Mobility Law Open Lab with Professor Itamar Mann, University of Haifa

Refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea on a boat, heading from Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, 29 January 2016
Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe, CC licence 4.0

Floating Sanctuaries: The Ethics of Search and Rescue at Sea

Search-and-Rescue NGOs in the Mediterranean have been increasingly criminalized. This criminalization has chilled conversation about the ethical dilemmas that practitioners face. What, if any, can be the adverse byproducts of rescuing life at sea? 

In his presentation Itamar Mann will present dilemmas involved in search and rescue (SAR) as rescuers have described them and as presented in the 2022 article Floating sanctuaries: The ethics of search and rescue at sea | Migration Studies | Oxford Academic ( (Mann/Mourão Permoser). 

In this article the authors first offer a phenomenological account of search-and-rescue dilemmas by shedding light on the complexity and nuance of the ethical landscape of maritime rescue, revealing an intricate web of interactions acknowledged by rescuers as posing ethical challenges. The second aim of the article is to offer a conceptual framework for what it is that SAR NGOs are, in fact, doing. The authors contextualize their actions within the larger terrain of ‘border externalization’, in which states have moved enforcement activities to extraterritorial zones, where human rights law is diluted or inapplicable. Mann and Mourão Permoser argue that the set of norms underlying NGO rescue practices amounts to a strategy of counter-externalization. The ideal here is that a window of opportunity can be created at sea, where human rights or international law protections more broadly apply, but enforcement powers of states are suspended. By utilizing these legal gray zones to the benefit of migrants, rescuers effectively turn extraterritorial zones from spaces of lawlessness into spaces of resistance. The rescue ship thus becomes a ‘floating sanctuary’.


Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, Professor, Director of MOBILE Center of Excellence for Global Mobility Law


Grant Shubin, Legal Advisor, DIGNITY


Friday 25 August 2023 at 13:00-14:30


Conference Room/Flex Room 8A-0-57, ground floor, Southern Campus

Online participation

For online participation please register using this form. You will receive a Zoom link after you have registered.