As accusations of forcible pushbacks of refugees by a number of countries in the Mediterranean basin, including Greece, proliferate, Banksy, the famous but anonymous England-based street artist and political activist, has provided the funds for a rescue boat.
The vessel, named Louise Michel, after a French feminist anarchist, set off in secrecy on 18 August from Spain, and is now in the central Mediterranean operating with the mission of rescuing migrants and refugees trying to cross into Europe from North Africa.
British daily The Guardian reveals that the ship on Tuesday rescued 89 people in distress, including 14 women and four children. It is now looking for a safe seaport to disembark the passengers or to transfer them to a European coastguard vessel.
A night later, @alarm_phone alerted us about a boat in distress. The search took us hours in worsening weather conditions & increasing swell. Luckily the boat was found and our crew could provide first assistance, until in the morning @seawatchcrew could take the people on board. pic.twitter.com/3XfAmkhZeV
— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 25, 2020
Banksy, active since the 1990s, is renowned for his satirical street art and subversive epigrams which combine dark humour with graffiti. His works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges throughout the world.
He has been moved by the plight of thousands of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean seeking asylum in Western Europe.
His intervention follows a plethora of reports by NGO’s who accuse European governments of actively pursuing a policy of pushbacks without allowing legal procedures for each asylum application to be processed.
Yesterday morning, #LouiseMichel responded to a distress call from #Moonbird air reconnaissance plane.
89 people were rescued and brought on board Louise Michel. The survivors need a Place of Safety now.#SolidarityAndResistance pic.twitter.com/HWde3hYFqT
— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 28, 2020
In June, the UN Refugee Agency, has urged Greece to investigate multiple reports of pushbacks by Greek authorities at the country’s sea and land borders, possibly returning migrants and asylum seekers to Turkey after they had reached Greek territory or territorial waters.
Greece has the legitimate right to control its borders and manage irregular migration while respecting international human rights and refugee protection standards. Controls and practices must guarantee the rights of asylum seekers and they should not be turned away at Greece’s borders, the UN Refugee Agency said.
Although Louise Michel is not thought to have operated in the Aegean yet, it is precisely this practice that led Banksy to take action.
The crew of the ship, which sails under a German flag, is made up of European activists with long experience in search and rescue operations.
The 31-metre motor yacht, formerly owned by French customs authorities, is smaller but considerably faster than other NGO rescue vessels. With a top speed of 27 knots, she can out-sail most of coast guard vessels that may try to stop her.
According to The Guardian, Banksy hired Pia Klemp, the former captain of several NGO boats that have rescued thousands of people over recent years, to take charge of the ship’s mission. Speaking to the Guardian she made clear that Banksy’s involvement in the operations is limited to providing financial support.