Problems Related to the Rescue of Asylum-Seekers in Distress at Sea
No. 23 (XXXII) - 1981

Executive Committee 32nd session. Contained in United Nations General Assembly Document No. 12A (A/36/12/Add.1). Conclusion endorsed by the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme upon the recommendation of the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection of Refugees.

The Executive Committee,

Adopted the following conclusions on problems related to the rescue of asylum seekers in distress at sea.

1. It is recalled that there is a fundamental obligation under international law for ships' masters to rescue any persons in distress at sea, including asylum seekers, and to render them all necessary assistance. Seafaring States should take all appropriate measures to ensure that masters of vessels observe this obligation strictly.

2. Rescue of asylum seekers in distress at sea has been facilitated by the willingness of the flag States of rescuing ships to provide guarantees of resettlement required by certain coastal States as a condition for disembarkation. ln has also been facilitated by the agreement of these and other States to contribute to a pool of resettlement guarantees under the DISERO scheme which should be further encouraged. All countries should continue to provide durable solutions for asylum seekers rescued at sea.

3. In accordance with established international practice, supported by the relevant international instruments, persons rescued at sea should normally be disembarked at the next port of call. This practice should also be applied in the case of asylum seekers rescued at sea. In cases of large-scale influx, asylum seekers rescued at sea should always be admitted, at least on a temporary basis. States should assist in facilitating their disembarkation by acting in accordance with the principles of international solidarity and burden-sharing in granting resettlement opportunities.

4. As a result of concerted efforts by many countries, large numbers of resettlement opportunities have been, and continue to be, provided for boat people. In view of this development, the question arises as to whether the first port of call countries might wish to examine their present policy of requiring resettlement guarantees as a precondition for disembarkation. Pending a review of practice by coastal States, it is of course desirable that present arrangements for facilitating disembarkation be continued.

5. In view of the complexity of the problems arising from the rescue, disembarkation and resettlement of asylum seekers at sea, the High Commissioner is requested to convene at an early opportunity a working group comprising representatives of the maritime States and the coastal States most concerned, potential countries of resettlement, and representatives of international bodies competent in this field. The working group should study the various problems mentioned and elaborate principles and measures which would provide a solution and should submit a report on the matter to the Executive Committee at its thirty-third session.