The plight of migrants and refugees stranded in the Mediterranean Sea and the NGOs devoted to rescuing them dominated headlines over the summer. They were also the main focus of the annual award of the Catalan parliament’s Medal of Honor on Tuesday.

A traditional opener for the September 11 National Day celebrations, this year’s distinction went to the head of the Proactiva Open Arms NGO, Òscar Camps, and the captain of the Sea Watch 3 rescue ship and member of the Sea Watch NGO, Carola Rackete.

The ceremony hosted by journalist Raquel Sans began with a performance of the song “Com plora el mar” by Joan Dausà, while a video made by Catalan television was shown featuring images of the work carried out by Sea Watch and Proactiva Open Arms.

After an introduction by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, who received the Medal of Honor in 2011, parliament speaker Roger Torrent presented the awards to Camps and Rackete, who spoke about the challenges of rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

Attended by government ministers, members of parliament, and representatives of major political and social organizations, president Quim Torra gave a closing address before the Chamber Choir of the Liceu Conservatory sang the national anthem, Els segadors.

Unanimous approval from parliament

Torrent’s proposal to recognize Camps and Rackete was unanimously approved by parliament on July 16, for “the humanitarian task they carry out in the Mediterranean, where they have saved thousands of people from imminent death.”

Catalan activist Òscar Camps set up Proactiva Open Arms in 2015 to offer aid to migrants trying to cross into Europe by sea. German activist Carola Rackete joined Sea Watch in 2016, and as captain of the Sea Watch 3 ship was arrested by the Italian authorities.

The Medal of Honor was created by the chamber’s bureau in 2000 to award individuals and institutions that deserve special recognition. The medal reproduces the design for the parliament logo created by Antoni Comella, adapted by Joaquim Capdevila.

Among previous recipients of the award are Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu (2000), cellist Jordi Savall (2003), the Òmnium Cultural and Càritas Catalunya organizations (2012), tenor Josep Carreras (2014), and medical researcher Manel Esteller (2016).