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

Difference Between an Immigrant and a RefugeeWhat is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee? The terms migrant and refugee are often used interchangeably despite the fact that there are definitive differences between the two.

A migrant is a person who consciously makes a choice to leave their homeland and seek a better life in another state. These individuals or families can take the time to learn about the country to which they intend on relocating and prepare themselves as much as possible for the journey. While the process varies from country to country, it usually involves screening, pre-departure training, and obtaining work permits. The process can take months, if not years, and migration has become more common in the last two centuries.

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

This definition falls under international law, and therefore a refugee that arrives on foreign soil looking for safety and claiming refugee status cannot be deported immediately. Their case will be reviewed before there is a chance they are sent back their homeland, as it must be considered whether their safety is in jeopardy. This is a United Nations convention that was ratified by 144 countries.

Not all migrants are refugees, but sometimes refugees can fall under the category of a migrant. Knowing the difference between an immigrant and a refugee is especially important for international law and domestic law. Immigration policies and requirements typically only apply to the country that established them. Basically, they are different from country to country and are categorized under domestic law. For example, the application process for migrating into the United States is a different application process than applying to Japan.

However, a refugee is protected by international law, therefore, while legal documentation can be lacking, countries have an obligation to abide by these laws. Even the countries that didn’t ratify the convention are still expected to respect it because it falls under the protection of basic human rights.

There are still similarities between the two, which is why people might confuse them. In both cases, each party will have to either assimilate or find some way to adapt to life in a new country. They will face a shock in culture, the workforce and language. Entering a new country, whether by choice or due to persecution, will always be a frightening process.

Either way, despite the difference between an immigrant and a refugee, both groups deserve a chance at feeling a sense of security within their lives.

– Caysi Simpson

Photo: Flickr