THE MARE LIBERUM: MONITORING HUMAN RIGHTS AT SEA
From 2018 until the end of 2021, Mare Liberum was active in the Aegean Sea with its own vessel. When we started our work in the Aegean, there was a lot of harassment and deterrence attempts by the authorities, which made it difficult to engage in search and rescue missions to save people on the move during their crossing. Furthermore, attempts were made to systematically prevent NGOs from observing what was happening. Due to the tense situation and the limited operational possibilities, several organizations that had been active at sea in previous years had already withdrawn permanently from the Aegean.
Therefore, refugee boats were relentlessly dependent on the work of the authorities, push- or pullbacks remained unnoticed, and distress cases of boats at sea were undocumented. In order not to leave the situation at sea entirely to the authorities, our ship the MARE LIBERUM aimed to be present at the EU external border between Greece and Turkey, documenting the human rights crimes and border violence of the Greek Coast Guard, Frontex and NATO and preventing them through our general presence.
During our three years of operation in the area, we faced harassment and attempts to criminalize our work, like many other NGOs on the island, and experienced several efforts to stop us from sailing. These included criminal investigations against our organization, several prohibitions of setting sail, and threats from the authorities.
In April and September 2020, Greece introduced extremely severe restrictions on the registration and certification of NGOs working in the fields of asylum, migration and social inclusion. This requires the disclosure of data that is not compatible with European data protection standards and demands disproportionate financial expenditures that make it almost impossible for NGOs to continue working in Greece. Another amendment to the law at the beginning of September 2021 extended the registration and certification requirement to all organizations operating within the jurisdiction of the Greek Coast Guard, including Mare Liberum. The law thus also applies to rescue vessels and monitoring missions at sea. A registration is not possible because of the bureaucratic effort for us and an approval is extremely unlikely from the point of view of the focus of our work, the uncovering of human rights crimes.
The progressive repression and criminalization by Greek authorities have made the deployment of the Mare Liberum 1 ship impossible. The high hurdles for registration and certification, as well as the possibility for the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum, which decides on the application, to refuse the registration of NGOs and individual NGO members for vague, arbitrary and abuse-prone reasons led to the suspension of our activities at sea.