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Trafficking or transport of illegal migrants by sea / Persons rescued at sea


As a result of wars, famine, poverty, political or religious persecution, natural disasters, armed conflicts and many other causes, thousands of people travel in unseaworthy boats to find better conditions of living. The boats in which these migrants travel are not properly manned, equipped or licensed for carrying passengers on international voyages. The journeys could be of several hours or days and in very difficult hazardous circumstances. Generally the migrants transported by sea travel without documents, in crammed conditions, facing severe weather at sea and often even death.

Recommendations for States to take actions to avoid unsafe practices associated with the trafficking or transport of migrants by sea a, in accordance with domestic and international law, can be found in the IMO Circular MSC/Circ.896.Rev.1.
Governments are encouraged to take all the possible measures to prevent the use of unsafe boats to transport migrants endangering their life and the safety of the ship and of the cargo.
Pursuant to the "Tampa" incident in 2001, the Assembly adopted resolution A.920(22)  on Review of safety measures and procedures for the treatment of persons rescued at sea, which recommends reviewing measures and procedures for the treatment of rescued persons, ensuring that the life of persons on board ships is safeguarded at that coastal communities should deal with such people satisfactorily.
Amendments to the SOLAS and SAR Conventions concerning the treatment of persons rescued at sea, and/or asylum seekers, refugees and stowaways (adopted by the MSC 78 in 2004). 
  • SOLAS - chapter V (Safety of Navigation) – obligates the masters to provide assistance to any person in distress at sea, regardless of nationality or status of that person, and mandates Contracting Governments to co-ordinate and co-operate in assisting the ship's master to deliver persons rescued at sea to a place of safety; and adds a new regulation on master's discretion.
  • SAR - Annex to the Convention – obligate parties to assist the master in delivering persons rescued at sea to a place of safety and requires appropriate operating procedures for maritime rescue co- ordination centres to initiate the process of identifying the most suitable places for disembarking persons found in distress at sea.
Guidelines on the treatment of persons rescued at sea provide guidance to Governments and shipmasters with regard to humanitarian obligations and obligations under the relevant international law relating to treatment of persons rescued at sea.  The Guidelines are intended to assist Governments and masters to better understand their obligations under international law and provide helpful guidance with regard to discharge these obligations.
FAL.3/Circ.194 on Principles relating to administrative procedures for disembarking persons rescued at sea.

Persons Rescue At Sea
Persons in distress at sea should receive all possible assistance from other ships in the immediate vicinity, including by Masters, crews, coastal Governments/shore authorities and from all parties involved in the shipping industry, to be rescued, disembarked promptly to a place of safety and to receive a fair treatment once ashore.
The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC,) implemented a reporting procedure to keep track of incidents of unsafe practices associated with the trafficking or transport of illegal migrants by sea, and urged Governments and international organizations to report promptly such practices they become aware of.
As the exodus of migrants continues in different parts of the world and the need to rescue of persons becomes ever more evident, as desperate refugees travel in unsafe conditions, the Organization is committed to cooperate in all possible ways to create an international framework to encourage States and the whole shipping industry to provide assistance to persons in distress at sea and to deliver them to a place of safety, reducing the risk of losing lives in maritime incidents.
Pursuant the adoption of resolution A.920(22), above, the International Maritime Organization has worked closely with Member States and international organizations to ensure cooperation and coordination which are essential and at the core of rescue operations and that responsibilities are being taken accordingly by all parties concerned.
As part of an inter-agency initiative by the Organization, IMO and the United Nations High Commission for the Refugees (UNHCR) has developed a leaflet "Rescue at Sea, A guide to principles and practice as applied to migrants and refugees".  The guidance outlines obligations of the shipmaster, Governments and rescue co-ordination centres and states procedures that need to be taken the various parties involved in rescue at sea.

Latest Developments
A Regional meeting on the development of a draft regional MoU on procedures relating to the disembarkation of persons rescued at sea was held in Rome, Italy, on 12 October 2011. The meeting was attended by the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization and thirty four participants from 11 Members States of the Mediterranean Region. A "Draft text for a Regional Memorandum of Understanding on procedures relating to the disembarkation of persons rescued at sea" was considered and revised. The next meeting is expected to be held in the first quarter of 2012 to continue the revision work.
An Expert Meeting for Refugees and asylum-seekers in distress at sea- how best to respond?, was organized by the UNHCR in Djibouti from 8 to 10 November 2011 with the participation of IMO and 40 representatives from States, IGOs, NGOs, human rights agencies and the academia
The general purpose of the meeting was to discuss a practical mechanism to enhance inter-State cooperation in distress at sea situations involving asylum-seekers and refugees, and specifically to:
  • identify challenges in responding to distress situations;
  • discuss concrete and practical mechanisms to improve responses based on inter-State cooperation and burden and responsibility sharing;
  • discuss the development of a Model Framework for Cooperation to facilitate the conclusion of cooperative arrangements on rescue at sea; and 
  • develop a practical guidance for shipmasters as regards the rescue and disembarkation of refugees and asylum-seekers.
The UNHCR provided an overview of selected distress at sea incidents involving persons of concern to UNHCR in several regions of the world between 1 January 2011 and 31 October 2011, based on desk research of publicly available media sources. The table is focused on distress at sea situations, and does not include interception cases or general irregular arrivals by sea show.
The UNHCR proposed a "Model framework for cooperation following rescue and sea operations involving refugee and asylum-seekers" to support countries in disembarkation and/or processing of rescued people, including assistance for reception arrangements and burden-sharing. The model, which could be adapted according to the characteristics of every region, would require the commitment of Governments and the support of the international community.

International Migration and Development: Contributions and Recommendations of the International System

The United Nations System Chief Executive Board for Coordination (CEB) in cooperation with 28 UN organizations and international partners has issued a publication coordinated by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in preparation for the October 2013 second United Nations High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.

This publication showcases the mandates and work of 28 United Nations organizations and related entities working on international migration issues, provides a set of concrete recommendations for the High-Level Dialogue and offers unique insights into the growing coherence of action among these key players.

The outcomes of the High-level Dialogue (HLD) on International Migration and Development are expected to help set the global agenda on international migration for the rest of the decade, including defining the role of migration in the post-2015 development agenda.

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