Illustration Image
Camille Martin / SOS MEDITERRANEE

Advocacy

29,032* People who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 IOM Missing Migrants Project
3 129* People who lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea in 2023 IOM Missing Migrants Project
17 190* People intercepted and forcibly returned to Libya by the Libyan coast guard in 2023 IOM Libya

Our priorities

It is unacceptable to let thousands of people drown on Europe’s doorstep.

Since 2014, close to 30,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea (source: International Organization for Migration – IOM). Yet since the end of Operation Mare Nostrum led by Italy between October 2013 and November 2014, states have not re-established search and rescue operations in the region.

In 2015, the escalating humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean and the retreat of European states from their responsibilities prompted the creation of SOS MEDITERRANEE. The European humanitarian civil association was formed with the primary objective of conducting sea rescue operations. The association initially chartered the Aquarius in 2016, followed by the Ocean Viking in 2019. Since then, its dedicated teams have developed search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean Sea, guided by a threefold mission: saving lives, ensuring the protection of survivors, and bearing witness to the crisis, the dire circumstances faced by those rescued, and our humanitarian actions.

Today, we continue to witness firsthand the serious shortcomings of search and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean : from the cruel lack of resources earmarked for these operations to the lack of effective coordination.

 

Witnessing the erosion of fundamental principles

Over the past eight years, we have witnessed the erosion of fundamental principles of maritime and international law in the Mediterranean. The European Union (EU) and some of its member states have disengaged from rescue at sea, and for several years have been helping to finance, train and equip the Libyan coastguard.

As a result, the Libyan coastguard intercept individuals in distress at sea and forcibly return them to Libya. Yet, Libya is not a place of safety, exposing those intercepted to severe violence and dehumanizing treatment, as denounced by United Nations agencies.

 

Advocacy based on international maritime law

We firmly advocate for the obligation to extend assistance to anyone in distress at sea, as mandated by international maritime law and are guided by humanitarian principles. As a result, we are making a plea for raising awareness among all stakeholders, while articulating urgent demands to put an end to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean.

We urge for the rescue of all individuals in distress at sea by coordinated and transparent rescue operations, as well as their safe disembarkation, all in compliance with the established international legal framework.

A call for action

To put an end to the tragedies of repeated shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean, SOS MEDITERRANEE calls for:

1. Effective and transparent coordination of search and rescue operations, via an operational and efficient maritime rescue coordination center.

  • A rescue operation only ends once the rescued people have disembarked in a place of safety. SOS MEDITERRANEE therefore calls for a safe landing place to be designated as soon as possible, as defined by the Law of the Sea. To achieve this, European states must set up a predictable, efficient and transparent disembarkation system.
  • A place of safety is one where the people rescued are safe, and where their basic needs can be met and their fundamental rights respected.
  • SOS MEDITERRANEE calls on European states to reconsider their current agreements with Libya on rescue at sea. Libya cannot currently be considered a place of safety. Several reports from international organizations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, point to large-scale human rights violations in Libya – arbitrary detention, torture, forced labor, extortion and sexual exploitation. It is therefore illegal to bring people intercepted by the Libyan coastguard back to Libya, as well as those rescued by civilian vessels (merchant ships or NGOs).

 

2. Sufficient maritime and aerial resources dedicated to search and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean.

  • Civil SAR assets conduct life-saving operations in a context of humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean. As on land, the respect of humanitarian principles should apply at sea.
  • Due to administrative, political and judicial harassment, civilian vessels conducting search and rescue operations are regularly detained and prevented from providing assistance. This must stop.
  • European states must reinstate state-led operations, deploying maritime and aerial resources dedicated specifically to search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • As part of its mission to bear witness, SOS MEDITERRANEE is actively crafting public and private awareness campaigns targeting citizens, local authorities, governments, and European institutions.

 

SOS MEDITERRANEE asks that the obligation to assist anyone in distress at sea be placed above all other considerations.