Statement: In view of the criminalization of humanitarian aid and human rights NGOs in the Mediterranean. 

Barcelona, September 2019

Since 2017, the European Union and its Member States have been systematically persecuting maritime rescue NGOs in the Mediterranean, following in the wake of the criminalization of humanitarian aid at the border that began in 2015. Open Arms, Proem Aid, Carola Rackete with her ship Sea Watch 3, the Ocean Vicking of the NGOs SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the German NGO Sea Watch and the activist Helena Maleno are being the visible and media part of a persecution with serious consequences for the human rights of migrants. The shielding of Europe’s southern border has meant the abandonment of responsibility that states should maintain with international law and humanitarian law, thus becoming direct accomplices to the deaths in the Mediterranean. The cancellation of the Italian Government’s Operation Mare Nostrum in 2014 was a first step.

Since the cancellation of the Italian operation Mare Nostrum in 2014 and its replacement by the military and security operations of the European agency Frontex, rescue NGOs have played a key role in saving lives, which has compromised the non-assistance regime promoted by the European states. As a result, these NGOs have been subjected to widespread political persecution by agencies of the EU and its member states, which has taken the form of intimidation, defamation and harassment, but also criminalization, blockade and landing bans, as pointed out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2018).

All European states affected by irregular sea arrivals in the Mediterranean (Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain) have put in place measures to halt the activities of rescue NGOs in the last two years, including criminalization and threat (FRA, 2019). As a result, most of the NGO vessels involved in rescues in the Mediterranean between 2016 and June 2019 were not operational by the latter date, with state persecution being the main reason that has led them to stop their activities.

For all this from NOVACT:

WE NOTE that it is important to contextualize this persecution as yet another instrument of European migration policy for the sealing of borders and the imposition of a regime based on preventing the arrival of migrants and their access to international protection. And WE DENOUNCE the criminalization that humanitarian aid NGOs are suffering and that work for the defence of Human Rights.

WE EMPHASISE that criminalization of human rights defenders, as well as close collaboration with armed groups currently under investigation for crimes against humanity such as the Libyan Coast Guard, shows that deaths at European borders are not a “tragedy” or a “catastrophe,” as European leaders insist on repeating, but direct responsibility for a migration regime based on the systematic violation of human rights and those of their defenders.


    • That the promotion of international policies have to guarantee human rights and the right to international protection and protect the lives of migrants and refugees.
    • That the States have the responsibility to respect the international norms of equality and non-discrimination of human rights, and not to transmit speeches that incite hatred and discrimination on the basis of origin.
    • That legal and safe routes have to be urgently established to guarantee the right to asylum and international protection.
    • That the European Union States have the responsibility to assume the resumption of search and rescue operations in Mediterranean waters. States should recognize and support the maritime rescue work being carried out by NGOs.
    • That the European states have to establish agreements to make landings in safe ports effective.
    • That the countries that adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration apply the agreed measures to protect the human rights of migrants and refugees.