The sea has long offered passage to a diverse range of people fleeing poverty, conflict, persecution and oppression, in search of safety and opportunity “on the other side.” Complex migration routes and mass exploitation of migrants are among the most urgent humanitarian tests of our time. As criminals work to profit from the plight of those who lack options to safely mobilize – including through the exploitation of vulnerable people at sea – States find themselves under increasing pressure to adapt long-standing international legal frameworks to evolving phenomena.
The result is that States are, understandably, often unsure of and may even dispute their obligation to protect lives in the contexts they encounter migrants at sea. Further, those States that do encounter migrants in need of protection may not be equipped with the capacity and resources required to fulfill their obligations in the areas of the ocean for which they are responsible. The allocation and assumption of responsibility in the maritime context is further complicated by the number of actors – both State and non-State – that may be involved.
Protection of Migrants at Sea provides guidance on applying international legal principles in protecting migrants at sea. The obligations and responsibilities that arise in different jurisdictions are dissected in the contexts of both irregular maritime migration flows and exploitation of migrants at sea. This publication urges that complex (and often overlapping) protection obligations be approached as opportunities to strengthen collaboration towards striking a balance between interests and duties in the interpretation and application of international law at sea.