The Mirpuri Foundation has announced a collaboration with the prestigious British Institute of International and Comparative Law to offer financial support for an Institute study of the responsibilities of, and implications for, private vessels involved in the search and rescue of migrants and refugees at sea.

Each day, in Europe and beyond, desperate people are being plucked from the sea, as migrants and would-be asylum seekers embark upon perilous sea crossings in flight from violence, persecution or war, and in search of protection. Many of them do not survive.

And, whilst organised criminals and smugglers grow rich on the suffering of these individuals, assistance is increasingly being sought from private vessels and NGO ships . In 2016, no fewer than 381 merchant ships were diverted from their routes, and 121 ships were involved in the rescue of 13,888 people.

The project, led by BIICL Senior Research Fellow, Dr Jean-Pierre Gauci, will examine the roles and responsibilities of, and the legal implications for, those in control of private vessels who become involved in the rescue of migrants and refugees at sea.

In an interview with the Foundation, project leader, Dr Gauci, said: “due lack of clarity in aspects of the legal framework, coupled with the way politics has come into this, we too often see problems arising including vessels being told to take people back to unsafe ports like Libya and disembarkations being denied or delayed. This is causing a disincentive for shipping companies to rescue people at sea. We also now have the reality of NGO rescue vessels and the various challenges to their work being enacted by States”.

The Foundation-funded project will examine a range of important issues, such as the legal implications of becoming involved in migrant rescues, delays in the disembarkation of rescued peoples, and the difficult human rights issues that surface when States instruct the return of rescued individuals to countries where their lives and liberties are at risk.

As regards such State action, the project announcement comes just months after Portugal became one of the first nations to volunteer to take in some of the migrants on board the ‘Lifeline’, a rescue ship that was left stranded at sea after Italy refused it safe harbour.

Portugal also has a good record on migrant responsibility generally, and is already party to the voluntary programme for the resettlement of refugees that was proposed in January 2018 by the European Commission. This programme aims to resettle at least 50,000 refugees over the next two years. Within the framework of an earlier programme, which ran from 2015 to March 2018, Portugal took in 1,552 refugees.

Speaking from the Foundation headquarters in Lisbon, Foundation President, Paulo Mirpuri, said: “Every day, on our television screens, we see the desperate plight of migrant peoples. We should all reflect that no mother would ever place her child on a migrant boat, with all the dangers that entails, unless she felt sure it was a safer situation than the one that she and they were already in. The Foundation is proud, then, to support this research and we very much hope that its outcome will be to save lives.”

It is intended that the project will develop guidelines, and training, for seafarers around the world.

 

July 2019 – Project Update

Mirpuri Foundation-backed legal study gives update on its progress:

To mark International Migrants Day, on 18th December last year, the Mirpuri Foundation announced a link-up with the prestigious British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL), to offer financial support for an Institute study of the responsibilities of, and the implications for, private and commercial vessels involved in the search and rescue of migrants and refugees at sea.

A report on the study’s progress, recently released by the BICCL, was today welcomed by the Mirpuri Foundation. The project, led by Associate Senior Research Fellow, Dr Jean-Pierre Gauci, was initiated as a response to the ever-growing numbers of would-be asylum seekers and migrants forced to embark upon perilous sea crossings in flight from violence, persecution or war.

Organised criminals and people-traffickers were seen to be growing rich on the suffering of the desperate, while at the same time, those having charge of private boats and NGO ships were finding themselves increasingly called upon to assist, with little idea of what their legal responsibilities were. 

The BIICL has now revealed that much of the early part of the project has involved research aimed at clarifying the international legal framework regulating search and rescue activities (SAR) at sea, more particularly where such activities are carried out by merchant vessels. The law of the sea, maritime and shipping law and business and human rights law were analysed.

As part of the Institute’s research, the BIICL has reported that, already this year, in the first six months of 2019, some 22,735 migrants have arrived by sea to Italy, Greece Spain, Cyprus or Malta – with 539 people estimated to have died in the water.

As well as the working to complete the research project, the BIICL has sought to broadcast the aims of the study more widely and has spoken about it, and its appreciation of the Mirpuri Foundation involvement, at number of events in the UK capital and at meetings with King’s College, London, University College, London, University of Nottingham, Queen Mary University, London and other research institutes.

The project has also been discussed with representatives of Search and Rescue NGOs, convened under the auspices of the Sarobmed Network, in whose work BIICL has now become a participant.

Next steps will include completion of the commissioned research and interviews with representatives from shipping and insurance companies and law firms, as well as the drafting of the project’s findings. The Institute will also be continuing to make its work public through presentations at conferences and other events.

Speaking on the progress made to date, Mirpuri Foundation President, Paulo Mirpuri, said: “The project was designed to examine a range of important issues, such as the possible legal consequences of becoming involved in migrant rescues, delays in the disembarkation of rescued peoples, and the difficult human rights issues that can arise for all involved. At the Mirpuri Foundation, we believe that every human life is of equal importance and that is why we were keen to fund this project. While it is too early to draw any final conclusions at this stage, it is clear that the project has moved forward positively and we thank Dr Gauci and BIICL for their efforts so far.”

Portugal has a good record on migrant responsibility and is already party to the voluntary programme for the redistribution of refugees that was proposed in January 2018 by the European Commission. This EU programme aims to resettle at least 50,000 refugees over the next two years. It is hoped that completion of the BIICL project will assist in the development of guidelines and training for seafarers around the world.

Project presentation: