Mare Liberum is a free asset at sea, working off the coast of Lesvos. As public attention withdraws from the Aegean, arrivals have not ceased: people keep entrusting their lives to flimsy dinghies in an attempt to reach safety. When they do, they are confronted with Turkish and European border forces, whose operations need to be witnessed and documented. On land, Moria camp and all its atrocities are allowed to continue unchecked. More than 10,000 people are stranded in squalid conditions on an island of just over 80,000 inhabitants. In this scenario, NGOs are doing their best to fill the overwhelming gaps in service provision. Mare Liberum is a truth finder, a monitor. We are trying to reconstruct and shape an understanding of how the situation on Lesvos has arisen, and how it might be resolved.

On 10 September, when the ship was anchored off the east coast of Lesvos, we launched our RHIB, Mudda, in response to reports of a landing near the remote headland of Palios. When we reached the area, the people had walked inland and were no longer visible from the water. There we were, engine off, drifting slowly, weighing up what it would mean to stay on the scene, given that we had heard from other actors that there might be people in need. It would mean being searched, investigated, questioned. It would mean, over the course of days, being subjected to the subtle annoyance that authorities are able to perpetrate. It would mean potentially endangering ourselves and anyone we were in contact with. It would mean being made to feel weak and powerless.

Our intention is to bear witness, to bring questions to public attention and to educate and to inform. The ship is a platform for training sessions, workshops, discussion and dialogue. We collaborate with observatories, universities, legal advisors, journalists and fellow activist to project what we witness beyond these border regions. On 22 October, the Mare Liberum hosted a legal workshop chaired by specialists on maritime law, data protection and Greek criminal law, culminating in a Q&A with other actors on the island. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. We will continue to bring together people from all walks of civil society, drawing attention to the human cost of the dehumanising policies implemented at Europe’s borders.

Over the last few weeks, those of us working at the fringes of Europe have watched with concern as the space in which civil society is allowed to show solidarity is eroded, with SAR ships prevented from launching and organisations in the field feeling increasing pressure on their ability to operate. Efforts by European and national institutions to create a tightly securitised border raise serious questions of accountability, while solidarity is viewed as an impediment to state policy. In this context, organisations such as ours must continue with their daily activities, supporting solutions that ensure safe passage and dignity: food and clothing distribution cannot stop; legal support cannot stop; search and rescue cannot stop; emergency response cannot stop. Seafarers should not have to think twice before helping, and yet they do. Lesvos is in a state of upheaval, and Mare Liberum refuses to normalise any narrative that promotes deterrence and externalisation.

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