The international law of the sea stipulates a clear duty to render assistance in case of vessels or persons in distress at sea and proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress.
EU Regulation 656/2014, which establishes rules on Search and Rescue (SAR) operations and disembarkation provides a common EU concept of ‘place of safety’ which is protection-driven.
Since the summer of 2018, a number of cases of disembarkations following SAR operations at sea have been addressed through ad hoc disembarkation and voluntary relocation arrangements.
The number of SAR events in the Mediterranean in 2019 underlined the need for a more systematic and coordinated EU approach on first reception, registration and relocation of migrants and refugees rescued at sea.
During the Ministerial Meeting on Migration held in Malta in September 2019, a Joint Declaration of Intent was concluded by France, Germany, Italy and Malta for a structured, temporary emergency procedure to manage ad hoc disembarkations and relocation arrangements.
Since January 2019, the Agency provides support for voluntary relocation programmes to the concerned national authorities as well participating Member States, following disembarkations from SAR events in Malta and Italy, under the coordination of the European Commission.
The Agency has been mobilised to provide support to Member States authorities in the implementation of voluntary relocation arrangements, in the areas of first reception, provision of information on international protection procedure, asylum registrations for international protection and pre-relocation matching procedures as per agreed criteria with the national authorities and the European Commission.
The Agency has also been assisting Greek authorities and participating Member States in the relocation of UAM (Unaccompanied Minors) of UAM and other eligible relocation beneficiaries from Greece, under a dedicated project funded by the European Commission.
As part of the Operating Plan to Italy, since May 2021 the Agency has been supporting the Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Italian Ministry of Interior in the Hotspot of Lampedusa.
Two EUAA Reception Information System Officers have been deployed to support coordination among actors involved in the disembarkation procedures, and to strengthen info/data sharing on arrivals and transfers to quarantine before the allocation of applicants to the reception system.
EUAA support includes also the following activities:
- liaise with all actors present in Lampedusa (at the dock and in the hotspot) and collect all relevant information to support the Ministry of Interior in monitoring sea arrivals and the situation within the hotspot;
- enhance a data management and reporting system on arrivals in Lampedusa with a special focus on Unaccompanied Minors and vulnerable cases;
- facilitate the referral of vulnerable cases to Prefecture of Agrigento to enhance prompt action, including medical evacuations or urgent actions;
- liaise with relevant actors and the managing entity of the hotspot to ensure the adequate, smooth and prompt transfer to quarantine facilities taking into consideration special needs and vulnerabilities identified.’