Jolie, UN High Commissioner for refugees warn of escalating crisis in the Med


Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugee families in Valletta: ‘We all need to wake up to the scale of this [Syrian] crisis”

Special envoy Angelina Jolie with a member of the Maritime Squadron (Photo: Justin Gatt)
Special envoy Angelina Jolie with a member of the Maritime Squadron (Photo: Justin Gatt)
American actress, Angelina Jolie, who serves as Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, sits inside a Maltese rescue helicopter at a military base in Luqa, Malta on Sunday, September 14, 2014. Since the start of 2014, more than 2,500 asylum seekers have perished or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean.   (Pete Muller/Prime for UNHCR)
American actress, Angelina Jolie, who serves as Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, sits inside a Maltese rescue helicopter at a military base in Luqa, Malta on Sunday, September 14, 2014. Since the start of 2014, more than 2,500 asylum seekers have perished or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean. (Pete Muller/Prime for UNHCR)
Accompanied by the Deputy Commander of the AFM , Colonel. Mark Mallia and Colonel Spiteri in charge of Operations and officials of the Ministry for Home Affairs, the UNHCR and his envoy were shown several units of the AFM relating to search and rescue operations such as the 4 Regiment's Rescue and Coordination Centre, the Air Wing Base and the Maritime Squadron. Photo by Justin Gatt
Accompanied by the Deputy Commander of the AFM , Colonel. Mark Mallia and Colonel Spiteri in charge of Operations and officials of the Ministry for Home Affairs, the UNHCR and his envoy were shown several units of the AFM relating to search and rescue operations such as the 4 Regiment's Rescue and Coordination Centre, the Air Wing Base and the Maritime Squadron. Photo by Justin Gatt
Photo by Justin Gatt
Photo by Justin Gatt
Photo by Justin Gatt
Photo by Justin Gatt
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mr António Gutteres comments during his visit in Malta

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Special Envoy Angelina Jolie yesterday visited the naval rescue headquarters in Malta on a weekend in which new boat sinkings were being reported off Egypt and Libya claiming more innocent lives. 

Jolie and Guterres met three survivors of one of the tragedies, who had been rescued by a commercial vessel and brought to Malta by the Maltese authorities. 

In Valletta, Jolie also visited Syrian refugee families who survived a similar devastating boat tragedy last October. They included a couple from Damascus whose three small children perished during the crossing, and a doctor from Aleppo whose wife and three year-old daughter drowned. Half of those arriving in Europe by boat are refugees from Syria and Eritrea.

Guterres and Jolie thanked the naval authorities for their part in successful rescue operations that have saved many lives. Amidst concerns about the sustainability of the Italian Mare Nostrum operation, they also called for increased efforts by European nations to contribute to rescue efforts and reduce deaths at sea. 

Over 2,500 people have drowned or gone missing attempting the crossing this year alone, including over 2,200 since the start of June.

"We all need to wake up to the scale of this crisis. There is a direct link between the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere and the rise in deaths at sea in the Mediterranean,” Jolie said.

“We have to understand what drives people to take the fearful step of risking their children's lives on crowded, unsafe vessels; it is the overwhelming desire to find refuge. It is also part of a bigger problem - the soaring numbers of people displaced by conflicts around the world today, which now stands at over 51 million.”

Jolie insisted that unless the root cause of the conflicts are addressed, the numbers of refugees dying or unable to find protection will continue to rise.

130,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, more than double the 60,000 recorded in 2013. Italy has received over 118,000 arrivals, most of them rescued at sea by Italy under its Navy operation Mare Nostrum. 

As the EU and member states search for a better framework for responding to the worsening situation in the Mediterranean, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said: “We don’t have many chances to get this right. Europe’s response needs to be a truly collective effort, one that offers safer ways to find protection while maintaining a strong capacity to rescue people at sea. If it fails, many more lives will be lost at Europe’s doorstep.”

As part of a package based on solidarity and responsibility-sharing amongst states, UNHCR is calling for legal, safe alternatives for those fleeing conflict and persecution, so that they are not forced to attempt the crossing into Europe by sea, including resettlement, admission based on humanitarian needs, private sponsorship schemes, facilitated access to family reunification and the use of programmes such as student or employment visas.

AFM in simulated Search and Rescue scenario

The AFM proudly demonstrated a simulated Search and Rescue scenario off the coast of Malta using an Alouette Helicopter, a Search and Rescue Launch and the Offshore Protector Class Patrol Vessel P52. The United Nations Commissioner expressed his appreciation and had ample words of praise for the work carried out by the AFM personnel.

Following the demonstration of the search and rescue capabilities of the AFM, Guterras said, "I want to pay tribute to the courage, determination and generosity of the members and staff of the Armed Forces of Malta who have been involved in dramatic situations at sea and rescued thousands upon thousands of people from drowning or risking to drown in the Mediterranean sea."

Guterras also emphasised on the importance of the work carried out by the AFM in light of people fleeing their country after surviving personal tragedies and risking their lives for a better life.
The UNHCR also mentioned that the work carried out by the AFM should be recognised by the international community and appealed for strong solidarity with Malta.

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