Mitigating death and inspiring action at world’s deadliest border

September 15, 2015


The humanitarian non-governmental organisation Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) has since its debut on 30 August 2014 contributed significantly to saving lives during one of the worst maritime refugee crises in world history that is far from over, while inspiring others to take action.

More than 10,000 men, women and children in distress have been rescued at sea by MOAS, although, sadly up to 200 people died when a boat bound for Italy sank off the Libyan coast three days before the organisation’s launch. That same day, 70 bodies were discovered by Austrian authorities in an abandoned lorry on a motorway at the border with Hungary.

The reality is stark. At least 2,500 migrants alone died at sea this year, an all-time record. As many as 20,000 people are believed to have perished trying to reach Europe’ shores on rickety boats since records began.

“The world is facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Sixty million people worldwide are forcibly displaced. This is not only a European problem, this is a complex and global issue that requires a global solution. MOAS calls for governments, civil society organisations and private citizens to work together to put an end to the humanitarian catastrophe at our doorsteps. Collective action can save lives,” a report from MOAS stresses.

Malta-based MOAS is now collaborating with all vessels at sea under the coordination of Rome’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) that is operated by the Italian coastguard.

The organisation is equipped with a 40-metre vessel, the Phoenix; two Schiebel camcopters (drones) that are used to ascertain the size and condition of boats in distress and the number of people onboard; two rescue rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIBs); and a 20-strong professional crew of seafarers, rescuers, doctors and paramedics. They set sail this May, after saving 3,000 lives in 60 days last year, most of whom were Syrian refugees.

The team has assisted dangerously overcrowded boats off the coast of Libya, carrying victims of violence and trafficking, pregnant women often travelling alone, unaccompanied children, and young men fleeing forced labour, indefinite military service and extreme deprivation.

“We need to conduct search and rescue and prevent vulnerable people from dying trying to reach safety in Europe,” explains MOAS.

The privately managed and funded organisation−the first of its kind−says it is proud to see that its efforts have inspired other non-governmental and civic organisations such as Sea Watch to offer their own ships to the cause and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), who has provided direct financial support and is partnering with the mission in its second year and will be responsible for providing post-rescue care on board. The people rescued and assisted by MOAS in the Mediterranean are mostly refugees from Eritrea, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia and Sudan.

“This is a great example of civil society responding to a global problem,” the report from the organisation said.

According to the United Nations, the overwhelming majority of people arriving in Europe by boat are escaping war, violence, persecution, making the migration overwhelmingly a refugee crisis, while a smaller number is escaping the type of poverty that leads to desperation. From the data and testimonies MOAS has collected onboard the Phoenix, the majority say they have no other option but to seek protection from conflicts, terrorist groups and repressive regimes.

Following the shipwreck of April 2015, when 800 lost their lives, MOAS welcomed the decision by the European Union to strengthen its search and rescue efforts by tripling the fund for Frontex and expanding its mandate. As a result of this collaboration between state-run and private search and rescue efforts, the number of people dying dropped significantly during the months of May and June. Between July and August 2015, 700 people died when their boat capsized off the Libyan coast with some dying from asphyxia after being trapped in the lower deck.

“As long as thousands of human beings feel they have no other option other than embarking on a dangerous crossing, MOAS urges decision makers to put SAR (search and rescue) at the top of their agendas. A collective humanitarian action at sea by governments, NGOs and private initiatives continues to be vital,” it emphasized.

MOAS will be operating in the Mediterranean until the end of October. It plans to make the humanitarian operation sustainable year-long, but its goal to expand on a global scale depends exclusively on funding.


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