Record numbers trying and dying to reach Europe: UN
GENEVA // More than 3,400 people have died in the Mediterranean this year trying to reach Europe, the UN refugee agency said, urging governments to take more action to save lives.
More than 207,000 people have made the risky sea crossing since January, almost three times the previous high of 70,000 during the Libyan civil war in 2011, the UNHCR said on Wednesday.
Of these, a record 3,419 died, out of a total of 4,272 reported deaths worldwide on migrant vessels this year.
Most of them set off from Libya bound for Italy and Malta, looking for work or, increasingly, asylum. The numbers include 60,051 Syrians and 34,561 Eritreans.
The figures were released at the start of a two-day meeting in Geneva hosted by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on how to protect people who take to the sea to escape persecution, war, instability and poverty.
Ahead of the talks involving governments, UN agencies and NGOs, Mr Guterres warned that many states seem increasingly preoccupied with securing their own borders rather than preventing the loss of life.
Without naming specific countries, he said: “This is a mistake, and precisely the wrong reaction for an era in which record numbers of people are fleeing wars.
“Security and immigration management are concerns for any country, but policies must be designed in a way that human lives do not end up being collateral damage.”
An arc of conflict around Europe’s southern, eastern and southeastern borders, in Libya, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, has fuelled the numbers heading to the continent.
For many of them Italy is the first port of call and the country has rescued more than 150,000 people from rickety boats so far this year.
But Italy recently ended its Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue operation after its European Union partners refused to help fund it, with critics arguing that saving the migrants was simply encouraging them to try their luck.
Mr Guterres warned: “You can’t stop a person who is fleeing for their life by deterrence.
“The real root causes have to be addressed, and this means looking at why people are fleeing, what prevents them from seeking asylum by safer means, and what can be done to crack down on the criminal networks who prosper from this.”
On Tuesday, Mr Guterres said that 28 countries had pledged to take in over 100,000 Syrian refugees, through resettlement or other humanitarian mechanisms.
There was no clear overview over which countries had pledged what, but Mr Guterres hailed the roles played by Germany, Sweden and the United States in the resettlement programme.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM