UNHCR calls on Europe to show solidarity as over 500 migrants remain stranded at sea

Rather than stigmatising and criminalising NGOs operating in the Mediterranean, the UNHCR said that they should be acknowoledged and supported

The UNHCR has called on the governments of EU member states to immediately allow the disembarkation of 507 migrants rescued in the central Mediterranean who remain stranded at sea.

“Many are reportedly survivors of appalling abuses in Libya and are from refugee-producing countries. They are in need of humanitarian assistance, and some have already expressed an intention to seek international protection,” the UNHCR said.

151 people remain stranded on the Open Arms which is operated by the NGO Proactiva Open Arms, including a group of 39 migrants rescued by the vessel within Malta’s search and rescue area.

Meanwhile, the vessel Ocean Viking, which is operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is reported to have 356 people on board who rescued in four operations over a four-day period.

“This is a race against time,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean. “Storms are coming and conditions are only going to get worse. To leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather would be to inflict suffering upon suffering. They must be immediately allowed to dock, and allowed to receive much-needed humanitarian aid.”

The UNHCR insisted that the two vessels should be provided a safe port to disembark the migrants and that member states should share the responsibility for their relocation.

The agency noted that many European leaders expressed their shock at the events last month when more than 50 people died in an airstrike on a detention centre in Tajoura, Libya, and when as many as 150 others died in the largest Mediterranean shipwreck of 2019.

“These sentiments must now be translated in to meaningful solidarity with people fleeing from Libya. This includes providing access to territory and asylum procedures to people seeking international protection,” the UNHCR said.

It added that nearly 600 people had gone missing in the central Mediterranean so far this year. Far more people were arriving and far fewer people were dying on the Western and Eastern Mediterranean routes.

The UNHCR Called for increased search and rescue capcity in the central Mediterranean, insisting that NGO vessels should be “acknowledged and supported”.

“Their efforts are saving lives, and they should not be stigmatised nor criminalized,” the agency said, adding that more efforts were required to move refugees out of Libya.

“No one should feel they are better off risking their life, and the lives of their families, on these often-fatal boat journeys. Faster and increased safe and legal pathways to asylum are needed, including evacuations and resettlement,” the UNHCR said.

It reiterated that the “intense fighting in Libya, as well as widespread reports of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, [meant] it cannot be considered a safe port, and no one should be returned there”.

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