Uncertainty, Alert and Distress: The Precarious Position of NGO Search and Rescue Operations in the Central Mediterranean

Paix et Sécurité Internationales. 2017;(5):29-70 DOI 10.25267/Paix_secur_int.2017.i5.02


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Journal Title: Paix et Sécurité Internationales

ISSN: 2341-0868 (Online)

Publisher: Universidad de Cádiz

Society/Institution: Universidad de Cádiz, Cátedra Jean Monnet «Inmigración y Fronteras

LCC Subject Category: Law: Law in general. Comparative and uniform law. Jurisprudence | Political science: International relations

Country of publisher: Spain

Language of fulltext: French, Spanish, English

Full-text formats available: PDF



Adam Smith (Judge Advocate General’s Corps, United States Navy )


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Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 20 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

The international framework for maritime search and rescue relies on state actors establishing regions of responsibility supported by private shipmasters acting in compliance with traditional duties to rescue persons in distress at sea. Despite revisions to the framework’s foundational treaty, questions persist about the extent of state responsibilities and the interaction between those responsibilities and international human rights law. Over the past three years, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have provided significant support to the efforts of sovereign actors responding to the migration crisis in the Central Mediterranean. Regional governments and civil society initially praised NGO operations, but in recent months these groups have come to criticize and challenge such operations. Italian authorities have threatened criminal prosecution of NGO deployers and proposed closing national ports to them. Libyan authorities have harassed NGO vessels and sought to exclude them from international waters. These actions are consistent with non-entrée strategies employed by Mediterranean states in recent years, but are in certain cases of questionable legality. Although controlling irregular migration is properly the responsibility of state actors, recent policies are inconsistent with principles of rule of law and good governance.