Irregular migration by sea leads states such as Italy and Australia to conduct maritime rescue operations involving refugees and other migrants. During these operations, states must deal with the question of where to disembark survivors. The law of the sea regime obliges states to ensure survivors are delivered to a ‘place of safety’, arguably requiring maritime officers to merely consider the physical safety of survivors immediately on disembarkation. Non-binding International Maritime Organization guidelines state that the need to avoid disembarking refugees and asylum-seekers in the states of departure or origin is also a consideration. The guidelines refer to other ‘relevant’ international law, including treaties dealing with ‘refugee refoulement’ or refoulement in connection with a risk of torture. Under the international human rights law regime, including international refugee law, states’ obligations in relation to non-refoulement are broader and prohibit the return of refugees and migrants to states where they directly or indirectly face persecution, torture or other serious harm. In interpreting ‘place of safety’, this work argues that there is insufficient consensus to integrate the two legal regimes. Nevertheless, states can be under co-existing human rights obligations that place limits on disembarkation of rescued refugees and migrants.