Design a site like this with
Get started

What happened to 91 people who went missing in the Mediterranean a year ago?

‘CommemorActions’ held across the world in solidarity with the families of missing refugees

“MY SON has been lost since February 2020. He travelled to Tripoli, Libya. And since then we have not heard anything from or about him,” says Elomda Moussa Bakr Hamid in a YouTube video posted yesterday by the activist network Alarm Phone.

“Is he dead? Or in prison? No one knows,” Bakr Hamid says, speaking to the activists in Al-fashir, North Darfur, Sudan about his son missing son Alfadhel Aloomda Moussa Bakr.

“Probably he is in prison in Libya, or he crossed the sea and is in Europe now. It’s also possible they detained him in Malta or Italy. No one knows.

“We ask of the authorities, international organisations and all friends, that they help us search for our missing children. Inshallah (god willing), they may be alive. Inshallah.”

In the early hours of February 9, 2020 — or perhaps late the previous evening — 91 people, Alfadhel being one of them, stepped into a black rubber boat and made their escape from Libya, hoping to reach safety on the other side of the Mediterranean.

At 04.09 (CET) in the morning, one of the 91 managed to call the emergency distress hotline operated by the activist network Alarm Phone.

They told Alarm Phone that their boat was deflating, their engine not working and that some of them had gone overboard.

It was the last anyone ever heard from the 91 again.

But the 91 did manage to provide Alarm Phone with their GPS position, which it sent out in an alert to the Italian, Maltese and Libyan rescue coordination centres.

The Italian and Maltese authorities did not launch a rescue operation.

As for the authorities in Libyan, in whose search-and-rescue zone the 91 were last located, Alarm Phone said the following on Twitter later that morning:

“After hours of calling all [the phone] numbers of the so-called Libyan coastguard in vain, we were now able to speak to a representative who told us that Libya [had] not conduct a rescue operation yet as the detention centres are full…”

Conditions inside Libya’s detention centres have been widely condemned by survivors, grassroots activists, NGO refugee rescuers in the central Mediterranean, international human rights organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and intergovernmental organisations like the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

Even the European Union – which trains, equips and supports both financially and operationally the Libyan Coastguard — is also aware of the dire human rights abuses committed inside the war-torn country’s detention centres.

A leaked 2019 document from the Presidency of the Council of the European Union warned that: “The reluctance of [Libyan] officials to co-operate is closely linked to the widely reported human rights violations that take place in the detention centres and to the fact that the facilities form a profitable business model for the current Libyan government.”

At least 381 people died in the central Mediterranean while attempting to flee Libya last year, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and 597 more went missing.

The IOM’s latest estimates for 2021 so far show that 20 have died and 67 are still missing. Worryingly, close to 2,000 people since January 1 have been returned to the country by the Libyan Coastguard — the vast majority of those pushbacks occurred in just four days last week.

It took months before any of the authorities responded to Alarm Phone’s open letter asking about what happened to the 91 and what, if anything, they did to search and rescue them.

In December 2020, the European Border and Coastguard Agency, Frontex, sent them a photograph taken on February 9 of a deflated rubber boat in a position near to the 91’s last known coordinates.

Image of the deflated rubber boat taken by Frontex and provided to Alarm Phone in December 2020

With the help of the families and friends of the 91, who mostly came from Darfur, Alarm Phone has compiled a list of 62 names and photographs, giving a face to missing.

“Without bodies being found, and without clear answers, it is impossible for their families to know their fate and to have closure.” Alarm Phone says.

“We reject the logic of reducing Black/Migrant people, their lives and their deaths to numbers and statistics. This racist dehumanisation does not account for the loss of Abdul, of Aboubacar, of Adnan, of Afdel.

“It does not account for the pain inflicted to their mothers, their sisters, their friends. It does not account for the White supremacist violence, by action and by inaction, historical and present, that keeps murdering Black/Migrant lives or lets them die at sea.

“The silence and lack of acknowledgement denies entire communities the right to know about what happened to the people who went missing. It denies entire communities the right to bury their loved ones, to mourn them, and to find closure after painful searches.”

Kids and young adults in al-Fasher, a city in North Darfur, Sudan, hold up the image of one of the missing 91

Activists in cities across Europe and Africa held joint “CommemorAction” demonstrations today in solidarity with the family and friends of the 91.

This morning, relatives of the missing livestreamed a demonstration from al-Fasher, North Darfur in Sudan, where many of the 91 originally came from.

In the footage, dozens stand in a circle holding banners and placards bearing the names and photos of the missing.

“We are the families of the missing persons,” one of them reads. “We send this message to the whole world. We ask you to help find the missing from Libya to Europe.”

Socially distanced commemorative and protest actions took place in memory of the 91 today in Palermo, Latina, Marseille, Toulon, Tunis, Strasbourg, Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Cologne, Frankfurt, Freiburg, Amsterdam, Zurich, Vienna and Brighton.

A picture of Abdul Juma, one of the 91, adorns a post in Brighton, UK

“In solidarity with the friends and families of all people who went missing or were killed by the violent European border regime, today we gather in several cities to demand answers,” Alarm Phone said today.

“Together with them, we say their names out loud, to remind Europe that each black life matters, that we will not forget, and that we will keep fighting against this racist border regime.

“Today and every day we fight to hold Europe accountable for its racist violence and we fight for freedom of movement for all.”

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: