Photo: Alessandro Penso/MSF
Every year, thousands of people fleeing war, persecution and poverty at home attempt the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. And every year, countless lives are lost on the way.
Between January and August 2017, 2,408 migrant deaths were reported in the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project.
The vast majority of people currently attempting the crossing pass through Libya, a country in chaos, and are exposed to alarming levels of violence and exploitation including torture and rape.
In 2016, more than 300,000 men, women and children attempted the Mediterranean crossing, according to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
With similar numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in Greece (170,712) and Italy (167,653) and smaller numbers arriving in Spain (4,971). 5,143 people died as they tried to cross last year, most of them (4,581) on the treacherous central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Europe. It was the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean.
What is MSF doing to help?
As humanitarians, we can’t stand back and watch from the shore as thousands of men, women and children drown at sea.
MSF has been providing assistance to people crossing the Mediterranean to Europe since the autumn of 2002, when an MSF team started working in Lampedusa reception centre, providing new arrivals with medical care.
Since then we have assisted people at multiple points along the route:
- MSF teams on board two search and rescue boats in the central Mediterranean Sea rescue people attempting the crossing from Libya by boat.* In 2016, MSF teams on board three search and rescue boats rescued 21,603 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in more than 200 operations in the central Mediterranean Sea.
- In France, Italy, Greece, Serbia, Sweden, Belgium, and Germany MSF teams are providing a range of services including medical and psychological support, shelter, water, sanitation and essential relief items at reception centres, informal settlements and transit camps.
- MSF also runs specialised centres for the rehabilitation of survivors of torture in Greece and Athens most of whom came across the seas seeking safety and protection in Europe. + link to stories of Greek torture project
We have also been supporting asylum seekers in Sweden’s Götene municipality, where one in ten residents is an asylum seeker. The project, which focused on mental health and psychosocial activities, closed in summer 2017.
- In Tunisia, MSF has trained local fishermen in search and rescue. We have also trained teams from the Tunisian and Libyan Red Crescents in dead body management.
- During 2015 and 2016, MSF teams provided assistance at multiple points along the Balkans overland route, especially at the borders of Greece and Serbia, providinghealthcare, sanitation, food, shelter and transportation.
- Since we began search and rescue in May 2015, MSF teams in the central Mediterranean have assisted over 70,000 and assisted 18,000 people crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands in partnership with Greenpeace.
*As of 12 August 2017, MSF has temporarily suspended activities on one boat, Prudence, following threats by the Libyan authorities on operating in the international waters near Libya.
On 17 June 2016 we announced that MSF will no longer take funds from the European Union and Member States, in opposition to their damaging deterrence policies and intensifying attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores. This decision took effect immediately and has been applied to MSF’s projects worldwide.
After the decision and announcement by the Italian government in late July 2017 imposing a ‘Code of Conduct’ on organisations conducting search and rescue activities, we announced on 31 July 2017 that MSF refused to sign, citing the restrictions and violations of humanitarian principles.
These included having armed police officers on board, and being required to head straight to a port of disembarkation, rather than transfer rescues to another boat, diminishing search and rescue capacity.
We remain committed to continuing search and rescue in the central Mediterranean under the coordination of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome, and in accordance with all relevant international and maritime laws.
In 2017, we launched a website in English, Spanish, French and Italian dedicated to its search and rescue operations. It provides answers to frequently asked questions and features an interactive map. http://searchandrescue.msf.org/
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