1. Why is SAROBMED necessary?

With the closing of the Western Balkan route and the conclusion of the EU- Turkey agreement, the Central Mediterranean currently acts as the main gate of entry for irregular migrants arriving in the EU by sea. This situation has led to a situation in which the Mediterranean is the deadliest sea border in the world (3,279 fatalities in 2014; 3,770 in 2015; 2061 in 2016).

However, instead of trying to prevent further deaths, EU Member States, through FRONTEX, are focused on preventing refugees and migrants from departing from Libya to keep the number of arrivals in Europe down. It is important to note that in order to achieve their goals, Member States have caused several violations of migrants’ Human Rights, such as the violation of the provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the European Convention of Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Considering this, SAROBMED is a necessary actor in the Central Mediterranean Sea in order to collect the data of the Search and Rescue Operations at Sea, identify the violation of Human Rights in such operations, undertake legal actions against the perpetrators and undertaking cutting-edge research that fees into policy change of this practices.

  1. How do we research human rights abuses at sea?

Our network is formed by NGO’s that carry out SAR operations on a daily basis, researchers from across Europe and charities specialized in Migration and Human Rights. The members of our network create the foundations of our work by talking with people who were either abused or who witnessed abuse. Human Rights Watch also speaks with local human rights advocates, journalists, country experts, and government officials.

  1. How is SAROBMED funded?

We are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion.

Our funding has been obtained from the Queen Mary University of London HSS Collaboration Fund to support the initial phase of the project, to allow for the building and launching of the SAROBMED in pilot form, documenting incidents involving possible human rights violations during SAR/interdiction at sea occurred during 2015-2017.

  1. How can I contact SAROBMED?

Please sarobmed@qmul.ac.uk and we will endeavour to answer you as soon as possible.


 What is the legal basis of the Search and Rescue Missions?

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [4] of ​​10 November 1982 forms the legal basis for rescue missions in the Mediterranean. Article 98 (1) reads as follows: ‘Every State shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers: (a) to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost.”

  1. Who is rescued?

People whose lives are in danger on the Mediterranean. Who these rescued people are is irrelevant as every human deserves to be rescued on the basis of human rights.

  1. How is people rescued?

The coordination of the rescue operations in the Mediterranean is conducted by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, situated in Rome (MRCC). Our partners are informed about ships in distress via radio, either by the MRCC or by other private ships that sight a ship in distress. Subsequently our partners will approach the endangered vessel and enquire the number of pregnant women and children on board, as they have priority in being rescued. Our partners take everyone on board and provide them with food, drinking water and medical first aid.

  1. Where do the people who escape via the central Mediterranean rout come from?

The majority of those that have been rescued come from African countries: Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ghana and Sudan are among the most frequent countries of origin, besides Nigeria and Eritrea. Another large group are people from Bangladesh (about 6.4%). 85% of the rescued are men, about 15% are women. One-third of the rescued were minors at the time of rescue, most of them unaccompanied.

The overwhelming majority of the rescued spent considerable time in Libya before attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. On board, the rescued tell our teams that they have been subjected to widespread human rights violations while in Libya, either directly or indirectly. Violence and exploitation are commonplace.

  1. Why are those rescued brought to Europe and not to the North African mainland?

According to Regulation 33 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, people in distress not only need to be rescued, but also brought to a “place of safety”. In line with this, it must therefore be ensured that people receive food, shelter and medical care and that they face no danger of further persecution. These criteria cannot be met by North African coastal states – in particular Libya. Returning people to these countries would thus constitute a violation of the internationally recognized prohibition of refoulement.

  1. What is Frontex?

Frontex is a European border protection agency with its headquarters in Warsaw, whose task is to coordinate the operations on external EU-borders.

Although one of its declared objectives is the support of SAR missions, the entity is not sufficiently engaged in the rescue of shipwrecked people in the Mediterranean.

  1. What is Eunavfor Med Sophia?

Early in the year of 2015 the EU decided in a special meeting for the EUNAVFOR Med Operation. The objective of the operation is to identify and destroy human trafficking networks. “The Operation plan is mainly devised to find the ships of traffickers, to raise and confiscate them. In the third phase all necessary measures against traffickers, particularly their boats and facilities, are taken, even on foreign territory.”

Even though the primary purpose of EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia was to contribute to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean. After a year of its creation, its purpose included the responsibility of capacity-building and training of the Libyan coastguard and navy was included.

By providing such technical assistance and training, European funds are indirectly promoting the carrying out of interventions of migrants at sea by the Libyan authorities. However, the outcome of such project is far from what was expected. According to EUBAM Libya Initial Mapping Report of January 2017, when migrants are detained in Libya, they are subjected to gross human rights violations including sexual abuse and slavery.