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Mediterranean migrant search and rescue– latest update

Lifejacket at sea
songpholt ©, 2020
Five people per day on average died crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2019, estimates the International Organization for Migration. Ahead of World Refugee Day, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency points to ongoing difficulties facing civil society rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2018, authorities in some EU Member States have put restrictive measures in place regarding civil society rescue vessels.

Civil society tries to help save migrants in distress at sea. Often smugglers and traffickers sent these migrants to sea in overcrowded or unseaworthy boats.

The latest FRA update identifies three additional rescue vessels and one reconnaissance aircraft supporting civil society efforts over the last year. However, overall rescue capacity has significantly reduced for various reasons.

The update also points to around 10 new administrative and criminal proceedings by EU Member States against crew members or vessels since June 2019. This brings the total number of legal proceedings since 2017 to over 40.

In some cases, EU Member States seized vessels. In other, they blocked rescue vessels in harbours due to flag or technical issues.

The pandemic further restricted search and rescue work. Italian and Maltese ports closed to stop the virus’ spread. As NGO vessels could not sail, state vessels and commercial ships intervened in rescue activities.

Recently, some EU Member States quarantined migrants on tourist ships over a month, longer than the required 14 days.

Since the start of June 2020, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, out of 15 boats and 2 reconnaissance planes, 3 are sailing again. The rest remain in ports.

This latest update provides a snapshot of developments, including open and closed legal proceedings, since 2017 up until 15 June 2020.

FRA will keep following further developments and reporting on this in its quarterly bulletins on migration-related fundamental rights concerns. The bulletins cover 17 EU Member States plus Serbia and North Macedonia.