DP16173 Migrants at Sea: Unintended Consequences of Search and Rescue Operations

Author(s): Claudio Deiana, Vikram Maheshri, Giovanni Mastrobuoni
Publication Date: May 2021
Date Revised: November 2021
Keyword(s): Africa, Central Mediterranean, International Migration, migrants, rubber boats, sea crossings, search and rescue operations, smugglers, undocumented migration
JEL(s): F22, H12, K37, K42
Programme Areas: Labour Economics, Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16173

The Central Mediterranean Sea is the world's most dangerous crossing for irregular migrants. In response to mounting deaths, European nations intensified search and rescue operations in 2013. We develop a model of irregular migration to identify the effects of these operations. Leveraging exogenous variation from rapidly varying crossing conditions, we find that smugglers responded by sending boats in adverse weather and shifting from seaworthy boats to flimsy rafts. In doing so, these operations induced more crossings in dangerous conditions, ultimately offsetting their intended safety benefits. A more successful policy should restrict the supply of rafts, expanding legal alternatives migration.