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Lecture | Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminar (LIMS)

Maritime rescue. International norm contestation and seaborne migrations

Thursday 4 October 2018
Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminars 2018-2019
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
Conference Room (2.60)

Over the last five years, large-scale seaborne migrations caused over 15,000 casualties in the Mediterranean alone. Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) operations have therefore become crucial to save lives, but also been increasingly criticized as a hindrance to effective border control and a pull factor of irregular migrations. Despite being signatories to all relevant international conventions and facing mixed migratory flows comprising of both economic migrants and refugees, countries like Australia, the United States, Canada, Italy, and Malaysia have developed different approaches to seaborne migrations. Not only governments, but also the different seafarers’ organizations have understood the duty to rescue in different ways.

What explains variations in rescue policies across countries, over time, and between maritime actors?

Drawing on constructivist international relations scholarship, this project conceptualizes maritime rescue as a contested international norm, investigating the role of norm contestation processes in informing the varying interpretation, implementation, and compliance with the duty to rescue. To this end, the project will be based on a structured-focused comparison of maritime rescue offshore Australia, the United States, Canada, Italy, Singapore, Malaysia and Singapore between 1980 and 2010. Specifically, the project consists in two interrelated tasks. First, participants will systematically compare how governments and publics have understood the moral and legal obligation to conduct SAR. Second, participants will examine public and private organizations’ internalization of the rescue norm by examining the discourses and behaviour of Navies, Border and Coast Guards, shipping companies, and NGOs operating in these maritime regions. By funding the first comparative, book-lengthy study of the maritime rescue norm and its ongoing contestation, the project would not only provide policy-relevant insights into the study of human security at sea, but also provide a ground-breaking contribution to the study of international norms and their contestation.


The Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminars (LIMS) aim at fostering further discussion across disciplines on migration-related topics and creating an open dialogue between the speakers and the attendees. The seminars are a platform for those at Leiden University working on migration-related topics.

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