Spain-Morocco: "Migration control, not rescue": squeezing search and rescue in the Mediterranean by Jane Kilpatrick

Statewatch Analysis
"Migration control, not rescue": squeezing search and rescue in the Mediterranean by Jane Kilpatrick

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As the EU's member states continue to discuss half-hearted plans for search and rescue and the disembarkation of migrants, they are also putting in place measures to prevent their own maritime safety authorities from carrying out rescues. At the same time, they are pressuring under-resourced and unwilling non-EU states to take on rescue tasks. As reports from Spain show, the results are deadly.

With the new Finnish Presidency of the Council in place and talks in Helsinki and Paris underway on means to improve the disembarkation of people rescued at sea, it seemed like good news was on its way. On 18 July, a Franco-German initiative proposed a "predictable temporary disembarkation scheme" based on the need to "ensure the swift and dignified disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea by private rescue vessels in the closest safe harbour." The plans were received with interest by just over half of the EU's 28 member states but are bitterly opposed by Italy and Malta, who would prefer the systematic criminalisation of civilian search and rescue operations.

However, even if the Franco-German initiative is the best option currently on offer from the governments of the EU, it has clear limitations. Its humanitarianism is a veneer for a continued insistence on the type of security measures that have done little to alleviate the ongoing tragedy in the Mediterranean, and the draft paper includes a notable emphasis on the need to maintain cooperation with countries of origin and to enhance "the capacities of coast guards of southern Mediterranean countries," whilst "encouraging UNHCR and IOM to support disembarkation modalities in full respect of human rights in those countries."

As has been seen with the cooperation between the EU, Italy and Libya, what this means in practice is 'pull-backs' by the Libyan coastguard or the simple abandonment of people to their deaths. Italy, however, is not the only Mediterranean state attempting to hinder the work of search and rescue operations. Reports from Spain detail a worrying trend of neglecting life-saving search and rescue (SAR) duties through recent bilateral agreements with Morocco and domestic policy changes.

Full text: "Migration control, not rescue": squeezing search and rescue in the Mediterranean (pdf) by Jane Kilpatrick

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