'What will really end deaths at sea, in the central Mediterranean as well as in the Aegean, is the implementation of policies and practices that provide safe and legal channels to the EU and eliminate the need for people to use smugglers and overcrowded rubber and wooden boats to reach the shores of Europe.'
After eight months at sea, 20,129 people rescued, and over 120 separate search and rescue operations, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)’s remaining search-and-rescue ship on the Mediterranean Sea, the Bourbon Argos, returned to port for the last time in 2015 on December 30.
As winter conditions have reduced the number of people crossing the central Mediterranean, MSF considers that there are currently enough assets to deal with existing needs, but renews calls for EU authorities to provide adequate and dedicated search-and-rescue resources to prevent tragedies in the coming months, when the number of arrivals is are expected to increase again.
'We are doctors, and search-and-rescue shouldn't be our job'
“None of the people on board of the unseaworthy boats we rescued would have made it to safety without intervention,” said Stefano Argenziano, MSF’s manager of migration operations.
“While we remain absolutely convinced of the importance of dedicated search-and-rescue in saving lives, we are doctors, and search-and-rescue shouldn’t be our job. We very much hope that European resources will be sufficient in 2016 and that our boats will not be required.”
Despite the end of MSF’s operations in the central Mediterranean, the organization remains on standby to intervene should the EU and its member states fail to protect the lives of the thousands of men, women and children expected to flee North Africa for Europe in the coming months.
As stated when the first MSF ship was launched in May 2015, permanent search-and-rescue operations are not the solution to migration by sea — they are but a temporary measure to mitigate the loss of life caused by restrictive border polices that force people to the sea in search of protection. Last year, despite the deployment of increased resources at sea, was the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean, with 3,771 men, women and children officially recorded as having drowned or gone missing on the shores of Europe. The real numbers are likely to be much higher.
Safe and legal migration channels are needed
“It is absolutely crucial that the EU and the member states provide resources which are dedicated, proactive and capable of reacting within an hour of distress calls. But search-and-rescue cannot stop deaths at sea,” says Brice de la Vinge, MSF’s director of operations.
“What will really end deaths at sea, in the central Mediterranean as well as in the Aegean, is the implementation of policies and practices that provide safe and legal channels to the EU and eliminate the need for people to use smugglers and overcrowded rubber and wooden boats to reach the shores of Europe.”
In 2015 MSF teams on board three ships assisted over 23,000 people in distress — either through direct rescues (20,129) or by transfers from or to other vessels — and took part in 120 separate rescue interventions, disembarking safely in Italy more than 80 times. Data from the Bourbon Argos show that 4,424 rescued people (43 per cent) were in need of medical care, 355 (8 per cent) were suffering from a serious health condition and 140 (1.4 per cent) were pregnant women.