EU rejects plan to improve search and rescue operations for migrants in the Mediterranean

A motion to improve search and rescue operations for refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean was rejected in the European Parliament on 24 October. The resolution was narrowly rejected, with 288 votes for and 290 votes against. 

The motion called on European Union member states to “enhance proactive search and rescue operations by providing sufficient vessels and equipment… along the routes where they can make an effective contribution to the preservation of lives.” 

It also sought to pressure member states into ensuring their ports were open to NGO sea rescue vessels.

Centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Parliament’s largest political group, was joined by far-right parties or those critical of the EU in voting against the plan. The majority of socialist, liberal, green and leftist groups voted for the plan. 

“Today made it clear that political groups on the right are willing to abandon their legal and moral obligations. They are failing to act responsibly to save lives at sea,” said Juan Fernando López Aguilar,  Spanish member of European Parliament and rapporteur of the motion. 

“Far too many people are losing their lives in the Mediterranean,” he said.

Some EU countries have been moving away from policies set to ensure continuous rescue operations along the Mediterranean, believing that such operations encourage more irregular migration. Italy’s government has even waged a campaign to stop NGOs from rescuing drowning migrants

Several humanitarian organisations and charities are criticising the rejection of the motion. Oxfam called on the EU to work for better search and rescue operations and to suspend the “shameful cooperation with the Libyan coastguard which sends people saved at sea back into detention and abuse.” 

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) said that the EU’s current policy of supporting the Libyan coastguard and pulling down rescue operations is only putting irregular migrants at greater risk.

“The focus has not been on assisting and rescuing people in peril for quite some time, but instead has been one of political and material support to the Libyan Coast Guard that has led to the forced return of thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to Libya – a country currently in conflict and which is unsafe for refugees and migrants,” according to MSF.

In October, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that nearly 18,000 people have died in the Mediterranean since 2014. Over 1,000 lives have already been claimed in 2019.

More than 82,000 migrants have arrived in Europe via Mediterranean routes this year, down from almost 100,000 in the same period last year.

TMP 12/11/2019

Photo credit: Lilia Solonari /

Photo caption: At least 1,080 migrants have died or gone missing this year while trying to reach Europe