Securitization of search and rescue at sea: the response to boat migration in the Mediterranean and offshore Australia

Daniel Ghezelbash*, Violeta Moreno-Lax, Natalie Klein, Brian Opeskin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


This article compares the law and practice of the European Union and Australia in respect to the search and rescue (SAR) of boat migrants, concluding that the response to individuals in peril at sea in both jurisdictions is becoming increasingly securitized. This has led to the humanitarian purpose of SAR being compromised in the name of border security. Part I contrasts the unique challenge posed by SAR operations involving migrants and asylum seekers, as opposed to other people in distress at sea. Part II analyses the relevant international legal regime governing SAR activities and its operation among European States and in offshore Australia. Part III introduces the securitization framework as the explanatory paradigm for shifting State practice and its impact in Europe and Australia. It then examines the consequences of increasing securitization of SAR in both jurisdictions and identifies common trends, including an increase in militarization and criminalization, a lack of transparency and accountability, developments relating to disembarkation and non-refoulement, and challenges relating to cooperation and commodification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-351
Number of pages37
JournalInternational and Comparative Law Quarterly
Issue number2
Early online date16 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Australia
  • boat migrant
  • criminalization
  • Europe
  • extraterritorialization
  • human rights
  • maritime migration
  • Mediterranean
  • offshore border control
  • refugee
  • search and rescue
  • securitization


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