IOM Calls for European Solidarity and Action on Mediterranean Rescue Amid COVID-19

Mediterranean Sea. Photo IOM/Mohamed Muse

Geneva - Migrants continue to attempt the Mediterranean crossing, fleeing violence, abuse and poverty amid heightened concern over the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is urging all states to uphold international obligations and exercise an inclusive, shared approach to these continued movements.  

Since the beginning of April, at least six boats departed from Libya carrying roughly 500 people. 150 of them 150 were rescued by an NGO vessel and remain at sea without an assigned port of safety. During the same period, 177 other migrants arrived in Italy while 248 arrived in Spain. Earlier reports suggest that migrants and boats have been refused entry to ports in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

International maritime law and human rights obligations must be upheld during the COVID-19 emergency. The crisis should strengthen our collective resolve to preserve life, protect rights and find common, adaptable solutions to the challenges that affect us all.  

The Organization reaffirms its conviction that saving lives must remain the number one priority as we face today’s challenges together on multiple fronts. European support and solidarity with countries receiving migrants is needed to ensure that people rescued at sea are swiftly and safely disembarked. The same COVID-19 health and safety protocol should be applied to all disembarkations including NGO search and rescue vessels.    

We recognize that while many countries have chosen to tighten control at their borders in an effort to contain the spread of the pandemic, it is crucial that such measures be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner, in line with international law, and prioritizes the protection of the most vulnerable.  

No country can manage the COVID-19 crisis alone and IOM stands ready to assist in migration and mobility related aspects. As migrants continue to embark on dangerous crossings in the Mediterranean, it is now more important than ever to find a shared and comprehensive approach, including a safe, swift disembarkation mechanism and increased state-led life-saving efforts. We also reiterate that migrants should not be returned to Libya.  

IOM calls on States to address the needs and vulnerabilities of migrants, regardless of their legal status, in the spirit of Universal Health Coverage. There is a need for a migrant-inclusive approach that ensures all are considered in public health planning and response, including prevention, testing and treatment.  

For more information please contact:  

Safa Msehli at IOM Geneva, Tel: +41 79 403 5526. Email:  

Ryan Schroeder at IOM Brussels Tel + 32 492 25 02 34. Email:  

Flavio Di Giacomo at IOM Rome Tel: +39.347.089.89.96 E-mail: