Unsafe mixed migration by sea


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.

Guidance on Rescue at Sea

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. 

IMO has also issued guidelines on the treatment of persons rescued at sea.

Global SAR Plan

The Global SAR Plan can be found on the IMO Global Integrated Shipping Information system (GISIS) system (registration required). The Global SAR Plan module contains information on the availability of Search and Rescue (SAR) Services, based on information provided by IMO Member States.

Global Compact for Migration

The Global Compact on Migration is a UN Member State-led process that emanated from the 19 September 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants approved by Heads of State during the UN General Assembly. This culminated in the adoption of the GCM at an intergovernmental conference on international migration in 2018. Please click https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/migration-compact for the GCM website.

Inter-agency meeting with the maritime industry on mixed migration (October 2017)

The Inter-agency meeting with the maritime industry on mixed migration was held in IMO in October 2017, with representatives from IOM, UNCHR, OHCHR, UNODC, EU NAVFOR, ICS, BIMCO, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations (IFSMA). Please click here for the record of views of the meeting, which was fed into the Global Compact on Migration.


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. While the number of arrivals has declined, the number of deaths reported is still significant. In 2019, to mid-December, 104,600 arrivals were recorded, with 1,246 dead or missing. In 2018, nearly 117,000 arrivals were recorded in the Mediterranean with more than 2,200 deaths/missing. (https://missingmigrants.iom.int/

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.

IMO films at the RE•THINK exhibition on migration

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: