UNHCR calls on States to uphold principles of rescue-at-sea and burden sharing

UNHCR appeals to shipmasters to continue rendering assistance to overcrowded boats leaving Libya.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is calling on the European Union to urgently put into place more reliable and effective mechanisms for rescue-at-sea.

More than 220 Somali, Eritrean and Ivorian refugees drowned early on Wednesday morning when their boat capsized some 39 nautical miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. This is the worst such incident in the Mediterranean in recent years, UNHCR said.

“It is hard to comprehend that at a time when tens of thousands are fleeing the Libyan conflict and pouring across the land borders into Tunisia and Egypt where they enjoy safety and receive shelter and aid, the protection of people fleeing via Libya’s maritime border does not appear to have the same priority,” said Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller.

So far more than 450,000 people have crossed from Libya into neighbouring Tunisia, Egypt, Niger, Algeria, Chad, Sudan, Italy and Malta. However, many more are trapped by the fast-moving conflict in Libya. UNHCR is particularly concerned about refugees and asylum seekers in Misrata and other Libyan towns. As the situation in Libya deteriorates, many may have to consider flight by sea as their only option.  

The seas in front of the Libyan coastline are among the busiest in the Mediterranean. In addition, there are now large numbers of military and other vessels in this area.

“A longstanding tradition of saving lives at sea may be at risk if it becomes an issue of contention between states as to who rescues whom. That is why we urgently need a more operational and better functioning search and rescue mechanism,” said Feller.

“We also appeal to shipmasters to continue to render assistance to those in distress at sea. Any overcrowded boat leaving Libya these days should be considered to be in distress.”

Within the EU, Italy and Malta are the two states which have borne the brunt of the displacement and migration prompted by events in northern Africa and are likely to see more arrivals. In light of possible new arrivals from Libya of people who may be in need of international

protection UNHCR is calling for active consideration of concrete responsibility and burden sharing measures particularly among EU member countries.

Such measures could include technical and financial support, and the use of the EU Temporary Protection Directive which aims to harmonize temporary protection for displaced people in cases of “mass influx” on the basis of solidarity between member states.

“Although the temporary protection mechanism established by the Directive has not been used yet, it is important for EU countries, namely Italy and Malta in this case, to be reassured that such support and solidarity would be forthcoming should the circumstances so demand,” said Feller.

The UN refugee agency is also calling on EU Member States, together with other resettlement countries to offer additional resettlement places for refugees in North Africa, as resettlement is the only durable solution that is feasible for some. UNHCR's recent calls on this front have met with only a limited response.

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Whose interest serves the EURO? Ours? I doubt it. It serves the Germans the French and the Italians alright; but apart from its monetary grip on the economies on the periphery of Europe, the EURO is supposed to symbolise also in words and action- the unity of Europe, the solidarity and its subsidiarity. Its all hambug I say, and the illegal immigration saga and the dumping of all the unfortunate of the world on Malta is a proof of it!
France, Germany and the rest of the EU would only be accepting migrants if they have legal travel documents and money; and we, this tiny rock in the Med, are supposed to save the whole of Africa? Malta should be as democratic as the USA is with the Mexicans, as Australia is with the Asians, as the UK is with the fleeing Libyans, and as the French and Germans-and the rest of the EU for that matter- are with the illegal immigrants. We will take a few thousands, but no more. I have a life to live and a family to feed; I am not the second saviour of the world.We are going to be inondated with the unfortunate of the world. Enough is enough: the EU is built on money, self interest and egoism; its a club that we can't afford and where we have no clout! Busutill and GonziPN might blow their trumpets, but it will only serve to deepen our misery. Our future is threatened by this incompetent and worthless leadership.
Louise Vella you go from one article to another copying and pasting the same comment? not only you are obnoxious but also boring.
What we need to do give them Schengen Visa and let them go legally.
Suppose Italy plays another trick on us and does not take the illegal immigrants it is supposed to take, are we going to pick up an unlimited number of illegal immigrants who knowingly put their own lives in danger? Charity has limits. Would we be charitable enough if we accept 1000 illegal immigrants per week? Or does UNHCR (which has never cared about Malta's national interests) expect us to take 10 000 a week?