Wrapping-up 2023

Humanity 1 auf See von vorne
Danilo Campailla / SOS Humanity

The year is coming to an end. It has become cold – not only on the Mediterranean, but also in our society. 2023 was another year in which the humanitarian plight of people fleeing across the Mediterranean did not improve. On the contrary: for 2,571 people who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2023, all help came too late (IOM, as of 20 December 2023). Our crew documented numerous human rights violations and experienced the direct effects of the European closed door policy at first hand.

In a review of the year, we look back at some of the most important events in 2024:

  • survivors
  • rescue operation
  • volunteer groups
  • petitions
  • awards
Links ein weißes Schlauchboot mit vielen Geflüchteten und rechts das RHIB von SOS Humanity mit der Crew an Bord.
Jana Stallein

Italy’s isolation policy

The past year under Italy’s ultra-right-wing government has once again made civil search an rescue efforts for people on the move in distress more. In January, Italy passed a decree, which was converted into a law in spring, requiring civil rescue ships to sail immediately to an assigned port after the first rescue, even if there are other distress cases in area. SOS Humanity and other organisations criticise this new law as a clear violation of international maritime law, European law and human rights. In addition, the Italian authorities almost exclusively order civilian rescue ships to distant ports with the effect that rescue ships are kept away from the area of operation for a long time. We have filed a complaint against the systematic assignment of distant ports because the unnecessarily long time spent at sea violates the rights of those seeking protection. In addition, several NGOs including SOS Humanity have jointly lodged a complaint with the EU Commission because it is not taking any action against the new Italian law and the distant ports practice.

SOS Humanity Petition Unterschriftenübergabe Innenministerium Berlin Germany 2023/06/07 ©
Wanda Proft / SOS Humanity

Petition “SOS on the Mediterranean”

At the same time, the German government and the EU Commission are neglecting their legal and humanitarian obligations and betraying their own promises. There are still no plans for a European search and rescue programme for the coming year. This is despite the fact that the German government already promised in the coalition agreement in autumn 2021 to strive for “European-supported and state-coordinated search and rescue in the Mediterranean”. Even the 62,589 signatures collected on our “SOS in the Mediterranean” petition, which SOS Humanity presented at a protest in June, could not change this. This means that the civilian fleet will remain solely and decisively responsible for rescuing people in the Libyan search and rescue zone in the southern Mediterranean.

SOS – save our ship!

In August, we were faced with another challenge: Due to financial constraints, we were on the verge of not being able to carry out the next deployment of our rescue ship. However, thanks to the generous donations of many who responded to our emergency call “SOS – Save our ship!”, we were able to continue our life-saving work in the Mediterranean. This would not have been possible without the support of thousands of private donors, institutional donors such as SOS Children’s Villages and Islamic Relief and a grant from the German Federal Foreign Office, which was approved by the Bundestag in 2022.

Support SOS Humanity!

Open-Ship in Siracusa

Fotos in den Scheiben der Brücke der Humanity 1 während der Ausstellung beim Open Ship in Siracusa
Wanda Proft / SOS Humanity
Fotos des Einsatzes der Humanity 1 auf blauem Hintergrund
Wanda Proft / SOS Humanity
Fotos an Bord der Humanity 1 mit Meer im Hintergrund
Wanda Proft / SOS Humanity
Fotos von der Ausstellung während des Open Ships an Bord der Humanity 1
Rebecca Gahr / SOS Humanity
Die Humanity 1 von vorne mit dem gelben Herz im Vordergrund und geschmückt mit Girlanden für das Open Ship.
Wanda Proft / SOS Humanity

In September, our rescue ship was open to the public in the port of Siracusa/Sicily for the first time. Crew members gave a guided tour of a photo exhibition on board and provided insights into our work at sea. Also, our lawyers were present and gave a talk on the legal basis of search and rescue. For four weeks, visitors, journalists and donors were able to find out more and talk to the team of SOS Humanity.

Crewmitglied mit dem Schriftzug "Saving Lives is Not a Crime" auf den Armen, die vor der Brus gekreuzt sind an Bord der Humanity 1.
Camilla Kranzusch / SOS Humanity

BMI plans to amend the Residence Act

In November, a planned amendment to the Residence Act by the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) opens the floodgates to the criminalisation of sea rescuers, humanitarian aid workers and people on the move in Germany. They all face up to 10 years in prison. A decision on this is to be made in the Bundestag at the beginning of the new year.

Sign our petition!

Zwei Crewmitglieder auf einem RHIB von hinten bei der Rettung einer Person, die sich im Wasser befindet.
Jana Stallein

Detention of Humanity 1

While politicians are discussing further restrictions on civil search and rescue, Humanity 1 remains in action. In 6 rescues, our crew was able to save 1,101 people from drowning in the Mediterranean. They always complied with orders of the authorities as well as international maritime law. Nevertheless, our last rescue mission for 2023 ended in December with the Humanity 1 being detained for 20 days in the port of Crotone in Calabria. This was due to false accusations by the authorities. They accused the crew of the Humanity 1 of disobeying instructions – which in fact have never been given at all – during the rescue operation on 30 November, during which 46 people were rescued from the water and a pull-back by the Libyan coastguard was witnessed. Using tape recordings of the radio communication, position data of the ship and photo and video material, we can refute these allegations. Since 23 December 2023, the Humanity 1 has been free again and ready to embark on its next rescue mission in January 2024!

"The topic is extremely important because people fleeing across the Mediterranean are left alone, forgotten, their fate suppressed."
Heike Makatsch und Oliver Mommsen bei der szenischen lesung Tatort Mittelmeer am 03.12.2023 im Thalia Theater in Hamburg.

Reading: Tatort Mittelmeer

We ended the year with two successful events: On 3 December 2023 at the almost sold-out Thalia Theatre in Hamburg, ten actors, some of them known as TV commissioners, presented deeply moving reports from refugees and from sea rescuers from SOS Humanity. Entitled “Crime Scene Mediterranean”, the reading drew the audience’s attention to the daily human rights violations in the Mediterranean, where on average one person drowns every three hours while fleeing. The celebrities made the voices of people fleeing the Mediterranean heard, which are far too often ignored by politics and society. After the reading, the TV presenters collected donations on their own – with great success!

Grafik mit dem Titel SOS SESSIONS in blau und einem gelben Morsecode, darunter runde Portraitfotos von Deichkind, Mine Ätna, Megaloh und anderen Künstler*innen, die für SOS Humanity und die zivile Seenotrettung auftreten.


With the charity music event SOS SESSIONS, which took place on 13 December 2023 at Huxleys – Neue Welt in Berlin, we once again drew attention to the dangers that people have to face when fleeing across the Mediterranean in a completely different way. Between the performances by Deichkind, Mine, Josi Miller, Ätna and Megaloh, Till Rummenhohl, Managing Director of SOS Humanity, and Mirka Schäfer, Political Officer at SOS Humanity, spoke with moderator Hadnet Tesfai about the current situation in the Mediterranean and the contradiction between European closed door policies and applicable human rights. While the artists went full throttle on stage, the audience also donated diligently to the livestream in order to finance the life-saving missions of Humanity 1 in the coming year.

We look to the new year with optimism and hope that civil search and rescue will no longer be hindered in 2024. Political foundations must be laid for legal and safe escape routes so that no one has to embark on the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. But even if the political situation continues to deteriorate, we will remain in action with the Humanity 1 and save lives. Let’s face the headwinds with humanity together and with determination in 2024.

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SOS Humanity e.V.
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SOS Humanity e.V.

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