arrow-down arrow-left arrow-open-down arrow-open-up arrow-right arrow-up close documents dot-arrow-down dot-arrow-right facebook fb-square google instagram linkedin menu search twitter whatsapp

Mediterranean Sea

In 2016, over 300,000 people fleeing wars, persecution, poverty and insecurity attempted to cross the Mediterranean in search of safety and refuge, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

Central Mediterranean

2016 was the deadliest on record: 4,581 men, women and children died attempting to cross from North Africa to Europe. Of the 181,436 people who arrived safely in Italy after being rescued at sea, the vast majority had embarked in Libya. None would have made it to safety without rescue.

During the year, MSF teams were on board three specially equipped search and rescue boats: the Dignity I, a 50-metre vessel with the capacity to take 400 people on board, and a crew of 19 MSF staff; the Bourbon Argos, a 68.8-metre vessel with the capacity for 700 people, and a crew of 11 MSF and 15 non-MSF staff; and the MS Aquarius, a 77-metre vessel run in partnership with SOS MEDITERRANEE, with the capacity for 500 people. All three boats actively searched for boats in distress in international waters north of Libya.

Between late April, when the first boat, Dignity I, was launched, and the end of the year, teams rescued 21,603 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and assisted 8,969 more in over 200 operations.

Medical teams onboard treated violence-related injuries linked to detention, torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence, that people experienced in Libya. Medics treated skin diseases, dehydration, hypothermia, scabies and serious injuries such as chemical burns caused by fuel mixing with sea water in the boats. Pregnant women were cared for by midwives onboard and several babies were born safely at sea. Lifesaving emergency care was also provided in emergency rooms on the boats or through medical evacuations, when needed.

People continued to try to cross the Mediterranean even as winter approached. From October onwards, MSF in collaboration with SOS MEDITERRANEE, ran the only NGO boat continuously carrying out search and rescue in this stretch of sea



Eastern Mediterranean

Despite harsh weather conditions, in the first three months of 2016, 151,452 people made the eastern crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands, the largest number landing on Lesbos. During the same period, 366 men, women and children lost their lives in the Aegean Sea.

MSF provided assistance to boats in distress off the coast of Lesbos until June, when the drop in arrivals meant that the team’s presence was no longer required. Between December 2015 and March 2016, the MSF-Greenpeace rescue operation assisted more than 18,117 people in 361 interventions.

MSF medical teams also treated people on disembarkation and referred 30 individuals to hospital for further assistance, mainly for trauma-related injuries.


No. staff in 2016: 19 | Expenditure: €10.4 million | @MSF_Sea