Screenshot from video "How does the Alarm Phone work" | Photo Credit: Alarm Phone

The emergency hotline that saves migrants stranded at sea

Alarm Phone is an independent support hotline connecting migrant boats in distress with local coast guards to ensure quick and effective rescue operations. Michaela Cavanagh/InfoMigrants reports.

Last week, the Sarost 5 docked in the port of Zarzis with 40 migrants aboard after spending weeks waiting off the coast for the green light from the Tunisian government. The Sarost 5 rescued the migrants in mid-July in the Maltese search-and-rescue zone after they were found adrift in a small wooden boat.

In similar emergency situations, a tool like Alarm Phone has proven to be a life-saver for migrants. Alarm Phone is an emergency hotline for boats to call when they’re in distress. It doesn’t organize rescue operations itself, but rather coordinates with coast guards to ensure the boat’s SOS signal is heard and responded to – and if coast guards don’t act in a timely manner, Alarm Phone attempts to alert cargo ships and tank ships to the vessel in distress. It acts as a kind of middle-man in an advocate position for people aboard these boats who need rescuing. “We do have the knowledge and ability to pressure coast guards and national authorities to help,” Alarm Phone states in a video.


Volunteers based in different countries

Alarm Phone was launched in October 2014, and since then, the team of roughly 150 volunteers has worked on more than 2,000 emergency cases. With the surge of migrant arrivals to Spain since the beginning of this year, Alarm Phone notes in a recent report that they’ve seen a sharp spike for rescues on the Western Mediterranean route.

The hotline is funded by donations and operated 24/7 by volunteers based in places as diverse as Tunis, Palermo, Cadiz, Marseille, Strasbourg, Vienna and Berlin, amongst others.  Alarm Phone disseminates its hotline number through direct contact with migrant and refugee communities in Northern Africa and Turkey. While the hotline has worked on cases primarily in the Aegean Sea, it also does work in the Western and Central Mediterranean.

How does it work?

So just how does Alarm Phone operate? When the hotline receives a call from a boat in distress, the volunteer asks – in English or French, or through a translator in other languages – for the GPS location of the boat and for the person on the line to describe their situation: how many people are on the boat; how many men, women and children; and do they need medical attention? Then the volunteer attempts to reach the coast guard to alert them to the situation. The volunteer monitors the operation until the rescue mission is completed, staying in contact with the people on the boat.

While Alarm Phone states its short-term goal as conducting rescue missions and the prevention of human rights violations, the project also acknowledges that hitting the 2000-rescue mark is no cause for celebration. “When we launched the hotline, we made clear that we did not see it as a solution to migrant death at sea – the only real solution would be a radical change in the ways in which Europe governs its borders,” it states in a recent report. “Now, three-and-a-half years later, we still raise the same demands as the dying the Mediterranean continues.”

The phone number to reach Alarm Phone is: +33 486 517 161

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