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Thousands still dying at sea en route to Europe

Tharanga Yakupitiyage in United Nations | January 17, 2018 00:00:00

This frame of a video taken by the Italian Coast Guard on Jan. 6, 2018, in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, shows migrants being rescued from dinghies as they try to cross to Italy. As many as 64 African migrants, including a mother whose surviving 3-year-old child desperately clung to her, are feared dead after a traffickers' overcrowded rubber dinghy from Libya started taking on water and deflating in the Mediterranean Sea. — Italian Coast Guard via Ap Photo

Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places.

Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe.

"[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach to address movements of migrants and refugees who embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean," said spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) William Spindler.

On Monday, the Italian coastguard picked up 60 survivors and recovered eight corpses. Up to 50, including 15 women and six children, are feared to have drowned.

Most recently on January 11, an inflatable boat carrying 100 refugees sank off the coast of Libya. Libya is among the major countries of departure for refugees.

Approximately 227,000 refugees are estimated to be in need of resettlement in 15 priority countries of asylum and transit along the Central Mediterranean route.

Despite appealing for just 40,000 resettlement places last year, UNHCR has thus far received 13,000 offers of resettlement places.

"Most of these are part of regular established global resettlement programmes and only a few represent additional places," Spindler said.

After stories of migrants being sold at an auction and being held in horrific conditions in detention centres were revealed, both UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have helped evacuate hundreds of vulnerable refugees from Libya to Niger.

However, the European Union (EU) has continued its policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean.

"The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity…what was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, adding that the EU's policy is "inhuman."

"We cannot be a silent witness to modern-day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatised people from reaching Europe's shores," he continued, calling for the decriminalisation of irregular migration in order to help protect migrants' human rights.

Human rights officials have also criticised the EU-Turkey deal which returns migrants who have entered the Greek islands to Turkey. Many have found that asylum seekers are also not safe in Turkey as the country does not grant asylum or refugee status to non-Europeans.

UNHCR has called for efforts to strengthen protection capacity and livelihood support in countries of first asylum, provide more regular and safe ways for refugees to find safety through resettlement or family reunification, and address the root causes of refugee displacement.

-Inter Press Service

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