The human rights monitoring organisation Mare Liberum, registered in Berlin as a non-profit, is operating a 20 meter long vessel under German flag in the Aegean Sea, also called “Mare Liberum”. The ship is patrolling the waters around the Greek islands where refugees are trying to cross from Turkey. The mission of the vessel is to spot boats in distress that cannot be spotted from shore, as well as monitoring and documenting illegal push-backs by Greek, Turkish and EU authorities.
The government of Germany is trying to block us from doing this important work, but two administrative courts in a row have ruled in our favour and deemed the registration of our vessel legal for the kind of volunteer work we are providing in defence of human rights for refugees.
The Mare Liberum is a former fishing vessel which had been converted into a motor yacht decades ago. Since then, it had been consistently registered as a non-commercial ship. By demand of the German Federal Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Berufsgenossenschaft Verkehr as the national ship safety authority had previously ordered Mare Liberum to stay in port in order to hinder us from helping people in need and saving lives. Ironically enough, the authorities are citing safety concerns, unlawfully requesting a small motor yacht to fulfil safety standards for large commercial vessels, that are not even binding for government-owned rescue cutters.
After the Administrative Court of Hamburg had already blocked this seizure from staying into effect on 13th of May, the authorities have appealed the ruling. The Higher Administrative Court of Hamburg has now confirmed the decision in their second instance decision on 5th of September 2019.
Both courts came to the conclusion that the ship Mare Liberum is correctly registered as a non-profit vessel, and is allowed to continue sailing, being operated by its international crew of volunteers. We can therefore continue our important human rights monitoring mission, ensuring that both international law and human dignity are respected along this part of the European Union border.
Over the past two weeks, the Mare Liberum crew witnessed various landings of migrant boats and is investigating a possible illegal pull-back. Over this past month alone, approximately 8.000 people crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands, meaning the number of arrivals has increased 55.3% compared to July of this year. It is the highest number of crossings since 2016. The majority of the refugees trying to cross stem from the war-torn countries of Syria and Afghanistan. The numbers of children among those fleeing are staggering.
Considering the recent statements of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it is possible that he is building pressure for the enlargement of his power beyond Turkish borders. President Erdoğan stated: “How will Turkey bear the burden of 4 million refugees?..there will be no solution left but to open the gates. Should the onus remain on us alone to always be considering [this matter]?” Various sources on the ground affirm that he might be purposefully letting more boats pass over the sea border into Greece in an attempt to strongarm the European Union into allowing the establishment of a refugee safe-zone in the mostly Kurdish area of northern Syria. If this is the case, our monitoring vessel is greatly needed at sea to ensure that migrant boat interceptions are done legally and the coast guard is responding adequately to what may be a continual increase in distressed vessels.
Greece has responded to the surge in migrant arrivals with a worrisome seven point plan that will increase border surveillance in conjunction with the European Union’s border patrol agency Frontex and NATO, boost police patrols across Greece to identify rejected asylum seekers and deport them, and abolish the second stage of appeals in the refugee asylum process. Government spending on further militarization and deportation is undoubtedly being prioritized over humanitarian action. Mare Liberum urges the new Greek government to ensure that search and rescue missions at sea are handled efficiently, legally, and with human rights at the forefront of policy decisions.
Germany has the responsibility to use its resources and influence for the betterment of safe passage for migrants. The federal government must allow more refugees to continue their journeys to Germany.
The Higher Administrative Court’s ruling should lead to the German government finally dropping the case against Mare Liberum and stop harassing human rights defenders. Rather than attempting to sabotage solidarity organisations, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and all other government institutions should support the fight for human rights for all. The vessel Eleonore of Mission Lifeline is also a German-flagged human rights monitoring vessel that is being seized by the Italian government. Hopefully the Mare Liberum case will set the proper precedent and they will be as successful in court later on as we were today.
Now that we are able to continue with our operations, we are in need of funds to continue with our mission. Become a valuable part of our work by contributing to the Mare Liberum: crowdfunding page