‘Swift, courageous’ action needed to stem tide of illegal migration – UNICEF


‘Swift, courageous’ action needed to stem tide of illegal migration – UNICEF

Onboard an Italian ship, a Syrian father holds his one-year-old son as they wait to be checked by doctors. They were rescued in the middle of the Mediterranean. Photo: UNHCR/A. D'Amato

21 April 2015 – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has urged the international community to commit to “swift, collective and courageous action” and address the surge in illegal migration across the Mediterranean Sea which has resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives.

In a statement issued earlier today, UNICEF warned that reports of tragedies on the Mediterranean were becoming “all too frequent and the human cost all too high,” adding that children often shouldered the greater burden of illegal migration and its repercussions.

“Children who find themselves on these journeys are exposed to abuse, exploitation and possibly death and, if they survive, are often placed in unsafe and unsuitable conditions and / or criminalized,” the statement declared.

“We ask that all actions are guided by the best interests of every one of these children, every step of the way,” it continued. “No matter their refugee or migrant status, children are to be cared for in a safe place – and not in a detention facility – with access to education, health, social and legal services with full implementation of existing safeguards especially for the most vulnerable.”

Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum,’ a major search and rescue programme aimed at saving migrants in the Mediterranean, was replaced in December 2014 by the European Union’s current ‘Triton’ operation amid an uptick in sea crossings in the region. Nonetheless, the number of casualties for this year has already grown to 1,600 – almost half of the 2014 total of 3,500.

2015, in fact, has seen some 31,500 people make crossings to Italy and Greece – the first and second largest countries of arrival respectively. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has reported that numbers have also been recently picking up as weather conditions in the Mediterranean improve.

“With the start of the warmer weather in Europe when numbers of migrants are likely to rise, decisive action could avoid more senseless deaths,” UNICEF concurred in its statement.

“This means following the EU’s existing safeguards for unaccompanied minors, strengthening search-and-rescue capacities to save and protect lives, prosecuting human traffickers, and tackling the root causes of migration in countries of origin – conflict, poverty and discrimination – to avoid more tragic losses.”

Meanwhile, UNHCR has announced it has completed its run of interviews with survivors of last weekend’s deadly boat capsizing in which over 800 people are presumed to have died.

The interviews – conducted by UNHCR staff on the ground in Sicily – revealed that the boat departed from Tripoli, Libya on the morning of 18 April with some 850 people on board, including 350 Eritreans as well as people from Syria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire and Ethiopia. Only 28 people are known to have survived the shipwreck.

“The migrants looked exhausted, fragile, astonished to see so many people waiting for them,” said UNHCR spokesperson Carlotta Sami. “They will need psychological support. They are receiving food and water.”

Against that backdrop, in a press release issued earlier this afternoon the UN Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers (CMW) said voiced its shock and dismay at “the appalling loss of life” in the Mediterranean.

“While it is true that there is no magic solution to immediately solve this issue, three things are crystal clear to the Committee,” observed CMW Chairperson Francisco Carrion Mena.

Mr. Carrion Mena outlined the need for enhanced search and rescue capabilities to save people in distress, the better management of migration flows by European authorities, and a greater effort by the international community to tackle the roots causes of illegal migration.

“The drivers of poverty and conflict which push people to take the extreme action of crossing the seas in search of work, peace and decent living conditions are not going to disappear without concerted action by States,” he declared.

Later in the day, the Security Council, in a statement issued to the press in New York, deplored the maritime tragedy, and expressed grave concern at the recent proliferation of, and endangerment of lives by, the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya.

“The members of the Security Council expressed their concern at the implications for regional stability posed by transnational organized crime and illicit activities such as the smuggling of migrants,” said the statement, by which the Council condemned and deplored such acts and underlined the need to bring the perpetrators of these acts to justice.

Against such a backdrop, the Council called for the full implementation by State Parties of the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

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