Geretteter mit Rettungsdecke blickt aufs Meer

Europe Day: European solidarity also needed for rescue at sea!

Exactly 70 years ago, the foundation stone was laid for European solidarity. Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, stressed at the time: “Europe (…) will be built through concrete achievements, first and foremost through the creation of de facto solidarity“.

Today, on Europe Day, SOS MEDITERRANEE as a European maritime Search and Rescue organisation, – founded and supported by European civil society -, would like to appeal to all European Union (EU) Member States: today, we call on the same commitment to prevail for Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean.

European solidarity must be shown towards coastal states which have a duty and obligation to bring to safety those fleeing across the Mediterranean. Even during the Covid- 19 pandemic, people continue to risk their lives on unseaworthy boats, fleeing from appalling human rights abuses they face in war-torn Libya.

Today, 162 children, women and men rescued these past days remain stranded on board private ships, as they are not being assigned a Place of Safety to disembark. Conditions on board these ships are dire, and the mental health of the vulnerable survivors often deteriorates dramatically under such uncertainty.

Previously, a total of 180 people rescued from the civilian ships Alan Kurdi and Aita Mari had to remain on board the two overcrowded ships for up to 12 days as no European state provided a Place of Safety for them to disembark.

Over the Easter week, people in distress were unlawfully intercepted in international waters and forcibly returned to Libya. It was particularly worrying that – as revealed by international press investigations- a private ship was commissioned by an EU Member State to carry out this return to a country of in conflict -where migrants, refugees and asylum seekers face severe human rights abuses – a blatant violation of international law.

The consequences of the failure to assist people in distress at sea are lethal. As states are failing to fulfil their duty to assist unseaworthy and overcrowded boats in distress, at least 146 people died in the Central Mediterranean since the beginning of the year.

This state of affairs on Europe’s Mediterranean borders, which is unworthy of Europe in legal and humanitarian terms, is an occasion for us today to strongly recall the principle of solidarity, which 70 years ago was the prerequisite for a Union founded on universal human rights.

  • A Search and Rescue program in the Central Mediterranean must be organised by European States and implemented in a reliable, transparent manner.
  • A predictable system for disembarking rescued persons in a Place of Safety, – which is defined by law as a place which guarantees the basic rights and needs of survivors – must be ensured.
  • The financial support of the Libyan coast guard with European taxpayers’ money with the aim of illegally returning those rescued at sea to Libya must be stopped. Libya is not a Place of Safety.
  • The criminalisation of civil sea rescue organisations must end. Search and Rescue NGOs are supported by the European civil society and seek to alleviate the tragic consequences of the failure of European States to uphold their responsibilities towards sea rescue.

In order to mitigate the devastating consequences of the withdrawal of European Search and Rescue capacities, which has been ongoing since 2014, German and French representatives of European civil society founded SOS MEDITERRANEE in Berlin five years ago, on May 9th, 2015. Since the beginning of the rescue operations in March 2016, SOS MEDITERRANEE rescued 31,618 children, women and men.

As long as the EU fails to provide safety to people in distress in the Central Mediterranean, the civil society will do everything possible to rescue these people in distress and make European states take responsibility: with our European solidarity campaign #All Rescuers, SOS MEDITERRANEE encourages European citizens to express their solidarity with humanitarian principles – as well as their solidarity with all rescuers. With this online action, we call on European states to give equal importance to saving lives on land and at sea!

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Photo credits: Laurin Schmid / SOS MEDITERRANEE