Main Debates

  • Who has responsibility for asylum-seekers intercepted or rescued at sea?

How does the position change if they are intercepted or rescued by Member States’ registered vessels in

  1. Member States’ territorial waters?
  2. International waters?
  3. The waters of third states?
  • What are the legal responsibilities of State vessels taking part in joint maritime border control operations, such as those led by Frontex?

Main Points

  • Interaction between international law of the sea and rules of refugee and human rights law
  • Ensuring respect for the principle of non-refoulement in the operational context of border management
  • The (il)legality of the Italian ’push-back’ policy

EU Documents

  1. European Commission, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Members States of the European Union, COM (2013) 197 final, 12 April 2013.
  2. Commission Staff Working Document, Study on the international law instruments in relation to illegal immigration by sea, SEC (2007) 691, 15 May 2007.

UNHCR Documents

  1. UNHCR, ExCom, ‘Protection Safeguards in Interception Measures’, Conclusion No. 97 (LIV), 10 October 2003.
  2. UNHCR, ’Background Note on the Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees Rescued at Sea’, 18 March 2002.
  3. UNHCR, ’Rescue at Sea. A Guide to Principles and Practice as Applied to Migrants and Refugees’, September 2006.
  4. UNHCR, ’Global Initiative on Protection At Sea’, High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges, 1 May 2014.
  5. UNHCR, ’Rescue at Sea, Stowaways and Maritime Interception: Selected Reference Materials’, 2nd edition, December 2011.
  6. UNHCR, ’Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: The 10-Point Plan in Action’, February 2011
  7. UNHCR, ’Refugees and Asylum-Seekers in Distress at Sea – how best to respond? Summary Conclusions ('Djibouti Conclusions')’, 5 December 2011.
  8. UNHCR, ’Co-chairs' Summary: International Workshop on the Protection of Irregular Movements of Persons at Sea’, Jakarta, Indonesia, 21-22 April 2014.
  9. UNHCR, ’Co-Chairs' Summary: Mapping Disembarkation Options: Towards Strengthening Cooperation in Managing Irregular Movements by Sea’, 4 March 2014.
  10. UNHCR, ’UNHCR Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI): EU solidarity for rescue-at-sea and protection of refugees and migrants’, 13 May 2014.
  11. UNHCR, ‘Submission by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the Case of Hirsi and Others v. Italy’, Application no. 27765/09, 29 March 2011.


  1. E.P. v. Council (C-355/10), Court of Justice of the European Union, 5 September 2012.
  2. Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy, Application no. 27765/09, Grand Chamber, European Court of Human Rights, 23 February 2012 (See also Section VI.2.3).
  3. Regina v. Immigration Officer at Prague Airport and Another, Ex parte European Roma Rights Centre and Others, (UNHCR intervening), 9 December 2004, UKHL 55; 2005, 2 AC 1.



  1. V. Moreno-Lax, ‘Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 23, no. 2 (2011), pp. 174-220.


  1. E. Papastravridis, ‘’Fortress Europe’ and FRONTEX: Within or Without International Law?’, Nordic Journal of International Law, vol. 79, no. 1 (2010), pp. 75-111.
  2. R. Barnes, ‘Refugee Law at Sea’, International and Comparative Law Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 1 (January 2004), pp. 47–77.
  3. A. Fischer-Lescano, L. Tillmann & T. Tohidipur, ‘Border Controls at Sea: Requirements under International Human Rights and Refugee Law’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 21, no. 2 (April 2009), pp. 256–296.
  4. M. Pugh, ‘Drowning not Waving: Boat People and Humanitarianism at Sea’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 17, no. 1 (March 2004), pp. 50–69.
  5. R. Weinzierl & U. Lisson, 'Border Management and Human Rights. A Study of EU Law and the Law of the Sea', German Institute for Human Rights, 2008.
  6. G. S. Goodwin-Gill, ‘The Right to Seek Asylum: Interception at Sea and the Principle of Non-Refoulement’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 23, no. 3 (2011), pp. 443-457.
  7. S. Klepp, ‘A Double Bind: Malta and the Rescue of Unwanted Migrants at Sea, a Legal Anthropological Perspective on the Humanitarian Law of the Sea’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 23, no. 3 (2011), pp. 538-557.