Boats4People - April 2012

In summer 2011 the list of boat people drowning or dying of thirst was getting longer. The situation is and remains unbearable. Thus, anti-racist networks demand immediate action to arrest the deathly EU border regime. For several months now (1) a transnational project 'Ships of solidarity – stop the death in the Mediterranean Sea' is being developed to support refugees and migrants by intervention on site on their way to Europe. In April 2012, several small ships will set sail in Italy in the opposite direction to the escape routes of the boat people: most likely from Rome via Sicily and Lampedusa to different ports in Tunisia. The project is scheduled at the same time as the Maghrebian Social Forum in Tunis. The aim is a Mediterranean network to implement a permanent monitoring between the North-African coast and the South-European islands. The scandalous incidents at sea are to be documented and publicly incriminated. Subject are the rights of the Harragas and the migrants in transit (2). Everything possible is to be done to save castaways.

Since the beginning of 2011, more than 2,000 people died in this area of the Mediterranean Sea and thousands are still trapped in desert camps like the Tunisian Choucha or in Libya. Their only hope is to take the risk and climb into overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats. During the past months human rights organisations and anti-racist networks have demanded in numerous appeals the immediate resettlement of refugees: "The voices of Choucha stand for the desperate protest against a policy of flagrant human rights violations, as they take place every day in many hot spots of Europe's external borders. A break with this policy is necessary to stop the dying at sea
and in the desert. The democracy movements in Northern Africa provide the opportunity for a fresh start. Instead of fatal exclusion and grotesque threat scenarios, openness and solidarity must shape the future of the Mediterranean area. It needs bridges instead of walls for a new African-European relationship in order that Europe becomes a place of real freedom, general security and equal rights for all.“

The project 'Ships of Solidarity' is tied in with these demands and aims, because so far the European governments adamantly reject the resettlement of refugees. Instead an increasing number of statements from survivors show that boat people are refused rescue and that their deaths is accepted as part of a strategy of deterrence. The EU is
financing flights to repatriate Sub-Saharian migrants from Tunisia to their countries of origin, e.g. to Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world and thus destabilise the economical situation. At the same time the EU is pressurising the (transition)governments of the North-African countries to control their coasts and co-operate with the European
border agency Frontex. If that 'watchdog' role is not fulfilled, economic agreements are denied. It is totally ignored, that Tunisia has accepted more than 500,000 refugees from Libya. The revolutions in North Africa cannot change the social and economic situation overnight. Therefore, a lot of people leave for Lampedusa to escape unemployment. But in
Europe they are treated degradingly and deported as soon as possible.

The impulse for Boats4People came from France, from the Euro-African network Migreurop. And the initiative is also coordinated in Paris. In Europe organisations from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are participating, in North Africa groups from Morocco 'are on board', but most interested is Tunisia. There, the revolutionary uprising has not come to an end. The question of freedom of movement is a day-to-day topic. Time and again Harragas try their luck and enter the boats to Europe, even though internment and deportation are waiting for them. Hence, Boats4People find a lot of interest and agreement in Tunis and also in the ports Sfax and Zarzis. Human right groups like the forum for economic and social rights or the FSM (Forum social maghrebin), women's organisations like ATFD (Association tunesienne des Femmes Democrates) and last but not least relatives of missing persons have agreed to participate.

The 'Ships of Solidarity' now need broad and prominent support from both sides of the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. In Germany activists from the anti-racist networks Afrique-Europe-Interact and Welcome to Europe as well as the research organisation for flight and migration and from Borderline Europe established a preparatory committee (4).
An initial appeal for donations to contribute to this important transnational project has already been launched. After all, the core European governments including Germany are definitely responsible for the deaths in the Mediterranean Sea. From Germany the
externalisation of migration control has been instigated for years and due to the establishment and the armament of Frontex a downright war against refugees started here.

Boats4People is a pilot project to gain experience and to enforce the European-African network processes. In March 2011 already, the above-mentioned networks have accurately drawn the context and long-time perspectives of such initiatives in their declaration 'Freedom, not Frontex' (5): "The uprisings occurring in Northern Africa demonstrate what is possible. They refer to a new Arab world, a new Africa, a possible new Europe. They refer to new spaces of freedom and equality, to be created in transnational struggles: in Tunis, Cairo or Bengazi as well as in Europe and in the movements of migration, crisscrossing both continents.“

h., no one is illegal/Hanau


(1) Initially the start was planned for late autumn 2011, but due to the elections in Tunisia and the unpredictable weather as from November it was postponed to spring 2012. Find the project presented online now here.

(2) In Arabian countries the expression Harraga is used for migrants who 'burn the border'. It is used for people leaving North Africa in search for a better life in Europe – without a visa which is usually denied. Migrants in transit are refugees and migrants who come from Sub-Saharan or East-African countries and who just cross North Africa.

(3) From the appeal 'Voices from Choucha – open escape routes, accept refugees' - June 2011 – more details here

(4) Regular information in German contact

(5) This declaration and more regarding these issues under the trilingual website Afrique-Europe-Interact