Boat Refugees in the Med

According to statistics of the UNHCR over 148.000 ‘sea refugees’ arrived in Europe in 2017 after crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Two percent of these refugees don’t survive or have gone missing. The numbers are a lot lower than in 2015, when over a million refugees tried their luck at crossing the Med. But its still a big and important topic, and we’ve been reminded of the refugee issue every hour or so via the VHF:

“PANPAN PANPAN PANPAN

All ships all ships all ships

An inflatable vessel adrift with an unknown amount of people on board traveling from North Africa, heading for the Spanish coast.

Ships are asked to keep a good lookout and report to the Spanish coastguard.”

Since we’ve been sailing along the coast of the Spanish mainland, we’ve been hearing a lot of VHF alarms and warnings about refugee boats. We kept an eye out as asked, and one day we noticed something in the water. There is a lot of trash floating in the water here and countless fishing buoys to stay away from. This looked different though..

We hesitated, not wanting to come too close to possible fishing buoys. We had a short discussion on board, then changed course to take a look. Upon approaching, it looked more and more like one of those cheap orange life vests. Fog was closing in on us and the visibility wasn’t very good. We didn’t want to risk getting fishing nets in our propellor (there was no wind and we were relying on the engine) so we turned around and followed our initial course again. As you can imagine, it left a bad aftertaste.

In the marina we’re in right now, a boat with around sixty refugees arrived (or should I say: was rescued?) a few days ago. They were brought in by the coast guard in the middle of the night, and stayed in the marina for a couple of hours until they were picked up and brought somewhere else. A horrible storm rolled through a couple of hours later and we were happy for them that they managed to make it to land in time. I guess they don’t have the choice to wait for a good weather window like we do.. A few people in the marina were very worried about their personal safety, as gates don’t work around here and there’s no security. I think that’s just an irrational worry, nobody would leave behind their family and home for a long, dangerous journey to the promised land to start stealing and attacking as soon as they set foot on land, now would they?

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