SOS MEDITERRANEE urges EU leaders to guarantee safe ports of disembarkation for people rescued at sea

Saturday 23 June 2018,

Marseille, Berlin, Geneva, Palermo


In Valencia, on 17th June – following a forced, dangerous and degrading odyssey of its rescue vessel Aquarius – SOS MEDITERRANEE launched a vigorous call on EU Member States to urgently define a European understanding that will enable efficient and enhanced Search and Rescue at sea and prioritizes saving lives.

As the Aquarius is sailing back towards the search and rescue area, it remains to be seen whether this wake-up call, relayed by countless voices and a large mobilization of European citizens who cannot accept any more deaths, has been properly heard.

SOS MEDITERRANEE emphasizes that it is the EU’s failure to reduce the number of deaths in the Mediterranean that forced humanitarian organizations to step up and take on search and rescue activities, to prevent further loss of life.

We therefore welcome the announcement that the next European Council on the 28th and 29th of June would discuss this matter. We also welcome the fact that a preparatory informal meeting has been called by the President of the European Commission, due to take place this Sunday 24th of June in Brussels.

Acknowledging both the enormous efforts by Italy, alone, in the reception of rescued people in its ports for years, and the exceptional capacities deployed by Spain, for the recent disembarkation of the Aquarius in Valencia, SOS MEDITERRANEE, would welcome any EU-wide plan to put together all available capacities for a safe and prompt disembarkation of people rescued in the Central Mediterranean.

However, in building a EU Search and Rescue response model – as SOS MEDITERRANEE has been calling for –  EU Member States must guarantee that all international humanitarian and maritime conventions are respected and that ships performing rescues can act in full compliance with the International Maritime Organization’s regulations.

According to the applicable conventions, people rescued at sea must be brought to a port of safety where their basic needs are ensured, including specific medical needs, and where they can seek the appropriate protection they are entitled to under both international and national law. Protection from any forms of further abuse, exploitation and trafficking must especially be guaranteed.

As the EU will be looking towards new instruments during next week’s EU Council, the objective of preserving and protecting lives of people in distress must be discussed, before any other policy consideration.

By financing and training the Libyan Coastguard to perform interceptions of people fleeing abuse and severe forms of human rights violations, the EU must be reminded that it has been following this dangerous path for months. This only resulted in delayed, uncoordinated, impeded or chaotic rescues, additional threats to people in already extremely unsafe conditions at sea, and led to a higher risk of death, as people take even more risks than ever to escape. This has also resulted in thousands of people being sent back to the “Libyan hell” they were trying to escape. This is against international law and against the fundamental and humanitarian values, the EU was founded on. This policy approached has failed and must end immediately.

As the Aquarius is projected to arrive in the Search and Rescue area in international waters off Libya in a few hours, a concrete solution that guarantees the safety and protection of the rescued men, women and children is urgently needed. Without further indication, location, timeline or independent review whether the planned ‘EU platforms’ could guarantee safety and protection, SOS MEDITERRANEE, with the support from European citizens, urges the EU Member States to meet their responsibilities without further delay and to provide a shared solution. This should take into account that Maltese and Sicilian ports, who are in the direct vicinity of the search and rescue area, have proven safe so far.