As 34,226 Migrants, Refugees Enter Europe, UN Tasks Nations to Address Why People Leave Home

Burdened by the worsening migrants and refugees’ crises, two top agencies of the United Nations- the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)- have tasked nations of the world to urgently address why people migrate.

IOM had last week reported the death of 683 migrants on the three main Mediterranean Sea routes through 199 days of this year which represented 47 per cent of the total (1,449 deaths) confirmed during the same period in 2018.

It also reported that 34,226 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea through July 17, roughly a 34 per cent decrease from the 51,782 arriving during the same period last year.

For instance, arrivals this year to Spain and Greece are each well over 10,000 individuals (28,356 combined) accounting for almost 83 per cent of the region’s total, with the balance arriving in much smaller numbers to Italy, Malta and Cyprus. Arrivals to Greece are 1,352 ahead of last year’s totals from this time last year. Arrivals to Spain are 6,589 fewer.

IOM Director General António Vitorino and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, said in a joint statement that greater efforts are needed to address why people leave their homes in the first place.

The two UN chiefs spoke against the backdrop of the Monday discussions in Paris with European States on addressing the situation on the Mediterranean Sea, and preventing loss of life in Libya.

While welcoming and much-needed talks, they however, warned that as multiple conflicts in North and Sub-Saharan Africa continue unresolved, and development challenges persist, some will continue to seek alternatives for themselves and their families.

The violence in Tripoli in recent weeks has made the situation more desperate than ever, and the need for action critical. For the IOM and UNHCR chiefs therefore, ‘’brokering a lasting peace in Libya must be the overriding priority. The international community should use any leverage it has to bring the warring parties together in dialogue, and establish a political solution that restores stability and security.’’

According to them, ‘’we welcome the consensus at the Monday meeting on a need to end the arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants in Libya. There needs to be a process of orderly release of people in detention centres either to urban areas, or to open centres that allow reasonable freedom of movement, shelter, assistance and protection from harm, plus independent monitoring and regular unhindered access for humanitarian agencies.

‘’In light of the risks of abuse, maltreatment or death, no one should be returned to detention centres in Libya after being intercepted or rescued at sea. The renewed commitment from States to preventing loss of life on the Mediterranean Sea is also encouraging.

‘’The status quo, where search and rescue operations are often left to NGO or commercial vessels, cannot continue. An European Union (EU) State search and rescue operation, similar to programmes we have seen in recent years, is needed.

‘’The crucial role played by NGOs must be acknowledged. They should not be criminalised nor stigmatised for saving lives at sea. Commercial vessels, who are increasingly being relied upon to conduct rescue operations, must not be requested to transfer rescued people to the Libyan Coast Guard, nor directed to disembark them in Libya, which is not a port of safety.’’

Continuing, Vitorino and Grandi added, ‘’discussions on establishing a temporary, predictable arrangement for disembarking people after they have been rescued at sea, and sharing responsibility amongst States for hosting them afterwards, were promising. We encourage these talks to progress further. A joined-up approach to this situation is in everyone’s interests.

‘’In the meantime, evacuations and resettlement out of Libya continue to be a vital lifeline for people facing an immediate threat to their lives. We continue to urge States to work with us to get the most vulnerable refugees in Libya out of danger, and we welcome the expressions of support in this regard that have been heard on Monday.’’

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