The purpose of this study is to analyse the various ways in which civil society has mobilised against the practice of criminalising humanitarian actors who bring migrants into Italy and Greece subsequent to search and rescue in the Mediterranean Sea, an offence referred to as ‘facilitating entry’ in the EU. This research is extremely pertinent at this time given the significant increase in criminalisation of humanitarian assistance since the 2015 EU Refugee Crisis. As an on-going problem, the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance has wider implications for both migrants and EU citizens involved in humanitarian work. By looking at both the legal and non-legal forms of mobilisation involved, the aim is to consider how civil society, especially humanitarian actors, justify their actions, and challenge their criminalisation. Based on thirteen semi-structured interviews with researchers, activists and lawyers in different EU member states, qualitative data was obtained on on-going practices of harassment, suspicion, tightening access, and other forms of criminalisation. Secondary sources have also been an important source of data, including court cases, investigative reports, policy reports and academic articles. The findings reveal that humanitarians rely on both legal and moral justifications for their continued search and rescue activities. Additionally, these acts of criminalisation can be conceptualised as acts of lawfare being engaged in by states. Finally, there are various challenges to and potential for legal mobilisation by civil society, which would ultimately need to be weighed before determining whether to pursue strategic litigation against states. Whilst civil society has in fact mobilised against this practice of criminalisation in both legal and non-legal ways, needed policy and legislative reform to curb this practice of criminalisation has not yet occurred. Much will depend on the outcomes of court cases currently working their way through regional and international courts, however, one cannot be certain how these will be decided.

humanitarian actors, search and rescue, Mediterranean Sea, criminalisation of humanitarian assistance, lawfare, civil society, legal mobilisation, strategic litigation
Handmaker, Jeff
Governance, Migration and Diversity (GMD)
International Institute of Social Studies

Chapman, Christal Ruth-Ann. (2019, December 20). Fighting for the right to save others: Civil society responses to the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance. Governance, Migration and Diversity (GMD). Retrieved from