Senior United Nations officials today stressed the need for urgent action to protect migrants at sea following recent incidents in the Mediterranean involving hundreds of people stranded while attempting to reach Europe.
Vincent Cochetel, Europe Bureau Director for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in a statement that the arrival in Italy today of a cargo ship carrying some 450 migrants is part of “an ongoing and worrying situation” that European Governments can no longer ignore.
According to media reports, nearly 800 migrants were rescued from another ship found abandoned without any crew earlier in the week.
The use of ships of such size marked a new trend, Mr. Cochetel noted, while underlining the need for urgent and concerted European action in the Mediterranean Sea, along with more efforts to rescue people at sea and stepped-up efforts to provide legal alternatives to dangerous voyages.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson also commented on the new “appalling trend” of traffickers abandoning larger cargo ships laden with migrants in the Mediterranean.
This is the latest cynical chapter in the ongoing tragedy of irregular migration at sea that has resulted in 3,000 reported deaths in the Mediterranean alone in 2014, compared to an estimated 700 migrant deaths in the same waters in 2013, according to a readout of Mr. Eliasson’s discussions on migration.
The deputy UN chief held talks today with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration and Development Peter Sutherland, and Director General of the International Organization for Migration William Swing.
He commended the ongoing rescue efforts, in particular by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard, and emphasized the responsibility held by countries of destination, transit and origin to ensure the protection and human rights of migrants.
Mr. Eliasson’s views were echoed by Mr. Cochetel, who noted UNHCR’s gratitude to the Italian authorities for their response to the latest incidents, despite the phasing down of the Mare Nostrum operation.
Mr. Cochetel emphasized his concerns about the ending of that operation despite the absence of a similar European search-and-rescue operation to replace it.
“Without safer ways for refugees to find safety in Europe, we won’t be able to reduce the multiple risks and dangers posed by these movements at sea,” he said.