SOS MEDITERRANEE

Awarded 2023

Internacional

Por su búsqueda humanitaria para salvar vidas y sus operaciones de rescate en el Mar Mediterráneo.

SOS MEDITERRANEE es una organización humanitaria marítima dedicada a salvar vidas en el Mediterráneo, la ruta migratoria más mortífera del mundo. Mediante operaciones de búsqueda y rescate, la organización ha puesto a salvo a más de 38 500 personas desde que empezó a operar en 2016. SOS MEDITERRANEE se ciñe a un estricto marco jurídico basado en el derecho marítimo, estableciendo exigentes estándares para las operaciones de rescate y demostrando que auxiliar a personas en peligro en el mar es una obligación legal.

La organización es una asociación de cuatro oficinas ubicadas en Francia, Italia, Alemania y Suiza. Fue fundada por civiles en mayo de 2015 como respuesta a la trágica pérdida de vidas en el Mediterráneo y ante la incapacidad de la Unión Europea de abordar el problema. Poniendo en común sus recursos, la organización financia y opera el barco de rescate Ocean Viking con tripulación profesional. Una vez abordo, SOS MEDITERRANEE proporciona cuidados médicos y psicosociales a las personas supervivientes, y hace escuchar sus voces dando a conocer sus historias.

El firme compromiso de la organización con la humanidad no solo ha salvado vidas, sino que ha garantizado que la ciudadanía, las instituciones europeas y los gobiernos nacionales sean plenamente conscientes de la realidad de la crisis humanitaria en el Mar Mediterráneo.

Por eso es fundamental que este Premio ponga el foco sobre la situación que viven en el mar miles de personas que intentan huir arriesgando sus vidas.

Caroline Abu Sa’da, directora ejecutiva de la oficina de SOS MEDITERRANEE en Suiza

Biography in English

SOS MEDITERRANEE is a European maritime-humanitarian organisation saving people’s lives in the Mediterranean, the world’s deadliest migration route. The humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean Sea has reached alarming heights in recent years. In this dramatic context, the organisation fills a pressing need for proactive maritime rescue effort. Since its operations began in 2016, SOS MEDITERRANEE’s professional rescuers have brought tens of thousands of people to safety.

The escalating humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean

Fleeing war, persecution and economic difficulties, refugees and migrants have long crossed the Mediterranean Sea seeking safety in Europe. However, the war in Syria and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan set off a large-scale movement of people, leading to a record number of more than 1 million migrants arriving to Europe through the Mediterranean in 2015. This figure was more than three times the number of people arriving by sea in 2014, marking a significant shift. Along with the increased sea crossings, the number of people who perished during the journey also grew dramatically in 2015.

In recent years, the situation has worsened, marked by a rising death toll, increased violent incidents and a stark uptick in forced returns to Libya. In 2020, 1,449 deaths were registered, and by 2022, the figure had risen to 2,406. In just the first eight months of 2023, 2,325 lives have been lost.

Adding to the tragedy, there have been reports of the Libyan coast guard using firearms against non-governmental organisations engaged in life-saving operations. This dangerous behaviour highlights the growing lawlessness in what should be a universally respected area governed by international maritime law. Forced returns to Libya remain a critical concern, with 32,425 reported cases in 2021 and over 10,600 in the first half of 2023. These figures paint a grim reality: the Mediterranean Sea, historically a meeting point of cultures, has now become a deadly barrier for those seeking safety.

Citizens mobilise to save lives

Since the beginning of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, there has been a lack of cohesive efforts within the EU to coordinate an effective search and rescue operation. This appalling lack of solidarity and humanity prompted European citizens to set up the SOS MEDITERRANEE network in 2015 to respond to the dire need.

Pooling funding from offices in Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland, the association’s first rescue ship, the Aquarius, carried out operations between February 2016 and December 2018. In August 2019, a faster ship, the Ocean Viking, was chartered to take over the mission. The almost 70-metre-long vessel is designed to rescue and carry large numbers of people. Its operating costs amount to 24,000 EUR per day, financed mainly through private donations.

Humanitarian and maritime

SOS MEDITERRANEE serves a dual role as both a humanitarian and a maritime organisation. As a humanitarian actor, the organisation’s main aims are to save lives, provide people with medical and psychological help and bring them to safety. As a maritime organisation, SOS MEDITERRANEE operates in strict observance of maritime laws, using nautical science and crisis management practices to provide an effective model for humanitarian action at sea. The organisation maintains constant contact with relevant maritime authorities and bases its actions on dialogue with coastal states to avoid any kind of confrontation. Using this approach, SOS MEDITERRANEE has unequivocally shown that assisting people in distress at sea is a legal obligation.

In the event of an emergency, SOS MEDITERRANEE’s professional crew follows a set of standard operating procedures based on maritime and humanitarian law, allowing it to act in a swift and effective manner. Once on board, survivors are given food, clothing, and medical and psychological attention. The crew also collects survivors’ testimonies to help identify vulnerable individuals such as unaccompanied minors and victims of torture. This information is later transmitted to medical authorities at ports.

Despite considerable obstacles, such as politically motivated port closures and legal threats, the organisation adapts and persists in its life-saving mission. SOS MEDITERRANEE maintains that rescuing people at sea is a legal obligation and that no one should perish at sea.

Bearing witness

Besides its search and rescue operations, SOS MEDITERRANEE also focuses on lifting the voices of migrants and refugees rescued at sea. By bearing witness to the suffering in the Mediterranean, SOS MEDITERRANEE ensures the issue remains on the European agenda. Survivors tell their stories and give faces to those fleeing war, exploitation and threats to their very existence in hopes of finding safety on Europe’s shores. Journalists and film crews also often accompany the rescue operations to raise attention to the crisis.

The organisation also aims to keep the memory of those who don’t survive the perilous journey. This approach holds fast to the value that every person and life matters, which is often disregarded in the European debate around refugees and immigrants. Through its human-centred and law-based approach, SOS MEDITERRANEE works towards a world where no person has to risk their life or die in the pursuit of safety and ensuring a livelihood.