Since 2014, search-and-rescue (SAR) NGOs have been constantly present in the Mediterranean. They seek to fill the rescue gap left by the lack of state-organized SAR operations by providing vital humanitarian assistance to those who have to make the life-threatening journey across the sea. However, several EU countries have started to implement stricter migration policies which encompass the criminalization of NGOs carrying out SAR activities. The systematic criminalization of what is essentially human rights work has severely restricted and decreased SAR missions conducted by NGOs.
In its effort to counteract human rights violations ensuing from policies of criminalization, ECCHR submitted two complaints to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders addressing the ongoing criminalization of crew members of the NGO rescue ships Iuventa and Sea-Watch 3. Both complaints seek to address not only the systematic criminalization of the activists, but also the smear campaigns against SAR NGOs and the seizure of rescue ships. By proving that such cases are not isolated incidents but part of an established policy, ECCHR aims to counter this worrying trend of criminalizing those who rescue lives at sea.
Rescue at sea
For years, Italy has intimidated, threatened and prosecuted sea rescues that provide vital humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean. To counter this, ECCHR submitted a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders regarding Sea-Watch 3 crew members, in particular Captain Carola Rackete.