UN agencies urge action to prevent rising death toll at sea
The United Nations refugee agency and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) are joining forces to call for more action to prevent deaths among boatpeople making dangerous voyages across the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Aden and other stretches of water.
“There’s a very mixed flow of people – refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution, as well as migrants seeking a better life – risking their lives on unseaworthy vessels often operated by ruthless smuggling rings who care nothing for human life,” said Erika Feller, top protection official with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The call from the two agencies follows a meeting they held recently in London on the latest trends in irregular maritime migration, the risk to lives and search and rescue obligations.
Ms. Feller, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, was in Yemen recently, where refugees told her about the horrific voyages they had made crossing the Gulf of Aden from strife-ridden Somalia.
UNHCR has reported cases of people crossing from Somalia being brutally beaten and thrown overboard to the sharks, coupled with other abuses. Since the start of this year, more than 5,600 people have landed on the Yemeni coast and at least 200 have died while many remain missing.
With Europe now in summer, people are travelling in small craft – from or through Africa – across the Mediterranean or stretches of the Atlantic and running into trouble, requiring search and rescue operations to be launched, according to UNHCR. Dozens have died and more are missing.
“Finding people clinging to fishing pens, having been dumped in the water by unknown boats at midnight is not a one-off occurrence nor, unfortunately, is the refusal by coast states to allow their disembarkation after rescue,” Ms. Feller said.
Shipmasters often face difficulties when arriving in the nearest port and trying to disembark people they have rescued at sea, whether they are refugees, asylum seekers or undocumented migrants.
The UN refugee agency and the IMO said they intend to work more closely together and will hold a high level inter-agency meeting to forge closer co-operation with all agencies involved to find ways to help alleviate this humanitarian problem.
IMO – the International Maritime Organization – is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.