The article analyses the development of Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations in the Central Mediterranean by NGOs as a controversial but efficient practice and aims to discuss its impact on states’ and EU performances in coping with the migrant and refugee crisis. Using empirical data provided by the Italian Coast Guard from 2014 to 2018, it focuses on these questions: Are non-governmental SAR operations at sea becoming a civilian practice to be associated with governmental ones? Can the consolidation of such practice impact (complement) governmental and intergovernmental policies?
It is divided into three parts. First, civil society organizations, and specifically NGOs, are analysed within the theoretical studies on migration, to stress their roles and approaches and to understand their relevance. Second, the recent use of SAR operations at sea by NGOs to rescue people in the Mediterranean are discussed as a complementary tool to governmental one. Their potentiality to become more than a temporary solution and instead to constitute an innovative and consolidated practice of ‘non-governmental SAR operations’ is assessed. Last, empirical data are used to evaluate the perception of such practice and to discuss its political and social legitimation.European Foreign Affairs Review