Mediterranean Emergency: MSF Latest Updates

Migration Crisis in the Mediterranean

Every year, thousands of people fleeing violence, insecurity, and privation at home attempt a treacherous journey via North Africa and across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. And every year, countless lives are lost during the passage. In 2014 alone, more than 3,400 people are thought to have died during the crossing. The number of migrants arriving to Europe by boat has already surpassed the 2014 total of 219,000, with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reporting that 806,000 people have arrived so far this year. The majority have come via Greece (660,098), followed by Italy (142,400) with smaller numbers arriving in Spain (2,797) and Malta (105).

According to the International Organization for Migration, the majority of arrivals to Greece are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq; while most arriving in Italy are from Eritrea, followed by Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Gambia, and Bangladesh.

"If these people had not been rescued there’s no way the rubber boats, the fishing boats, the over crowded and wholely inappropriate boats they were put out to sea in could have made this journey. It's not acceptable at all." Simon Burroughs—MSF Emergency Coordinator

Search and rescue resources must be adequately allocated as long as the need remains. While search and rescue resources have been significantly increased, there have been periods where there were fewer boats available to carry out rescues. MSF’s rescue boats have subsequently been particularly needed as they are actively patrolling the international waters close to Libya where most incidents occur. MSF continues to call for member states to ensure adequate resources are allocated as long as necessary to search and rescue operations. We continue to stress the importance of active patrolling in the most at-risk zones as close as possible to the Libyan coast. 

After eight months at sea, 20,129 people rescued, and over 120 separate search and rescue operations, MSF's remaining search and rescue ship the Bourbon Argos returned to port for the last time in 2015 on December 30.

Until September 23, 2015, MSF had a team of six people providing post rescue care on board the Phoenix, a search and rescue vessel run by MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), which began operations on May 2, 2015. The medical care available ranged from primary care right through to resuscitation and advanced life support. On September 23, MSF ended work on the Phoenix.

On May 9, MSF launched the Bourbon Argos. The ship had 26 people on board (of which 14 were MSF staff), including an experienced search and rescue team, as well as MSF medical specialists, water and sanitation experts, and logisticians. The Argos had the capacity to carry up to 700 rescued people to land.

On June 13, 2015, MSF launched a third ship, Dignity I. The ship had a crew of 18 people, which included medical staff. The 50 meter long vessel had the capacity to carry 300 people to land.

Click Here to Learn More about MSF's Work With Refugees

The Takeaway: On Board a Refugee Rescue Ship

Lindis Hurum speaks about people rescued on the Mediterranean in recent weeks on the ship the Bourbon Argos.

People Need Safe and Legal Ways to Seek Asylum and Migrate

There are very few safe channels that people can take to reach protection, safety and a better life. With Europe’s land borders sealed, people are forced into the hands of smugglers and into leaky, overcrowded boats on the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. In 2015, more than 788,000 crossed the sea to reach Europe. Most of them crossed the Aegean Sea, with more than 610,000 people arriving in the Greek islands, and 300 deaths in the months of September and October alone. At the same time, the Central Mediterranean crossing between Libya and Italy remains the deadliest border crossing in the world. In 2015 more than 2,860 people have died in the waters between Libya and Italy whilst over 140,000 have arrived on Italian soil—that means that 1 in every 50 people who cross from Libya to Italy died trying.

Even before this point, many have contended with long, risky journeys over land and life threatening conditions in countries such as Libya. People will continue to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers as long as there are no safe alternatives.

People should not be forced to risk their health and sacrifice their dignity whilst crossing Europe this winter 

After risking their lives at sea, those who arrive in Greece, still considered an unsafe country for asylum seekers because of its overwhelmed asylum system and non-existent reception system, have little other options than to cross the Balkans. This journey has a direct impact on their health and dignity, with people waiting for long hours at borders with only the assistance provided by volunteers and NGOs. 

We expected a reduction of arrivals due to the weather and sea conditions in the cooler autumn and winter months but so far, the reality shows that the number of arrivals is dramatically increasing in the Greek Islands with more than 230,000 in the month of October in the islands alone. While one would expect the most vulnerable to wait for spring to come back to take the road again, we see an increase in the number of children and women. People tell us they are rushing, as they hear borders are closing. As the temperatures drop, people will continue to cross borders, no matter what obstacles are put in the way. MSF is concerned about the risks these people will continue to take to reach safety and calls on the European authorities to provide proper transport across the borders of Europe.

