UN agencies call on EU to restart migrant rescue operations

European countries must restart government rescue operations for migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and help assist migrants trapped in Libya, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said in a joint statement on 11 July.

“In the past European State vessels conducting search and rescue operations saved thousands of lives, including through disembarkations in safe ports,” the two UN agencies underlined in their joint statement. “They should resume this vital work and temporary disembarkation schemes should urgently be established to share responsibilities within Europe. NGO boats have played a similarly crucial role on the Mediterranean and must not be penalized for saving lives at sea.”

Since 2018, there have been no EU rescue missions across the Mediterranean, leaving only a few ships manned by NGOs volunteering to rescue migrants from drowning. However, rescue efforts by NGO ships have become nearly impossible as countries like Italy have introduced tough new policies banning migrant rescue operations across the central Mediterranean. At least 682 migrants have drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, according to IOM.

UNHCR and IOM also called on EU nations to help assist thousands of migrants trapped in Libya who are facing dire conditions in Libyan detention centres. The UN agencies also called on EU nations to protect the human rights of refugees and migrants.

“As a priority, we ask that 5,600 refugees and migrants currently held in centers across Libya be freed in an orderly manner and their protection guaranteed or evacuated to other countries from where accelerated resettlement is needed,” UNHCR and IOM said in a joint statement.

Germany has called for a joint European effort to take in rescued migrants. The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on EU member states to step up their readiness for migrant rescue operations without waiting for approval from the rest of the bloc.

“We need a coalition of the willing for a binding quota system,” Mass told a German regional newspaper group, adding that his country was “always prepared to take its share of the migrants”.

Italy is also considering proposals to allow rescue operations at sea provided that Italy is not the only country responsible for harboring rescued migrants that reach its shores.  Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi told local newspaper Corriere della Sera that his country is in favor of a new European naval effort to control migration only if those rescued at sea aren’t all transferred to Italy, saying “Migrants are not looking for Italian, Greek or Maltese shores. They are looking for Europe. Therefore we must find a solution within a European framework.”

Italy also supports European proposals to create regional processing centres in North Africa where migrants’ asylum claims could be processed before they arrive in Europe, in order to deter people from making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.  Italy is also in favour of the EU organising direct flights to Europe from the home countries of migrants who are eligible for asylum.

TMP – 31/07/2019

Photo credit: AlejandroCarnicero / Shutterstock.com

Photo caption: The Mediterranean Sea continues to be one of the deadliest routes for irregular migrants.