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- Sea rescue
An Overview of our Aid
Dangerous flight over the Mediterranean Sea
Every year people flee their native lands due to violence, war, exploitation, and persecution. For many refugees, their search for a humane existence ends in death; especially the route over the Mediterranean is extremely dangerous. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 20,000 people have died on this route since 2014. Especially the small, unseaworthy boats threaten to capsize, and their occupants have hardly a chance to survive in the waves. Most cannot swim, and their cheap life vests soon become waterlogged. The corona pandemic has further worsened the situation. Many member states in the European Union have closed their ports to the refugees, and civilian rescue ships are not allowed to dock or are confiscated. Not a single rescue ship was underway for weeks.
Intensifying the civilian ocean rescue operations
We dispatched a doctor on board a civilian rescue ship, the ‟Sea-Eye 4” for the first time in May, 2021. Our engagement in ocean rescue is an extension of our humanitarian aid for people living on the margins of society who have fled their native countries, are undesired in their target countries, and are also often severely traumatised. They desperately need support. Our cooperating partner, the association Sea-Eye e.V. with headquarters in Regensburg (Germany) was founded in 2015 to rescue people, mostly refugees, from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. The international crew on the Sea-Eye 4, which was recently converted into a rescue ship, searches for refugees in boats threatening to capsize before the Libyan coast, takes them on board, and brings then to safety according to the International Maritime Law. The missions last for three weeks. Noone knows in advance how many men, women, and children will be taken on board during this time.
The Organisation Sea Eye
Seek, save, care for, and bring to safety – that briefly defines Sea-Eye’s mission. More than 1,000 volunteers in changing crews have saved over 15,000 lives in 70 missions up to now (May 2021). The most recent rescue ship, Sea-Eye 4, is the organisation’s fourth rescue ship. In contrast to its predecessor, Sea-Eye has a sickbay on board. Its first mission with a doctor on board took place in May, 2021.
An Overview of our Aid
Project start: May 2021
Number of doctors at present: one German doctor
Partner: the civilian ocean-rescue organisation ‟Sea-Eye e.V.” with headquarters in Regensburg
Structure: one of the physicians dispatched by the German Doctors performs a 3-week mission on the Sea-Eye 4 in the Mediterranean Sea. During this time, refugees in distress at sea before the Libyan coast are rescued, taken on board, and transported to a safe place. The volunteer German doctor is responsible for the medical care of these individuals.
Service area: the rescue ship ‟Sea-Eye 4” belonging to the aid organisation Sea-Eye on duty in the Mediterranean Sea. This ship has a sickbay equipped according to modern standards to treat the refugees who have often been weakened by their strenuous flight.
Most common health problems: the mission docrtors perform primary, basic medical treatment of the rescued refugees. Many suffer from hypothermia, dehydration, and exhaustion. Wounds and other injuries must also be treated. The doctors‘ task is to assess the health status of the refugees on board, to carry out initial treatment, and to identify those who urgently require further treatment on land. Mental support of those often severely traumatised is also of great importance.
An Overview of our Aid
Medical care at sea
The missions on board the rescue ship ‟Sea-Eye 4” constitute a huge challenge, even for experienced crew members. No one knows in advance how many people will be rescued and what their physical and mental conditions will be. The crew members are professionally prepared for their missions so that they will be able to act professionally in emergencies. Our volunteer mission doctors are responsible for the medical care after the refugees have been taken on board. Many often suffer from hypothermia, dehydration, and exhaustion after days at sea. Injuries, chemical burns, and reactions to petrol fumes are frequent. If a medical emergency occurs on board which cannot be treated on site, like a complicated delivery, a heart attack, or a necessary operation, the crew can request a rescue helicopter.
An open ear for traumatised individuals
Since many of those rescued are traumatised by experiences in their native countries and during their flight, our doctors, as well as all other crew members, are expected to possess a high degree of empathy and a great deal of sensitivity and intercultural competence. Rescued individuals report having experienced violence and mistreatment by militias, human traffickers, and other armed groups. Humane attention is of utmost importance for many of those taken aboard, sometimes even more important than the medical care available. Refugees on board the rescue ships occasionally even attempt to commit suicide. Besides our doctors, there are always paramedics or other medically trained persons on board. This is eminently important when more than a hundred people are taken aboard at once and require primary medical care.
