2017 Proactiva Open Arms

In September 2015, Proactiva Open Arms  was the first NGO specializing in rescue missions to arrive at the island of Lesbos (Greece). Since June 2016, POA’s ship Astral, fully equipped for open-sea rescue and medical care, has been present in the Mediterranean, saving thousands of lives.

Proactiva Open Arms was founded by 54-year-old Óscar Camps, a long-time lifesaving professional who heads up a rescue company with up to 600 staff. In September 2015, deeply moved by photographs of children drowning in the Aegean sea, he used his personal savings to set up a rescue operation on Lesbos, staffed by volunteers, in an attempt to save as many lives as possible. Currently, Proactiva has a permanent team stationed on Lesbos that commands three rescue boats, four water scooters, and a full supply of professional equipment, funded by donations.

Between September 2015 and the signing of the agreement between Turkey and the European Union in March 2016, Proactiva Open Arms helped more than 143,000 people reach the coast and rescued more than 10,000 people who were adrift. They also brought more than 9,000 who were trapped on coastal cliffs to safety and saved 475 people who were in direct danger of drowning.

The thousands of refugees who undertake the dangerous journey from the North African coast across the Mediterranean are often victims of gangsters that charge high sums of money but fail to provide them with any safe boats, let alone life jackets. The fleeing refugees include a high percentage of minors. Between January 2015 and October 2016, more than 1.3 million people reached Europe by sea. More than 7,700 have drowned, a third of them children.

The refugee crisis in Europe is severe and shows no sign of relenting. The refugee agreement between the European Union and Turkey has encouraged organized gangs to explore longer and more dangerous escape routes, forcing Proactiva Open Arms to cover a new key point in the refugees’ trajectory: the crossing between Libya and Italy, where POA collaborates with the Italian Coast Guard to provide search and rescue for refugees at sea. Thanks to a generous donation, POA now has a 90-foot, fully equipped rescue boat, the Astral. Its professional, experienced crew works in two-week shifts.

The work of Proactiva Open Arms has been widely featured in Spanish, European, and US media. The organization has played a key role in raising awareness of and support for the ongoing refugee crisis.

Sunday, April 16, 2017
81st Annual Celebration (New York) and presentation of the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism
Museum of the City of New York
1220 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10029
4:45 p.m.

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