‘Sea of Blood’: the intended and unintended effects of the criminalisation of humanitarian volunteers rescuing migrants in distress at sea

Eleanor Gordon, Henrik Kjellmo Larsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


This paper investigates the impact of the recent criminalisation of humanitarian actors engaged in the search for and rescue of migrants in distress in the Mediterranean Sea, focusing on the impact on the motivation and engagement of humanitarian volunteers in Greece. It argues that criminalisation is aimed at reducing search and rescue (SAR) activities and thus removing perceived ‘pull factors’ for migrants. The paper locates this phenomenon within the broader trend of policing and punishing those who assist migrants in order to deter them and prevent others from engaging in such endeavours. It finds that efforts to criminalise can have the unintended effects of encouraging and mobilising volunteers, as well as generating public attention and support for migrants. However, the negative consequences of criminalisation are far-reaching, including contributing to a high mortality rate among those crossing the Mediterranean without SAR capabilities and the heightened risk of violence against migrants and those who help them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-26
Number of pages24
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • criminalisation
  • humanitarian volunteers
  • migration
  • search and rescue

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