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Migrant search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean Sea

Orange Sea lifebuoy on a boat at sea.
bravissimos ©, 2023
Over 28,100 people have died or been lost at sea in the Mediterranean since 2014 trying to reach safety. These figures from the International Organization for Migration underline the human tragedy haunting Europe. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) tracks the ongoing struggles civil society face rescuing people in distress in the Mediterranean Sea.

The recent tragedies with many lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea have shown the harrowing consequences of smugglers and traffickers as they continue to send migrants and asylum seekers to sea in overcrowded or unseaworthy boats.

The latest FRA update shows the constraints on NGO rescue capacity in the Mediterranean.

Out of 21 NGO search and rescue boats and planes in the region, only 13 are operational.

The update also signposts the various legal and administrative actions NGOs face when trying to save lives at sea. These actions often interfere with their work.

The update points to six new legal cases since July 2022. It provides a snapshot of developments, including open and closed legal proceedings, from 2016 until 30 June 2023.

Most cases relate to crews not respecting the new Italian law which obliges rescue boats to proceed immediately after each rescue to designated ports. In practice, these ports are often far from where they are trying to save lives.

The Right Livelihood organisation recently recognised the efforts of one of the NGOs, SOS Mediterranée. It gave it the Right Livelihood Award for its humanitarian work, sometimes dubbed by the media as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’.

FRA will follow closely any further developments and continue to report regularly.