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Médecins Sans Frontières resumes Search and Rescue Activities in the Central Mediterranean Sea

26 Apr 2016

As of 24 April 2016 we have resumed our search, rescue and medical aid operations in the central Mediterranean Sea, between Africa and Europe. Due to the lack of safe and legal alternatives for people to flee and seek protection, the deadly stretch of water between Libya and Italy, which in 2015 claimed the lives of 2,892* men, women and children, is now almost the only way for thousands to reach European shores and it is already as busy as ever.

“This time last year, as Médecins Sans Frontières launched our first search and rescue operation, we called the Mediterranean Sea a mass grave and little has changed since then,” said Joanne Liu, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières. “As crises and conflicts across the world continue to cause people to flee in their millions, the absence of a global solution to the current refugee crisis, and the European states’ policies of deterrence, as well their refusal to provide alternatives to the deadly sea crossing, continue to kill thousands. As humanitarians, we again refuse to look on from the shore.”

"As humanitarians, we again refuse to look on from the shore"

Our first search and rescue ship to be deployed this summer, the 50 meter Médecins Sans Frontières Dignity 1, set sail from the port of Valletta, Malta on 21 April. The ship which has the capacity to take on board 400 rescued people has a crew of 16 including experienced medical staff will be proactively positioned in the waters north of Libya, and actively searching for boats in distress.  Our first operation for 2016 occurred on April 23 with the Dignity 1 accepting a transfer of 308 rescued people (205 men, 80 women, 23 children), mainly Eritrean, from an Italian rescue boat. The Dignity 1 is now on the way to Sicily where the 308 people will disembark. 

In the coming weeks we will reinforce search and rescue capacity with highly skilled and experienced Médecins Sans Frontières medical teams on board two larger ships.  The teams will have the skills and necessary equipment to provide lifesaving emergency care as well as treat dehydration, fuel burns, hypothermia and skin diseases which were the most pressing medical needs of those rescued by us in 2015.   We will also be providing psychological first aid at sea and the teams in Sicily will ensure continuity of care through several medical projects supporting the people after disembarking.

“Refugees and migrants are looking for a safer or better life. It is not acceptable to treat them as criminals, or worse, let them die, in their search for it. Rather than focusing on deterrence and surveillance, European States must provide safe alternatives to sea crossings and a search and rescue mechanism that is both dedicated and proactive. The lives of hundreds of thousands depend on it," ended Liu.

*As counted by IOM’s Missing Migrant Project. More information on the project as well as data from other migratory routes is available online at

In 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières teams on board three search and rescue ship in the Central Mediterranean, assisted over 23,000 people in 120 separate rescue interventions. In the Aegean Sea, north of the island of Lesbos, in partnership with Greenpeace assisted over 14,000 people crossing from Turkey to Greece  Overall, in 2015, we treated more than 100,000 people  on the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and  in  in Greece, Italy and the Balkans.