SEATTLE, Washington — For many across the Middle East and Africa, the decade of 2010 was a period of widespread war and conflict, marked by extensive injustice and oppression. Hoping to flee as refugees or to find work as migrants, hundreds of thousands of people have since crossed the Mediterranean, aiming to reach European shores. Since 2015, tens of thousands of people have perished making this journey. As the migrant crisis continues into the present decade, the situation has not changed much. However, The Alarm Phone, a hotline run by a group of activists, is hoping to make a difference. By working to help rescue the thousands of vulnerable people that find themselves helplessly stranded in the Mediterranean every year, The Alarm Phone serves as a lifeline for the most vulnerable.
The Mediterranean Refugee Crisis
Spanning hundreds of miles, the Mediterranean sea separates Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. For many migrants seeking asylum and economic opportunities in Europe, the only viable option is to attempt to cross the Mediterranean.
Various points on Mediterranean shores have served as gateways for people hoping to travel to Europe. In the Western route between Morocco and Spain and the Central route between Libya and Italy, many migrants come from regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, the Aegean Sea route connects Turkey and Greece, serving as a conduit for the millions of refugees from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The journey across the Mediterranean is extremely dangerous. Although tens of thousands make the crossing, more than 20,000 people have died at sea between 2014 and 2020.
Much of the issue arises from deficient and unequipped means of transportation run by illegal smugglers. Due to the EU’s visa-regime, migrants do not have access to commercial ferries or vessels. This forces them to resort to smuggling operations.
With dozens of people often crammed beyond capacity onto dinghies and lifeboats, these vessels often capsize or fail midway through the journey, leaving the migrants onboard stranded in the middle of the ocean.
Once stuck at sea, migrants and refugees are forced to play a waiting game in the hopes that European or African coast guards may send rescue ships to help. However, this wait can sometimes last weeks, as coast guards may not be aware of the situation or as governments avoid taking responsibility for the rescue missions.
Meanwhile, people aboard stranded vessels only face an increasingly mounting risk to their lives as the wait for help continues.
The Alarm Phone’s Work in the Mediterranean
Founded in 2014, The Alarm Phone seeks to help those migrants and refugees stranded at sea. Self-organized and run by volunteers around Europe and the Mediterranean region, The Alarm Phone serves as a hotline for those in distress, so that rescue missions may be notified of the need for assistance as soon as it arises.
Although it is not a rescue service itself, The Alarm Phone makes sure that requests for help are fulfilled. The organization also keeps in contact with those stranded until help reaches them.
Once someone calls the hotline number and sends their GPS location, volunteers reach out to coast guards to inform them of the situation. The hope is that coast guards will act on the situation and provide aid. In the case that coast guard services do not respond in time, The Alarm Phone then mobilizes humanitarian organizations and notifies media groups, so that public pressure may be put on governments and coast guards to act.
Additionally, The Alarm Phone works to notify cargo ships and commercial vessels that may be passing near the area, so that they may assist with the situation if possible.
The Alarm Phone distributes information about its services through communication with refugee and migrant networks in transit countries such as Turkey and those in North Africa. It also works to distribute leaflets that inform prospective migrants about the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
In 2015 alone, The Alarm Phone received distress calls from more than 1,200 boats. And in the years since, the service has helped connect rescue missions to thousands of stranded migrants in hundreds of distinct cases.
The Alarm Phone operates at all hours of the day and publishes live updates regarding the status of stranded vessels on their sister website, Watch the Med. By partnering with humanitarian organizations, The Alarm Phone maximizes its ability to pressure governments to act on rescue missions. As a result, they effectively help save those who are most vulnerable.
Although thousands of people continue to attempt to cross the Mediterranean every year, deaths at sea have been steadily declining since 2016. With groups like The Alarm Phone making a difference and saving lives, the benefits are clear and signal a hopeful end to the tragedies of the Mediterranean migrant crisis in the near future.
– Shayaan Subzwari