhere near Almería, without any boat in sight. According to press articles10, the 4 survivors reported that they had been on a boat with 49 people…we could only assume that this was our case and had to inform relatives and families, leaving them in limbo, not knowing who survived, who had lost his or her life during the tragedy. We continuously tried to find out the identities of the survivors as the relatives kept on contacting us desperately. We called the hospital where the survivors had been brought to, local police, the rescue authority Salvamento Marítimo…but we didn’t get any information.11

At the same time, just in the morning after the search for the 49 had started, on 14th of June, I was talking on the phone to a man who had fallen into the water, shouting that their zodiac (rubber boat) had flipped over and they were trying to hold on to its back. I called both the Spanish and Moroccan authorities immediately. When i called the travellers again, they told me that initially they had been 6 people, but they were only two left, the others had been lost in the waves. I didn’t know what to answer them..nothing seemed appropriate, and also their lives were still in danger. Later they told us that in the end three of them were rescued by the Moroccan Marine. Luckily one friend had managed to swim to the shore, but two others most probably lost their lives in the sea.12

And no time to rest – during the following days, more and more boats left for Spain, with 14 during the next day alone. Other tragedies happened. Our friends and Alarm Phone members in Morocco identified people in the morgue, digged graves, assisted with funerals and informed relatives and friends, whilst at the same time continuously managing ongoing distress cases, no time to rest and mourn, to digest. Every day there were new Alarm Phone cases from the Western Mediterranean, new people’s lives in danger. Many were rescued successfully, many intercepted. Circumstances were often chaotic with multiple rescue operations happening at the same time or the Spanish and Moroccan authorities denying responsibility to react. The Marine Royale is simply not a rescue agency – as displayed so clearly once again during an operations on 16th of June, where their big marine boat approached the small rubber boat so rapidly that the latter flipped over. Most of the travellers managed to cling on to their rubber boat, but one man drowned. In the testimony of the people that we received later, they explained how one friend was not able to grab hold of the boat, and how the navy made no effort to help him, but simply watched him drown. Afterwards they allowed the remaining distressed people onto their vessel, and brought them back to Morocco.13 It is clear that the Moroccan navy is not a rescue organisation, but first and foremost a military unit with border management as their main aim.”


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2 18 boats have returned to Morocco by own forces, 1 boat was rescued by fishermen and 7 boats remained missing or their status unconfirmed.

3 Numbers nearly doubled from May (3,937 crossings) to June (7,313 crossings) ::

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9 Since 1993, the network UNITED for Intercultural Action has recorded the reported names, origins and causes of death for more than 34,000 travellers who have died whilst trying to get into Europe due to the restrictive policies of “Fortress Europe”. The List contains an impressive number of 56 pages of names. It can be downloaded here.

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11 See the full case report here ::

12 See the full case report here ::

13 See full case report here ::

Source: From the Sea to the City! Alarm Phone 6 Week Report, 11 June – 22 July 2018, published on 27. July 2018 in ::