SOS Méditerranée Saving the Distressed at SeaThousands of migration attempts across the Mediterranean take place every year. By mid-November of 2017, over 150,000 people reached Europe by sea. During this time, almost 3,000 were found dead or declared missing. NGOs accounted for 40 percent of all lives saved in the Mediterranean during the first half of 2017.

SOS Méditerranée is a European maritime and humanitarian organization responsible for the rescue of lives in the Mediterranean. The organization was created in response to the deaths in the Mediterranean and the failure of the European Union to prevent them. Its mission focuses on three key points: to save lives, to protect and assist and to testify. It was founded by private citizens in May of 2015 and works as a European association with teams in Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland. Together the countries work as a European network,  jointly financing and operating the rescue ship Aquarius.

Since February of 2016, Aquarius has operated in international waters between Italy and Libya. Since then, the rescue ship has welcomed more than 27,000 refugees aboard. Once aboard, Aquarius provides emergency medical treatment through its partnership with Doctors Without Borders. This supports the organization’s second key mission, to protect and assist. It provides both medical and psychological care to those on board and then works to connect them to supporting institutions in Europe.

In early March of 2018, the Aquarius welcomed aboard 72 survivors from a merchant ship after two tragic operations in the Central Mediterranean. The Aquarius was the only search and rescue vessel present in the area. It was mobilized to search for a boat in distress in international waters east from Tripoli by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome. Its rescue operations involved a complex search of 120 nautical miles over the course of 24 hours. Those rescued were from 12 different countries, mainly in West Africa, but also from Sudan and South Sudan. Once aboard, the survivors were able to receive the medical treatment they desperately needed.

SOS Méditerranée wants to give those rescued a voice, to testify, and show the actual faces of migration in the hope of bringing awareness about refugees in the Mediterranean and remembering those who were unsuccessful in their journeys. Evidence from the Mediterranean Migration Research Programme (MMRP) has examined the dynamics of migration to Europe from 2015 and 2016, as well its difficulties. Its key findings challenge assumptions about the dynamics of migration, including that migration is primarily driven by the need to access jobs and welfare support.

Instead, the MMRP found that the vast majority of people migrate across the Mediterranean by boat because of the belief that their lives are in danger or in hopes of a better future. During its study in 2015 and 2016, nearly 1.4 million people crossed the Mediterranean to Europe. However, due to the absence of legal routes to reach the E.U., migrants resort to dangerous crossings with smugglers. There is an urgent need to greatly expand safe and legal routes for the protection of these migrants.

Thanks to organizations like SOS Méditerranée, there have been thousands of lives saved in the Mediterranean. However, joint efforts must be made in order to prevent any further lives from being lost.

– Ashley Quigley

Photo: Flickr