MSF and MOAS to Launch Lifesaving Operation for Migrants in Mediterranean

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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AMSTERDAM/NEW YORK—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) will launch a joint search, rescue, and medical aid operation in the central Mediterranean to assist people fleeing crises and risking their lives to reach safe haven in Europe, at a time of reduced European maritime assistance to migrants, the groups announced today.

The lifesaving operation will take place between May and October, when thousands of people are expected to attempt crossing the waters between Africa and Europe. More than 3,400 people died trying to reach Europe last year, the deadliest on record for people traversing the Mediterranean. This year the death toll is predicted to be even higher, with even less assistance available to boats in distress. The Italian navy’s search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, was discontinued in November 2014 due to a lack of funding from European governments. It has not been replaced.

"Europe has turned its back on people fleeing some of the worst humanitarian crises of our time," said Arjan Hehenkamp, MSF’s general director. "The decision to close doors and build fences means that men, women, and children are forced to risk their lives and take a desperate journey across the sea. Ignoring this situation will not make it go away. Europe has both the resources and the responsibility to prevent more deaths on its doorstep and must act in order to do so,” he said.

A joint MSF and MOAS team will be stationed in the central Mediterranean aboard the MY Phoenix, a 40-meter rescue ship. Equipped with high-speed, rigid-hull inflatable boats and surveillance drones, and with a crew of 20, the ship will provide lifesaving support to those in distress.

“Our motivation is simple,” said MOAS director Martin Xuereb. “No one deserves to die, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that those who feel compelled to undertake this treacherous sea crossing in makeshift vessels do not drown. When we launched our operations last year, we rescued 3,000 people in 60 days. We hope to be even more successful this year as we will operate for six months alongside MSF.”

An MSF medical team of two doctors and a nurse will be on board. They will be equipped to provide lifesaving emergency care and treat dehydration, fuel burns, severe sunburns, and hypothermia. These are some of the most likely expected medical conditions among people who may have already spent days at sea.

"We cannot put an end to the wars and misery that force people to leave their home countries, but we do have a chance to reduce the number of deaths and provide critical assistance to the thousands of human beings who will cross the Mediterranean this summer," said Hehenkamp. "European governments have chosen to prioritize surveillance and border protection over saving lives. Until there is a change in policy, Europe’s collective reluctance to provide safe alternatives for those wishing to reach our shores will continue to cost lives."

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency medical aid to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation. In 2014, MSF worked in 63 countries worldwide. MOAS, a nongovernmental organization, rescued roughly 3,000 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea during a 60-day mission in 2014.