“This time last year, as MSF launched our first search-and-rescue operation, we called the Mediterranean Sea a mass grave, and little has changed since then. As crises and conflicts across the world continue to cause millions of people to flee, the absence of a global solution to the current refugee crisis continue to kill thousands. As humanitarians, we again refuse to look on from the shore.”
The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced today that it has resumed search, rescue and medical-aid operations in the central Mediterranean Sea between Africa and Europe, and has already conducted its first operation of 2016.
Due to the lack of safe and legal alternatives for people to flee unrest in their home countries and seek protection in Europe, the deadly stretch of water between Libya and Italy — which in 2015 claimed the lives of 2,892 men, women and children — is now almost the only way for thousands to reach European shores, and it is already as busy as ever.
A global solution to the refugee crisis is urgently needed
“This time last year, as MSF launched our first search-and-rescue operation, we called the Mediterranean Sea a mass grave, and little has changed since then,” said Canadian physician Dr. Joanne Liu, MSF’s International President. ”As crises and conflicts across the world continue to cause millions of people to flee, the absence of a global solution to the current refugee crisis — and the European states’ policies of deterrence, as well their refusal to provide alternatives to the deadly sea crossing — continue to kill thousands. As humanitarians, we again refuse to look on from the shore.”
The first MSF search-and-rescue ship to be deployed this summer, the MSF Dignity 1, set sail from the port of Valletta, Malta, on April 21. The ship — which has the capacity to take on board 400 rescued people and is carrying a crew of 16, including experienced medical staff — will be proactively positioned in the waters north of Libya, and actively searching for boats in distress. MSF's first operation for 2016 occurred last Saturday, April 23, with the Dignity 1 accepting a transfer of 308 rescued people (205 men, 80 women, 23 children), mainly Eritrean, from an Italian rescue boat. The Dignity 1 is now on its way to Sicily, where the 308 people will disembark on Monday.
'Europe must provide a safe alternative to sea crossings'
In the coming weeks, MSF will reinforce search-and-rescue capacity with highly skilled and experienced MSF medical teams on board two larger ships. The teams will have the skills and necessary equipment to provide lifesaving emergency care — and to treat dehydration, fuel burns, hypothermia and skin diseases, which together were the most pressing medical needs of those rescued by the organization in 2015. MSF will also provide psychological first aid at sea, and MSF teams in Sicily will ensure continuity of care through several medical projects supporting the people after disembarkment.
“Refugees and migrants are looking for a safer or better life,” said Liu. “It is not acceptable to treat them as criminals, or worse, let them die, in their search for it. Rather than focusing on deterrence and surveillance, European states must provide safe alternatives to sea crossings and a search-and-rescue mechanism that is both dedicated and proactive. The lives of hundreds of thousands depend on it.”
In 2015 MSF teams on board three search-and-rescue ships in the Central Mediterranean assisted over 23,000 people in 120 separate rescue interventions. In the Aegean Sea, north of the island of Lesbos, MSF in partnership with Greenpeace assisted over 14,000 people crossing from Turkey to Greece. Overall in 2015, MSF treated more than 100,000 people on the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and in Greece, Italy and the Balkans.
*As counted by IOM’s Missing Migrant Project. More information on the project as well as data from other migratory routes is available online.