SOS Méditerranée Saving the Distressed at Sea
Thousands 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

At the start of July 2015, plans were announced for Britain to spend more than 300 million pounds in international aid, which is targeted towards Syria and the Sahel Region of Africa and includes countries such as South Sudan, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Nigeria. The money is supposed to help stabilize the lives of people in those regions in order to relieve the Mediterranean migrant crisis by reducing the influx of migrants traveling to the European Union, especially to Italy and Greece.

As the Washington Post states, migrants flee from their home countries to Europe because of poverty, civil war, violence and political instability. The largest number of migrants by boats are Syrians, who are attempting to flee from a civil war which has left over 200,000 dead and more than 4 million displaced. The second greatest number of refugees comes from Eritrea, which is suffering from economic issues, a repressive government and forced conscription. A large number of migrants also come from Libya, Mali and Nigeria.

As of May 2015, the U.N. estimated that over 60,000 migrants crossed over the Mediterranean Sea since the start of 2015, and another 1,800 died during the crossing.

The journey across the Mediterranean by boat is very perilous, and migrants cross because they have no other choice. They normally pay a smuggler who forces them into an old and unreliable boat (sometimes at gunpoint) and often leaves the boat halfway across the Mediterranean, relying on rescue teams from Italy and other E.U. countries to get the migrants safely to shore.

Some blame the rescue teams for the influx of immigrants. While it is true that large numbers of people attempt the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in order to migrate into Europe — there were 220,000 unauthorized immigrants in Europe in 2014 — the rescue teams are not to blame for the large numbers of people attempting the crossing. Since Italy shut down its Mare Nostrum rescue program last October, numbers of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean remained about the same. However, the death toll jumped dramatically. From January to April 2014, only 96 died while crossing the Mediterranean, compared to 1,500 during the first four months of 2015.

Nevertheless, some are still convinced that rescue teams are responsible for the higher number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, and the situation has led to the rise of the far-right in Europe, especially in Italy and France, where levels of anti-immigrant rhetoric are high.

In reality, migrants only try to cross the Mediterranean because they do not have another choice. As one migrant put it, “We are between hell and the deep blue sea.”

Britain hopes that the money it is adding to the international aid budget will help lower the number of migrants by increasing political stability in regions that are suffering. However, even if Britain’s plan works, it is still unsure what will happen to those who have already migrated to Europe. There were plans to relocate 40,000 Italian and Greek refugees to other parts of Europe, but those plans appear to have stalled due to anti-immigrant sentiments.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: Express, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Independent, The Atlantic
Photo: The Guardian