Ahead of a European Council meeting, the United Nations refugee and migration agencies want European leaders to take “decisive action” to save lives of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea seeking a better future.
“To better protect refugees and migrants, we need a strong European Union engaged beyond its borders to protect, assist and help find solutions for people in need,” said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in a joint statement.
They want such efforts to include building capacity to save lives at sea and on land, strengthening the rule of law and fighting against criminal networks.
The agencies also expressed the hope that the meeting will help moves towards the adoption of a common approach to migration by the European Union.
They also appealed for the “deplorable conditions” of refugees and migrants in Libya to be addressed and called for concerted efforts to ensure sustainable migration and asylum systems are established in the north African country as well as in neighbouring countries.
“This should include a significant expansion of opportunities for safe pathways such as resettlement and humanitarian admission, among others, to avoid dangerous journeys,” the agencies said, urging a shift away from migration management based on “automatic detention of refugees and migrants.”
In this context, UNHCR and IOM underlined the need for proper reception services and building capacity to register new arrivals, supporting the voluntary return of migrants, processing asylum claims and offering solutions to refugees.
Further, they together with partners on the ground, have made “tremendous efforts” to deliver basic protection not only to refugees and migrants but also to affected local populations, in some places also in dire need of assistance. The UN agencies, however, expressed worry security constraints continue to hinder efforts.
They also outlined in the current context, “it is not appropriate to consider Libya a safe third country nor to establish extra-territorial processing of asylum seekers in North Africa.”
Expressing hopes that humane solutions can be found to end the suffering of thousands of migrants and refugees in Libya and across the region, the agencies added: “We stand ready to assist and enhance our engagement, conditions permitting.”
Last year, 2016, was the worst year in terms of people dying while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Preliminary figures from UNHCR, of the 363,348 people who crossed, 5,079 people were lost, died or missing..