As of October 10th, 1071 deaths of migrants were recorded in the Mediterranean in 2019. In their attempt to save lives, civilian maritime search and rescue organisations like Sea Watch or Proactive Open Arms have gained high levels of media attention over the last years. Cases such as the arrest of the captain of the Sea Watch 3, Carola Rackete, in June 2019 or the three weeks odyssey of Open Arms in August 2019 dominate the media and public discourse in Europe. The closing of ports in Italy, Spain and Malta, the confiscation of vessels, legal proceedings against crew members alongside tight migration policies and anti-trafficking laws have led to a shrinking space for principled humanitarian action in Europe. While maritime search and rescue (SAR) activities receive most of the attention, focusing solely on them prevents one from seeing the bigger picture: a general shrinking of humanitarian space in Europe. In the following, the analysis will shed some light on patterns in which the space for assisting and protecting people on the move is shrinking both on land and at sea.
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