Published: 12 February 2020 Authors: Ruth Effinowicz and Stefan Talmon
Recent years have seen a large number of people, mainly from African and Asian countries trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean. For 2019, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported 110,669 migrants and refugees entering Europe via the sea route. In 2019 alone, at least 1,283 persons died when trying to cross the Mediterranean. The death toll since 2014 has reached at least 19,164. This has prompted various non-State actors to organise search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. In August 2018, the spokesperson for the German Federal Foreign Office summarised the situation as follows:
“Under normal circumstances, saving lives at sea is not a mass phenomenon but something that occurs only sporadically. Rescue at sea is governed by rules of international law. If ships take onboard rescued persons, they can be brought to the nearest port. The fact that we now have a situation where thousands of people are trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe has changed the situation.”
This changed situation has given rise to difficult legal questions. Some of these questions have been addressed by the German Federal Government in replies to parliamentary questions and enquiries by the media.