Search and rescue in the Mediterranean

Thousands of people risk this deadly sea crossing to seek safety

Aquarius, a search and rescue vessel run by MSF and SOS MEDITERRANEE, rescued more than 500 people on November 1, 2017.
Mediterranean 2017 © Maud Veith/SOS Méditerranée
Click to hide Text

What is the Mediterranean refugee crisis?

The vast majority of people attempting the Mediterranean crossing pass through Libya, where they are exposed to horrific levels of violence, including kidnapping, torture, and extortion.

Since 2015, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) search-and-rescue teams have rescued and assisted more than 80,000 vulnerable people along the deadly stretch of water between Libya and Italy—one of the few remaining routes to Europe as governments across the continent have closed their borders.


After two weeks, 356 people rescued in the central Mediterranean may finally disembark

Read more

It seems that Europe’s leaders买球电脑版 consider people drowning as an acceptable price to pay in order to stem the flow in the Central Mediterranean.

Joanne Liu, MSF International President

Despite the dangers, people continue to attempt the sea crossing to escape violence, instability, and economic hardship in countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Chad, Gambia, Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, and South Sudan. These men, women, and children are often crowded into flimsy boats or rafts, vulnerable to exploitation by human smugglers and profiteers.

Despite recent efforts of other NGOs at sea, today there are only a few dedicated rescue boats operating in the central Mediterranean. We decided to return to sea in July 2019 because search and rescue is a duty, fueled by the humanitarian need to prevent people from drowning while they seek safety.

Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Libya face high levels of violence, extortion, and arbitrary detention with serious consequences to their physical and mental health. For these reasons, among others, returning people rescued at sea to Libya is a clear breach of international maritime, refugee, and humanitarian law.

买球电脑版Onboard specially equipped ships, MSF teams provide lifesaving emergency care as well as treatment for dehydration, hypothermia, and fuel burns. Our teams provide care for patients for days or even weeks before they disembark. While the priorities are food, water, rest, and emergency medical care, teams also provide psychological first aid to victims of torture and violence.

Who are the Mediterranean refugees?

买球电脑版In 2016 there was an increasing number of unaccompanied children, and MSF teams saw relatively high numbers of pregnant women (around 1 in every 10 women rescued). Some women were in the advanced stages of pregnancy and several babies were born on board.

“I have treated women who were forced into prostitution, kidnapped, and raped for months,” said midwife Liza Ramlow. The (IOM) has reported a nearly 600 percent increase in potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy by sea between 2014 and 2017, with most victims arriving from Nigeria. Of the more than 11,000 Nigerian girls and women who arrived in Italy in 2016, the IOM estimates that roughly 80 percent are likely to be victims of trafficking.

How many refugees have crossed the Mediterranean?

买球电脑版According to the IOM, 1.6 million people have crossed the Mediterranean since 2015, with over 16,000 people perishing during the deadly sea crossing.

How else is MSF providing medical care for Mediterranean refugees?

In July 2016, MSF began providing vital medical care to those detained in Libya, where migrants and refugees are repeatedly victimized by security forces, militias, smuggling networks, and criminal gangs. Our teams run mobile clinics in a number of migrant detention centers in and around Tripoli. In 2018, our teams conducted over 31,500 medical consultations in detention centers in Tripoli, Misrata, Khoms, and Zliten, and referred over 1,000 patients to secondary health care facilities.

MSF has also launched mental health care projects in reception centers around Italy, where teams of cultural mediators and psychologists screen and provide care to asylum seekers. In Rome, our rehabilitation center for torture survivors uses a multidisciplinary approach, including medical and psychological services, physiotherapy, and social and legal assistance.

The Crossing: Night portraits on the rescue boat Prudence