MSF Calls for Large-Scale Search and Rescue Operation in the Mediterranean

ROME/NEW YORK—Faced with another tragedy in the Mediterranean sea, European member states must urgently launch large-scale search and rescue activities in order to avoid more deaths at sea, the medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

“A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible,” said Loris De Filippi, MSF president. “Faced with thousands of desperate people fleeing wars and crises, Europe has closed borders, forcing people in search of protection to risk their lives and die at sea. There is no more time to think, these lives must be saved now. Ending the Mare Nostrum operation was a serious mistake. European States must immediately launch large-scale search and rescue operations, with proactive patrolling as close as possible to Libyan shores. The current means are obviously not enough. This tragedy is only just beginning, but it can and should be stopped.”

Over the past week alone, more than11,000 people have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean, and more than a thousand have reportedly died. Regardless of how high Europe builds its fences and how many obstacles are placed in the way, devastating conflicts and crises will continue to force people to flee their countries in order to save their lives, said MSF.  

“Seven hundred deaths in a day are figures from a war zone,” said De Filippi. “This humanitarian tragedy is now under everyone’s eyes but Europe is not willing to address it. This is why we will begin first-hand operations at sea, in an attempt to save as many lives possible. Only creating safe and legal channels to protection in Europe will truly prevent thousands more deaths. But as a medical-humanitarian organization, we simply cannot wait any longer.”

Starting in May, MSF, in partnership with Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) will, for the first time, launch search and rescue activities at sea, an intervention that will be reinforced in the coming weeks. This extraordinary intervention will be developed to respond to the huge increase in people who have died or have needed rescue in the Mediterranean. For MSF the current situation is a humanitarian crisis created by European policies and one we cannot ignore.

MSF is calling on European governments to guarantee safe and legal routes to reach the continent, to resume search and rescue activities at sea, and to prepare emergency plans at the borders in order to guarantee adequate reception conditions for those who seek safe haven in Europe.