It all started with a question, as simple as provoking: why are they dying and why is nobody helping them? Open Arms was created to provide a concrete and immediate answer. The mission of the non-governmental, non-profit organisation is to protect people who try to reach Europe fleeing from war, persecution and poverty. Adapting their previous experience first aid at sea company, Open Arms activists provide specialised interventions in surveillance and rescue missions of boats carrying people who need help in the Aegean and Central Mediterranean Sea. But there is more to that: the NGO makes continuous efforts to raise awareness of the injustices and human rights violation, as stressed by Mar Sabé Dausà, Open Arms speaker:
“we have arrived to a point of normalization, dehumanization that we should have never arrived. Nowadays we are facing a situation where first-class citizens, second-class citizens, even people are seeing their rights being systematically violated and there’s no one doing anything about it. We keep reclaiming that human rights have to be defended by everyone, doesn’t matter the country and their situation.”
With its headquarters in Badalona port, Spain, Open Arms is a small organization with a limited structure and staff. Around 20 workers support its missions, which are implemented through 2 ships. An essential asset is represented by the more than 400 volunteers, whose different profiles allows Open Arms to face economic and administrative challenges. In addition to that, the organization provides care and support, thanks to a group of psychologists specialized in crisis situations, emergencies and victims of terrorism.
In the last few years, the deaths and disappearances of migrants in the Central Mediterranean have multiplied. Open Arms’ goal is to be where its support is most needed, with a rescue and surveillance boat, ready to intervene to avoid more deaths. According to Mar Sabé Dausà, this is more than a mission. This is an obligation: “We do. We rescue people but the rescue is never our purpose. The rescue in the sea is always an obligation. Therefore, the only thing we do is following the law. When we find a person or a boat that is sinking, we basically reach out, that is what every boat in the sea has to always do. [Our procedure] always follows the international maritime law and the laws and agreements that all the European countries and administrations have signed”.
This task is becoming more and more challenging: “in the last years we have seen that the governments and administrations have been putting a lot of obstacles to keep defending the right to the law, they put us a lot of problems and even close ports when that’s completely illegal and goes against the international maritime law.” For this reason, raising awareness and providing unbiased information on the topic has become as important as organizing the rescue missions at sea. It is capital not only to protect life, but also to explain why it is urgent to do so, proposing a convincing narrative in order to sensitize institutions and change attitudes.