INTERNATIONAL – A senior United Nations refugee official today stressed the need for urgent action by European nations to protect migrants at sea following recent incidents involving hundreds of people stranded in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach the continent.
Vincent Cochetel, Europe Bureau Director for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in a statement that the arrival in Italy today of a cargo ship carrying some 450 migrants is part of “an ongoing and worrying situation” that European Governments can no longer ignore.
According to media reports, nearly 800 migrants were rescued from another ship found abandoned without any crew earlier in the week.
The use of ships of such size marked a new trend, Mr. Cochetel noted, while underlining the need for urgent and concerted European action in the Mediterranean Sea, along with more efforts to rescue people at sea and stepped-up efforts to provide legal alternatives to dangerous voyages.
“Without safer ways for refugees to find safety in Europe, we won’t be able to reduce the multiple risks and dangers posed by these movements at sea,” he said. “UNHCR thanks the Italian authorities for their response to these latest incidents, despite the phasing down of the Mare Nostrum operation.”
He emphasized his concerns about the ending of that operation despite the absence of a similar European search-and-rescue operation to replace it.
“This will undoubtedly increase the risk for those trying to find safety in Europe,” he said.