Search and rescue is not an adequate response to the situation but resources must be sufficiently allocated to mitigate for more unnecessary loss of life

Although the last six months have seen a welcomed increase of search and rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean, the death toll shows that this is not enough. There were still a staggering 2,860 men, women, and children who lost their lives on the Central Mediterranean alone in 2015. The dangers and conditions of the boat crossing that people are willing to suffer demonstrate the desperate measures that people are willing to take in order to reach safety. Winter months will see a decrease in crossings due to deteriorating weather conditions, but there are many who are ready to depart Libya at any time. The winter conditions make it even more dangerous for those who do cross and search and rescue teams need to be appropriately prepared. Even in winter, there is need for adequate patrolling in the most at risk zones. 

The focus of European policies remains on targeting smugglers with a military operation, the so-called “Operation Sophia” (named after a baby girl delivered on board an Italian ship earlier this summer). This should not take precedence over the urgency of providing lifesaving assistance and appropriate humanitarian assistance for those who risk their life in search of safety and a better life. Adequate rescue operations should be put in place in the Aegean Sea where the number of arrivals in Greek islands is not decreasing while the upcoming winter and conditions at sea are making this trip every day more dangerous. MSF continues to call for the adequate allocation of search and rescue resources in both the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. 

A Need for Improved Reception Conditions

As there are inadequate alternative for people to enter Europe, most have no choice but to use the maritime routes through Italy and Greece. Reception systems in these countries and transit countries have many shortcomings and remain woefully under-prepared to humanely and fairly treat the people arriving at their borders. With winter coming, MSF calls for humane and dignified reception and transit conditions including shelter, food, water, sanitation, medical and mental health care, and access to asylum procedures to be urgently organized at arrival points in Greece, Italy, and in transit countries such as France and the Balkan countries.

Push Factors

The biggest displacement of people since the Second World War is being fueled by considerable push factors that force people from their homes. From the increasingly brutal war in Syria to the difficulty of life under an oppressive dictatorship in Eritrea, everyone we meet has a very strong reason for fleeing their country. We see these considerable push factors firsthand in the countries in which we work. Many tell us that they didn't want to leave their homes, but did so because they had no other choice—they are fleeing for their lives. We hear that people know the risks they may face once they flee, but that this is still preferable to staying at home. People also tell us how they have been forced from third countries of hosting to Europe, for fears of safety or due to lack of future prospects.

Europe’s restrictive policies mean that we put some of the world’s most vulnerable people in more danger, causing more suffering, as they risk it all to try to bring themselves, and their families, to safety. European countries (and transit countries) have the responsibility to ensure their policies guarantee the right to seek asylum and respect fundamental rights and human dignity.

European Countries are Only Accepting a Small Share of the Total Number of Displaced

Most of the world’s displaced people live elsewhere in their home countries or in those that surround it—relatively few are granted asylum abroad. For example, 12 million Syrians have been displaced by the ongoing conflict. Eight million have fled to other parts of Syria. Four million live as refugees in the countries that surround Syria—many of these countries are now overwhelmed (one in four people living in Lebanon are now Syrian refugees). Only a quarter of a million people have made it to Europe, less than two percent of the total number of those displaced. It is more than time for European countries to adopt more humane and asylum policies.

Externalized border controls at transit and countries of origin cannot be the EU's solution to the European refugee crisis 

Enforcement of migration cooperation deals between the EU and its member states with third countries is resulting in unacceptable humanitarian consequences, including high levels of violence and a sustained erosion of refugee and asylum law. The EU can no longer turn a blind eye to the well documented abuses associated with such externalization of border controls. 

Unless concrete protection measures to assure equal treatment and the dignity, safety, and protection of people on the move are in place, abuses of migrants and refugees will worsen with increased externalization of border control. Our experience in Morocco and Libya, among others, has shown such policies to have severe medical humanitarian consequences, with people suffering high levels of abuse and ill-treatment.

Safe Passage: An Open Letter to U.S. President Barack Obama & Congressional Leaders

The lifejacket pictured here belonged to one of more than 16,000 people rescued on the Mediterranean Sea by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams since May. This lifejacket, and the person who wore it, are symbols not only of a chaotic and dangerous world, but also of the failure of United Nations member states to meet their obligations to care for, extend safe passage to, and consider the asylum claims of those who fear for their safety from violence and oppression... Continue Reading 

Life jacket recovered during MSF search and rescue operations on the Bourbon Argos.


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