SOS MEDITERRANEE receives 2023 Right Livelihood Award for saving lives at sea

STOCKHOLM – SOS MEDITERRANEE, a European maritime-humanitarian organisation, is among the recipients of the 2023 Right Livelihood Award for saving the lives of more than 38,500 people in the Mediterranean Sea, the world’s deadliest migration route.

For over 40 years, the Right Livelihood Award has honoured and supported courageous people solving global problems. To date, 194 Laureates from 76 countries have received the Award, including Ukrainian human rights defender Oleksandra Matviichuk, Congolese gynaecologist and women’s rights advocate Dr Denis Mukwege and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Founded by civilians in May 2015 in response to the appalling loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea, SOS MEDITERRANEE is an association of four offices located in France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland that currently operates the Ocean Viking rescue ship.

The European Union’s lack of a coordinated search and rescue operation is leading to continued loss of life. In fact, 2023 marked an uptick in both departures and deaths due to the worsening human rights situation in Libya and an increase in the number of people leaving from the shores of Tunisia. The proportion of unaccompanied minors has also grown from around 20 per cent when operations began in 2016 to around 30 per cent, according to SOS MEDITERRANEE.

“We are at levels in 2023 that we haven’t seen since 2017: the death rate is dramatic, the crossing is dramatic,” said Caroline Abu Sa’da, Executive Director of SOS MEDITERRANEE’s Swiss office. “Now people are leaving from Libya and Tunisia, there’s a huge surge of departures from both countries, and the numbers are appalling. The number of deaths for 2023 is already over 2,000 just for the Central Mediterranean.”

SOS MEDITERRANEE is calling on the EU to organise a coordinated search and rescue operation and provide safety to people rescued at sea, which is a legal obligation.

Right Livelihood’s jury said that SOS MEDITERRANEE was receiving the Award “for its life-saving humanitarian search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea.”

“2023 is really a year that has been extremely deadly for people trying to flee through the Mediterranean Sea,” said Abu Sa’da. “So for us, it’s extremely important that the Award actually sheds light on the situation at sea for the thousands of people trying to flee and risking their lives to do it.”

Representatives of SOS MEDITERRANEE are holding an online press conference today, Thursday, September 28, starting at 10:30 CEST. Register here.

“Faced with the European Union’s inaction to help migrants and refugees, SOS MEDITERRANEE fills a pressing need to carry out search and rescue operations,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director at Right Livelihood. “Tens of thousands of people have arrived at Europe’s shores alive thanks to SOS MEDITERRANEE. The organisation also plays a critical role in lifting survivors’ voices and keeping the migration crisis at the forefront of the public debate, so Europeans cannot close their eyes to the deaths and suffering on their doorsteps.”

The other 2023 Right Livelihood Laureates are:

Register for the press conferences here.

The 2023 Laureates will be honoured during a televised Award Presentation in Stockholm on Wednesday, November 29.

Find more information about the Laureates here.

Photos and videos of the new Laureates can be found here.

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About Right Livelihood

For over 40 years, Right Livelihood has honoured and supported courageous people solving global problems. Housed under the umbrella of a foundation, Right Livelihood is a courage-powered community for social change committed to peace, justice and sustainability for all.

Each year, Right Livelihood highlights change-makers through an Award. To date, 194 Laureates from 76 countries have received the distinction. By recognising the actions of brave visionaries and building impactful connections around the world, Right Livelihood boosts urgent and long-term social change.

The Award was founded in 1980 following the Nobel Foundation’s rejection of a proposal to create two new prizes to honour individuals committed to advancing social justice and environmental causes, especially highlighting change-makers from the Global South.

Today, the work of Right Livelihood goes beyond presenting the Award: the Foundation provides Laureates with life-long support. Right Livelihood is a megaphone and a shield: raising their profile, providing protection when their lives and liberty are in danger, and educating people on their innovative solutions.

Right Livelihood is headquartered in Stockholm, with an office in Geneva. The Foundation has Consultative Status with the UN.