Sea Rescue NGOs : a pull factor of irregular migration?

The argument that maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) operations act as a ‘pull factor’ of irregular seaborne migration has become commonplace during the Mediterranean ‘refugee crisis’. This claim has frequently been used to criticize humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) conducting SAR off the coast of Libya, which are considered to provide “an incentive for human smugglers to arrange departures” (Italian Senate 2017: 9). In their new policy brief (open access), Eugenio Cusumano and Matteo Villa scrutinise this argument by examining monthly migratory flows from Libya to Italy between 2014 and October 2019. They find no relationship between the presence of NGOs at sea and the number of migrants leaving Libyan shores. Although more data and further research are needed, the results of this analysis call into question the claim that non-governmental SAR operations are a pull factor of irregular migration across the Mediterranean sea.