If Saving Lives Is a Crime, We Want to Be Criminals: Perceptions of neutrality of Search and Rescue NGOs in the Mediterranean Sea

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Humanitarian work is under threat. This is partly due to the recent developments and the association of NGOs with Western agendas. Some say that holding on to the humanitarian principles such as neutrality is the most effective way for emergency relief. Others claim that striving for neutrality is outdated and therefore less useful in contemporary societies. This research uses method triangulation to view the topic of neutrality from several perspectives. Both qualitative and quantitative research methods have been used to answer the question: to what extent is the level of neutrality of a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) important for people who want to commit themselves to search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean Sea? Ten in-depth interviews, a document analysis of twitter messages on the behavior of NGOs, as well as online surveys led to the following findings. The academic literature on the debate addresses various issues, such as whether neutrality is possible at all, whether it is the most effective modus operandi, whether it can be seen as a new form of neo-colonialism and, finally, whether neutrality has become redundant. This research concludes there are several motivations for people to commit themselves to SAR. Also, a distinction can be made between two types of NGOs; the first type being a migrant-centered NGO, the second a rescue-centered NGO. The dichotomy relates to the debate between New Humanitarians and Traditional Humanitarians, respectively. This typology also strongly came forward in the surveys and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the document analysis.
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