An Overview of our Aid
From a fishing boat to a rescue ship
A group of volunteer humanitarian-aid workers equipped the 26.5-meter-long fishing boat ‟Sea-Eye” in the shipyard in Rostock for their first rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and transferred the ship to Sicily in February, 2018. The previous founding of the association ‟Sea-Eye e. V.” in Regensburg was a response to the fate of thousands of people who had attempted to flee over the Mediterranean Sea and drowned in 2015. Two years later, the aid organisation bought the ‟Seefuchs” to be able to save even more people. However, at the same time, the civilian sea-rescue services were being combatted by many politicians and hindered by a continuous flow of new requirements. The Dutch flag was removed from both Sea-Eye ships, making further missions impossible.
‟Alan Kurdi”, the third rescue ship, was named after the young Syrian child whose body was washed up on a Turkish shore. His photograph was published worldwide. Due to alleged technical deficits, the ‟Alan Kurdi” was detained in the port of Palermo by the Italian coast guard for the first time in May, 2020. The first mission with a German doctor on board a rescue ship was on Sea-Eye 4 in May, 2021.
Sea Eye: Active on land and sea
The crew of the Sea-Eye 4 consists of volunteers and professional sailors. Twenty courageous people with different capacities from various countries participate in every mission for the benefit of refugees. More than 14,000 people have already been rescued. Additional volunteers on land support every mission. They carry out diverse actions to call attention to the Sea-Eye’s rescue services. They provide information, collect donations, and recruit further supporters for the humanitarian aid project. This is similar to the activities of the German Doctors, which are performed by numerous volunteer mission doctors.
An Overview of our Aid
Perilous flight from humanitarian crises
‟I didn’t see any other solution,“ is one of the most common statements made by those rescued when asked why they had undertaken the risky attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. War, violence, persecution, poverty, and the lack of a perspectives drove them to undertake the dangerous flight, often in rubber dinghies which can hardly withstand the wind and waves. This route across the Mediterranean is considered the most lethal sea passage in the world. Current, real-time communications inform people who attempt to reach Europe via the Mediterranean about this lethal danger. However, since legal immigration to Europe from the typical countries -– Africa, Asia, and the Middle East – is nearly impossible. The European Union’s asylum policies are becoming increasingly restrictive, thereby increasing the refugees’ readiness to risk of fleeing across the Mediterranean.
Civilian ocean rescue is coming increasingly important
The operative capacity for ocean rescue has been clearly reduced by governments within the past years. The primary task of the Italian marine mission ‟Mare Nostrum” (2013 – 2014) was to rescue people in distress at sea. The succeeding operations supported by the EU, ‟Triton” and ‟Sophia”, increasingly aimed at combatting human traffickers and illegal entry into Europe. The ‟EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia“ has merely carried out air surveillance since March 2019. There were no rescue ships at sea in this operation. Civilian rescue organisations like Sea-Eye have attempted to fill the resulting gap; they have already saved tens of thousands of lives. The captain of every ship which is capable and near an endangered ship or boat is obliged by law to provide aid and rescue people in distress.
The situation of refugees in the Mediterranean has worsened
Civilian ocean rescue operations have been impeded by, among other things, altered regulations for ship safety over the past years. The corona pandemic has additionally exaserbated the difficult situation. At the beginning of April, countries like Malta and Italy closed their ports. The German Federal Government demanded civilian rescue operations to cease their activities. The ‟Alan Kurdi” was grounded due to ‟technical defects” by the Italian Government in May 2020. There was not a single rescue ship on the Mediterranean Sea for months. Although they knew that all rescue ships were stuck in ports, 6,000 refugees still attempted to make the risky crossing to Europe in May and June.
In June 2018, responsibility for coordinating rescue operations in international waters was officially transferred to the Libyan coast guard. They, however, have been criticised for putting people saved from distress at sea into internment camps along the Libyan coast. UN organisations like the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR or the UN International Organisation for Migration IOM have only limited access to these internment camps. There is also no formal registration of the prisoners, and human-rights violations are increasingly being reported.
Every donation helps!
German Doctors help worldwide
We believe in the right of every human being to get medical care no matter their origin. Therefore our volunteer German Doctors offer medical treatments in developing countries for the poorest of the poor. Whether people infected with HIV, undernourished children deficiency syndromes or people with chronic diseases, we help everyone who needs help.
Our doctors work during their annual leave or retirement for a period of six weeks and waive any compensation. More than 7000 missions with more than 3200 doctors were completed since 1983.