Home base: Agia Paraskevi/Athens/Greece
Job title: Rescue NGO Coordinator
Iason Apostolopoulos is the field coordinator of the Italian humanitarian organization Mediterranea Saving Humans, where he leads the Search and Rescue operations in the central Mediterranean Sea onboard the Mare Jonio rescue vessel. He has in-depth knowledge and understanding of migration in Europe and its socio-political context. Iason has been involved in humanitarian and solidarity projects since 2015, most of which were responses to the ongoing refugee reception crises at the borders of Europe, particularly in Italy and Greece. He also spent a year working in South Sudan with Médicins Sans Frontières. His formal education includes a Master of Science degree in Environmental Engineering and a Master of Engineering degree in Civil Engineering from the Technical University of Athens. In addition to his work onboard the Mare Jonio rescue vessel, Iason is a volunteer who actively organizes political and cultural events with Mediterrana Saving Humans. These events include grassroots actions for defending public spaces and oppressed minorities. He is often invited to public events, radio as well as television programs, and universities to speak about the refugee reception crises in addition to other social issues. He also contributes to Greek news organizations such as TVXS and The Press Project.
Refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants are among the world’s most vulnerable populations. The depiction of refugees as a threat to Western countries has continued to be widely propagated particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This has led to an increasing amount of hardline policies and measures against these populations, such as the recent decision of Malta and Italy to once again seal their ports and deny shelter to migrants in distress at sea.
Policies such as this one are not new. Since 2017, European states have stopped coordinating rescue efforts in the central Mediterranean Sea. They are ignoring distress calls from migrant boats. They are actively restricting the presence of search and rescue ships with the intention to hinder rescue operations. Their objective to restrict migration has a high cost of human lives.
There has been a rise in civil search and rescue missions that are financed by private donors. These fleets are the only hope that is left for the many migrants aboard broken down ships in the idle of the Mediterranean. To support the plight of migrants, Iason proposes a project to increase the capacity of Search and Rescue efforts in the central Mediterranean Sea and to raise awareness about the increasing rate of human rights violations in this context.
The project encompasses activities such as workshops and training sessions for future rescuers of different levels of expertise (beginner, moderate, and advanced). After gaining knowledge and tools through theoretical classes on land and practical sessions at sea, they will be able to join a non-governmental rescue ship. The project also relies on events with public speakers to raise awareness about the deaths at sea and the horrifying conditions migrants escape from in Libya and beyond. Iason plans on creating videos and media campaigns using testimonies from migrants and material from non-governmental rescue missions.
The project takes place in Italy. It brings together an international group of people with prior experience in non-governmental rescue operations. The idea is to promote the concept of civil response at sea to a wider audience and to strengthen the already existing network of people who actively protect migrants’ lives. The mobilization of local communities is a crucial factor in this process. Thus, the project involves various Italian associations, municipalities, and sailing clubs in addition to migrant communities and international rescue organizations.