With a new and large-scale boat tragedy reported on the Mediterranean, UNHCR is today appealing afresh to governments across the region to prioritize the saving of lives, including by urgently expanding and upgrading search and rescue capacities.
The latest incident involves the capsizing of a double-deck boat on Monday in waters about 120 kilometres south of Lampedusa. 142 people have been rescued and 8 bodies recovered. But some 400 others said by survivors to have been aboard are feared lost.
“I was deeply shocked when hearing the news that another boat, an overcrowded boat capsized in the Mediterranean and where four hundred people died. This only demonstrates how important it is to have a robust rescue-at-sea mechanism in the central Mediterranean,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Unfortunately Mare Nostrum was never replaced by an equivalent capacity to rescue people, and at the same time the legal avenues for those who need protection to be able to come Europe.”
The Mare Nostrum Operation was a major search and rescue effort on the Mediterranean established by Italy following the Lampedusa disasters of October 2013 in which hundreds of lives were lost in two boat incidents. It was ended in December 2014.
The Mediterranean has emerged in recent years as the most dangerous of the world’s four major sea routes in use by refugees and migrants. The other three main routes involve the Bahamas & Caribbean, the Red Sea & Gulf of Aden, and the Bay of Bengal. In 2014, 219,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean, and at least 3500 lives were lost.
So far in 2015, some 31,500 people are known to have made crossings to Italy and Greece – the first and second largest countries of arrival respectively. And numbers have recently been picking up further. According to the Italian Coast Guard more than 8,500 people have been rescued from several dozen boats and rubber dinghies since 10 April. If the 400 deaths are confirmed from the latest incident the death toll so far this year will have reached 900.
High Commissioner Guterres, who is currently on mission in Beirut, said: “I am here in Lebanon and we know that Syrians are more and more risking their lives to have access to European territories. But for all those in need of protection it is very important to increase the number of resettlement opportunities, humanitarian admission opportunities, to have a more flexible visa policy, to have enhanced family reunification programmes, and again I repeat to have an effective mechanism to rescue people at sea in the central Mediterranean."
UNHCR has been advocating for a comprehensive and urgent response from the European Union and Member States to deal with the challenges posed by the thousands of refugees and migrants who risk their lives trying to reach Europe. UNHCR has shared specific proposals, including establishing a European robust search and rescue operation, a possible EU scheme to compensate shipping companies involved in rescuing people at sea, increasing credible legal alternatives to dangerous voyages – such as resettlement, humanitarian visas, and other innovative solutions – and a pilot relocation programme for Syrians refugees arriving to Italy and Greece.
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