Aphrodite Papachristodoulou

Thesis Title: 

European Migration Crisis: Operationalising the Right to Life at Sea 


Dr Richard Collins


The law of the sea imposes a long-established duty to rescue persons in distress at sea which connotes one of the most important tools in safeguarding safety of life at sea. The project will provide an overview of the international legal framework governing search and rescue: the duty to render assistance at sea, the concept of ‘place of safety’, and particular emphasis will be placed on understanding the enforcement problems associated with search and rescue activities.

The recent European refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea has highlighted ambiguities in the law in this regard that have arguably hindered the duty to save lives, as humanitarian concerns have been compromised by political interests in protecting European borders. The need to rethink Europe's response has never been more critical. As such, through an empirical analysis of contemporary practice - the EU migratory policy and the actors that play out in the maritime space (including, merchant and civil rescue vessels) - the aim is to show a direct causal link between EU policy and the increasing loss of life in the Mediterranean, as well as the potential human rights at stake. However, I will demonstrate that through a necessary integration between the fields of human rights law, refugee law and the law of the sea, it is possible to advance humanitarian objectives and plug accountability gaps to better operationalise the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea. Specifically, my thesis will argue that by placing emphasis on the evolving, positive aspects of the right to life it is possible to offer a reading of the search and rescue framework that more readily protects human life. The thesis will further consider how best to realise this ambition by considering how human rights obligations filter down to the relevant actors involved at sea.

In an attempt to unfold the challenges that surround migration by sea in today’s European refugee crisis, the thesis will try to stimulate suggestions for reforms and possible ways in which it might be possible to reconcile the conflicting arenas of protecting human life versus protecting “European” borders and States’ territorial integrity. In light of the scarce literature addressing the right to life at sea and in response to the ever-growing number of migrants perishing in the Mediterranean, the time is ripe to address and operationalise the protection of life at sea in a coherent manner. The study aims to fill this gap by adopting an innovative approach by extensively discussing the implications of recognising a ‘right to be rescued at sea’ and thereby exploring new avenues of protection.



Aphrodite Papachristodoulou is a PhD researcher at the Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin (UCD) and is a member of the UCD Centre of Human Rights. She lectured International Human Rights Law at UCD, and her research interests include refugee law, human rights and law of the sea. Aphrodite’s PhD project focuses particularly on the European migration crisis and the saving of lives at sea. She holds an LLB from the University of Southampton, UK and a Master’s degree in Maritime Law from University College London (UCL), UK. Prior to joining UCD, Aphrodite worked and qualified as a lawyer at the Cyprus Bar Association (2015-2017).


Presentations and/or Publications:

  • Taken part in a poster session at UCD where I showcased my PhD project and conveyed my early research findings amongst colleagues from various departments of the University.
  • Presented my research at the UCD Annual Graduate Symposium (May 2018).
  • Co-authored a paper with Dr Richard Collins, entitled ‘Pulling Back Navies and Pushing Back Migrants: Questioning the EU’s International Legal Responsibility in the Mediterranean Sea’ that was presented at the International Conference: 'The EU as a Global Actor in Maritime Security' at the University of Leiden (October 2018). The paper shall be published in 2019.