The charity Human Rights at Sea has published the first voluntary guidance for NGOs working to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean.
The guidance A Voluntary Code of Conduct for Search and Rescue Operations undertaken by civil society Non-Governmental Organisations in the Mediterranean Sea is based on established humanitarian principles, existing search and rescue convention, applicable international law and guidance from the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF). It sets out how to increase joint co-ordination and co-operation and has been developed in close co-ordination with established rescue coordination centers, including the IMRF, Sea Watch and other state and non-state actors.
The first edition of the document is intended to act as the basis for rapid iterative development with as many stakeholders as possible, including European institutions, agencies, shipping and fishing associations and military forces.
As such, it puts down a marker and provides a starting point for a more comprehensive approach between NGOs in rescuing migrants and refugees at sea, says CEO and founder of Human Rights at Sea, David Hammond. It also seeks to provide increased transparency for understanding the actions of civil society NGOs by other actors, he said.
“The publication encourages the sharing and development of joint standard operating procedures. Further, it develops the concept of agreed pre-operation on-scene coordination.”
Hammond, says: “With the unprecedented mass movement of people towards Europe, co-ordination at every level is critical to acting effectively and also to protecting fundamental rights using a comprehensive approach to tackle this generational issue. This new voluntary guidance is aimed at getting people around the table, stopping unhelpful distractions by attacks towards civil society NGOs and promoting effective co-operation between all state and non-state actors.”
“There is very much a place in the Global SAR Plan promoted by the IMO and the IMRF for NGO involvement,” says Bruce Reid, Chief Executive of IMRF. “It is clearly the case that provision of additional SAR resource should also be strategically coordinated wherever possible, in preparation for life-threatening emergencies. While this may not be achievable with ships that just happen to be passing by, it can and should be when it comes to NGO involvement.
“NGos offering SAR services should declare their capabilities to the relevant regional SAR authorities and should work collaboratively amongst themselves with the aim of efficiently and safely distributing their response capability. We have seen, in other contexts, the effects of uncoordinated responses, which can compromise safety, can leave gaps (and people die in those gaps) and can lead to unhelpful competition – and at the IMFR we say that our only competitor is the sea,” says Reid.
“So we very much welcome this code of conduct as a useful aid to better strategic coordination.”
The guidance is available here.