Video: NGO rescue missions in Mediterranean face physical, legal threats

Via Facebook

Migration crisis: Two years on

In 2015, more than 1 million undocumented migrants and refugees arrived in Europe. A further 3,515 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean. In November that year, as the “migration crisis” escalated, European leaders met to hash out a solution at the Valletta Summit, relying heavily on the idea that development cooperation could help.

Two years on, Devex is taking a look at some of the policies, priorities, and trends that were put in action then, asking what is working, what isn’t — and what’s yet to even start? Read more about the rise of the migration agenda in European development policy, and follow the rest of the series.


BARCELONA — Humanitarian vessels saved 40 percent of the more than 110,000 people rescued in the Mediterranean this year — the world’s deadliest stretch of water for migrants and refugees as they attempt to make the crossing to Europe.

But as those vessels, mostly operated independently by nongovernmental organizations, face physical and legal challenges that hinder their ability to carry out this life-saving work, the number of fatalities continues to increase. According to a report released by the International Organization for Migration last month, over 5,000 deaths were recorded in 2016, the highest number by far of recent years.

With backing from the European Union, Italy — where most undocumented migrants to Europe now arrive — has been working with the Libyan coast guard to boost its capabilities to intercept migrant crossings. The EU says that fewer crossings means more lives saved, but aid groups say that in reality, these efforts have resulted in botched rescue attempts, along with people being detained and mistreated in Libyan prisons.

For those working in this field, safety remains a key concern, leading some NGOs to suspend their operations. Devex spoke to two of the groups operating search and rescue missions in the region — Médicins Sans Frontières and Proactiva Open Arms — about some of the key obstacles that prevent them doing their work well, and how they protect themselves in this context.

Read more Devex coverage on migration and displacement.

About the authors

  • Mihara naomi

    Naomi Mihara

    Naomi Mihara is a video journalist for Devex, based in Barcelona. She has a background in journalism and international development, having previously worked as an assistant correspondent for Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper and as a communications officer for the International Organization for Migration in Southeast Asia. She holds a master's degree in multimedia journalism from Bournemouth University.
  • Helen cropped

    Helen Morgan

    Helen Morgan is an editorial associate at Devex. She has a background in human rights, radio and journalism, and has written for a variety of international publications while living and working in Buenos Aires, New York and Shanghai. She is now based in Barcelona and supports editorial content on campaigns and media partnerships at Devex. She is currently studying a master's degree in contemporary migration.

Join the Discussion