IMRF calls for dialogue to discuss unsubstantiated claims of misconduct

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Ten maritime search and rescue non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have met with representatives of the European Parliament in Brussels. The meeting which took place with the support of MEP Miguel Urban, discussed the on-going humanitarian crisis on Europe’s southern borders, and the Search and Rescue (SAR) NGOs’ on-going essential efforts to save life at sea.

The main focus was understanding and agreeing the means and methods of addressing unsubstantiated accusations of unlawful conduct by SAR NGOs in the Mediterranean region, which, if allowed to continue unchecked, will endanger lawful SAR activities.

International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) CEO Bruce Reid (pictured) said “We were disappointed that the representatives from the European security institutions did not attend the planned closed door meeting on the first day as there is an urgent need to increase dialogue between the NGOs and these organisations.”

He continued; “Recent unsubstantiated media reports of SAR NGO’s misconduct, need to be addressed, not through the media, but through constructive open dialogue. We don’t know of any maritime SAR NGO’s who are operating outside the SAR rules and regulations and we share the security agencies concerns if this is indeed the case. We hope that with the assistance of the EU parliament we can start an effective dialogue to resolve these concerns, so that the focus can return to saving people in distress.”

During the two days of co-ordinated meetings and discussions, the attending SAR NGOs (Sea-Watch, Proem-Aid, ProActiva Open Arms, SOS Mediterranee, Hellenic Rescue, Jugend Rettet, Humanitarian Pilots Initiative, SMHumanitario) and their representatives, alongside the independent maritime human rights charity Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) and the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) rejected all of the unsubstantiated claims or commentaries that alleged or suggested illegal direct cooperation by SAR NGOs with criminal networks.

Furthermore in order to develop and refine professional SAR NGO operations, all of the attendees and representatives agreed the objective and intent of the First Edition of the voluntary ‘Code of Conduct for Search and Rescue Operations undertaken by civil society Non-Governmental Organisations in the Mediterranean Sea’. This was agreed on the basis that the Code aligns with the three core areas for undertaking lawful SAR operations, those being; following accepted international humanitarian principles, defending fundamental human rights and the professionalisation of operational conduct. The attendees agreed to further refine the First Edition.

The attendees united in requesting that

(1) unsubstantiated accusations of unlawful conduct by SAR NGOs without the presentation of clear evidence cease immediately, and

(2) SAR NGOs have free, fair and open dialogue going forwards with all applicable European institutions on the positive integration of civil society SAR NGOs into humanitarian rescues efforts at sea.

These aims support the attendees’ overall goal of encouraging international, governmental and non-governmental organisations to remain focused on the humanitarian task of ensuring that all people in distress in the waters of the Mediterranean can be saved.