If you see someone drowning, would you not help them? The answer might seem obvious. When it comes to migrants and refugees, for some it seems less so. This discussion focused on the legal obligations of search and rescue at sea, the challenges that some humanitarian organisations face, and how to overcome them, to make sure that those in distress at sea receive the necessary humanitarian assistance and protection.
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International law defines the duty to assist and rescue persons in distress at sea. Maritime search and rescue (SAR) operations are conducted by various national agencies, private commercial shipping vessels and NGOs in all parts of the world, and it is unquestionable that people in danger should be rescued and provided assistance. However, when it comes to the practical implementation of existing obligations, particularly in the context of the movement of migrants and refugees, the situation becomes more complicated. A current example is the situation faced by the SOS Méditeranée ship Aquarius. However, while the situation in the Mediterranean is making the headlines, the problem is not limited to this region of the world: the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Bengal, the Gulf of Aden, the Caribbean are not less concerned.
This event aimed to address legal and humanitarian considerations in the context of rescue at sea, including the provision of humanitarian assistance, the criminalization of search and rescue operations carried out by humanitarian organizations, as well as other questions, such as the principle of non-refoulement or the implications of containment policies.