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Unsafe mixed migration by sea


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IMO has called for greater focus to be placed on addressing unsafe migration by sea through more safe and regular migration pathways, so that fewer lives are lost due to large numbers of people setting out to cross the sea in overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.

In order to address the safety of life at sea and search and rescue issues arising from unsafe migration by sea, IMO has been working with its partner organizations in the UN system as well as other international bodies to develop and update guidance for shipmasters and Governments. An information sharing platform has been established.

IMO urges concerted action by the international community to tackle unsafe, mixed migration by sea, in the Mediterranean and other sea areas and has been actively addressing the issue at its own Committee meetings as well as through joint meetings on the matter with UN partners and other relevant international organizations.

In 2015, IMO  partnered with the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, United Kingdom,  to take a closer look at issues surrounding migration at sea. The RE•THINK exhibition on migration featured three short films produced by IMO. The films explore the following perspectives:

Migrants thumbnail_1.jpgThe migrants' storyMigrants thumbnail_2.jpgThe rescuers' storyMigrants thumbnail_3.jpgThe international response​​


Rescue at Sea:  A guide to principles and practice as applied to refugees and migrants  has been prepared jointly by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The guide is available in six languages, downloadable below:


The guide is intended for Masters, ship owners, Government authorities, insurance companies, and other interested parties involved in rescue-at-sea situations. It provides guidance on relevant legal provisions, on practical procedures to ensure the prompt disembarkation of rescued persons, and on measures to meet their specific needs, particularly in the case of refugees and asylum-seekers. 

UN agencies working together

Please click here​ for details and presentations from the High-Level Meeting to Address Unsafe Mixed Migration by Sea held at IMO Headquarters (4-5 March 2015) to facilitate dialogue and promote enhanced cooperation and harmonization between United Nations agencies, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, Governments and the shipping industry. 

Inter-agency platform for information sharing on migrant smuggling by sea

The inter-agency platform for information sharing on migrant smuggling by sea has been developed by IMO, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in order to better understand unsafe mixed migration by sea.

It is anticipated that the platform will assist in improved monitoring of incidents associated with unsafe and irregular mixed migration by sea, on a global basis, with a view to better analysis of trends.

The joint platform is hosted on IMO’s Global Integrated shipping Information System (GISIS) and will include publicly accessible data (via ) and restricted access information for Member States.

Increasing numbers ​

Statistics compiled by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) put the number of maritime migrant arrivals in the Mediterranean in 2015 at more than one million people, with 3,760 people, including children, recorded dead or missing. By mid-April 2016, the figures for 2016 to date stood at more than 173,000 arrivals with more than 720 deaths recorded.

This represents a substantial increase on the total 207,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean in the whole of 2014.

Legal framework

There is a legal framework in place to make this a crime – the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, which is an annex to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. 

The organized, international crime, in the Mediterranean needs to be addressed, with collective action by all concerned to detain, arrest and prosecute people smugglers. 

IMO can play its part but the ultimate solution lies in collaboration among several other bodies and UN agencies, such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, INTERPOL, the African Union, the European Union and European Commission and the Economic Commissions for Africa and for Europe.