A group of nearly 60 European and African countries have asked the United Nations refugee agency to help them tackle the sometimes deadly wave of irregular immigration from sub-Saharan Africa into Europe, a flow that frequently involves human traffickers.
The issue is of specific concern to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in that refugees often travel alongside migrants as part of mixed migratory movements.
In a declaration signed in the Moroccan capital Rabat on Tuesday, ministers from 57 countries agreed to form a close partnership to try to manage the unauthorized immigration – in which most people lack the requisite documentation – “in an optimum fashion and in a spirit of shared responsibility.”
They committed themselves to a “comprehensive, balanced, pragmatic and operational approach” and to respect the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees. The Rabat declaration also recognized “the need to provide adequate international protection in accordance with the international obligations of the partner countries.”
It invited international organizations, including UNHCR, to help carry out the agreed recommendations, and Sweden announced that it would provide funding for a 10-point action plan outlined to participants by UNHCR chief António Guterres.
The plan, which seeks to address mixed and irregular migration while protecting the rights of refugees and migrants, calls for judicial and police cooperation against human trafficking and the crime networks that operate irregular immigration routes. Navy, air and land forces would also cooperate in identifying the routes used by migrants.
The conference was called amid a surge in the number of Africans arriving in countries such as Italy and Spain, often crossing the high seas in rickety and rusty vessels. Signatories of the Rabat declaration will meet again within the next four years to review progress in the plan.
Refugees and asylum seekers account for a relatively small proportion of the estimated 200 million people on the move in the world today. In many cases, however, refugees travel alongside migrants as part of mixed migratory movements.