October 2015. Temperatures had plummeted to freezing and thousands of people were fleeing their homelands from war and terror along the so-called ‘Balkan Route’. The media surged with images of human beings freezing to death, starving and wading through mud, all with hopes of reaching a better place. Our small group of like-minded individuals in Dresden, Germany, agreed we could no longer stand by and do nothing. So we formed an aid convoy called the ‘Dresden-Balkan-Konvoi’.

A call for contributions went out to the people of Dresden and support came pouring in as residents recognized the dire situation their fellow human beings were in.

On 12 November 2015, our small convoy of volunteers and three transporters with trailers began the journey to Syria. Upon arrival, we met with an international team of volunteers to help support and care for the thousands of refugees awaiting registration. The generosity of Dresden was abundant enough to not only enable this convoy but several others afterwards.

The Dresden-Balkan-Konvoi carried this momentum forward and, in December 2015, we focused our activities on Greece. Starting out at the ‘Registration Camp’ in Idomeni, which was shortly thereafter dissolved. Our volunteers shifted to the next ‘hot spot’ in Greece, the island Chios. Here, we helped with what is called ‘shoring’. This means finding boats that have landed and providing the often hypothermic new arrivals with warm dry clothing and hot tea. Our group was also able to provide support to several camps on the island.

Eventually the Balkan Route closed and people had to find another way to get from Turkey to Greece. A new ‘route’ developed over the Mediterranean. Again the media was flooded with images of people drowning and boats sinking as humanity disappeared into the depths.

A handful of rescue vessels had been deployed in the area, but with little support human losses and disappearances persisted. At this point, we, the volunteers at the Dresden-Balkan-Konvoi, decided to broaden our focus.

A new group would concentrate efforts on search and rescue at sea, while the other continued to support the camps in Greece. From this extension of our focus, Mission Lifeline e.V. was born in April 2016.

The goal of this new group has been to organize and prepare a search and rescue ship for the Mediterranean. Shortly after its creation, Mission Lifeline began the search, not only in German cities like Hamburg, Sassnitz and Rotterdam, but across the entire European market, for the perfect search and rescue ship to fulfill our duty of saving lives at sea. The perfect ship would have enough space for hundreds of people, run economically, be seaworthy, affordable, and ready for immediate deployment.

After a persistent but fruitless search, a fellow NGO offered to sell their ship to us. With only a few minor repairs, the ‘new’ search and rescue ship was completed and ready-to-go. And as of September 2017, we have been in the Mediterranean fulfilling our mission! 

Since the start of our mission, the MV Lifeline was considered one of the most important single Search and Rescue actors, accounting for 26% of all rescues after the operation Mare Nostrum was cancelled.

However, everything changed in June 2018 when the MV Lifeline, with 234 migrants on board, was allowed to dock in a Maltese port after spending six days at sea. After such incident, the vessel was impounded by the Maltese government due to unfounded allegations.

Lifeline saved thousands of lives in the Mediterranean between 2015 and 2018 – in 2016 they were the most important single Search and Rescue actor, accounting for 26% of all rescues, filling a huge gap in state search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean after Italy scaled back its Mare Nostrum operation in late 2014.

In June, the MV Lifeline, with 234 people on board, was allowed to enter a Maltese port after spending six days stranded at sea. The vessel was only allowed to dock after Malta and a number of EU states reached an agreement on how to share the rescued migrants.

Currently, in August 2018 Mission Lifeline informed that they have found a replacement ship in order to keep fulfilling their duties in spite of the unlawful obstructions of maritime rescue by various EU states.

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