IOM Applauds Italy’s Life-Saving Mare Nostrum Operation: “Not a Migrant Pull Factor”
Switzerland - IOM has paid tribute – on the occasion of the launch of the European Union (EU) Operation Triton in the Mediterranean – to the heroic work of Italy’s maritime forces in rescuing at sea thousands of migrants seeking safety in Europe.
Under Italy’s “Mare Nostrum” operation, some 150,000 so-called “irregular” migrants, many of them from the most troubled nations in Africa and the Middle East, have arrived safely over the past 10 months in Europe, where today many are pursuing claims for asylum.
IOM notes that despite the rescue efforts of Italy and other Mediterranean coastal nations – including Greece, Malta and Spain – an estimated 3,200 migrants have perished attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2014, many of them victims of ruthless criminal gangs seeking to profit from the misery of men, women and children fleeing conflict and oppression.
Despite the rising number of migrants rescued, IOM does not believe that Europe is faced with an “invasion” along its southern coast, nor that the safety net provided by Mare Nostrum represented a “pull factor”.
“The emergency is not in the number of people involved, but in the humanitarian and operational consequences,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing. “This is not a crisis of a so-called ‘excess’ of migrants overburdening the continent, but an emergency of more people needing protection, aid and safe migration channels, especially for those not covered by existing protection systems.”
Saving lives, as Mare Nostrum has done, remains the top priority, Director General Swing said, adding that rescue at sea operations should continue to be supported through a concerted EU approach.
“Boat arrivals to Europe are a result of the complex humanitarian crisis near Europe’s external borders – not of the humanitarian life-saving policies that try to assist those in need. At a time when countries in North Africa, the Middle East and East Africa are hosting millions of displaced persons, compared to a few hundred thousand in all of Europe, the European reaction should be balanced and compassionate,” he noted.
“IOM will monitor the actions of EU member states under the new Operation Triton, whose impact on life-saving activities will need to be seen. This operation, which will be carried out only within 30 miles off the Italian coast, cannot be considered a replacement of Mare Nostrum. The Mediterranean still needs to be patrolled as it has been done so far: in terms of means, scope and geographical extension. The flows of migrants will probably be the same for some time and therefore the risk of shipwrecks will not decrease,” he said.
“Rescue at sea cannot, however, be the only solution. Alternatives must be offered to those who risk their lives at sea, and the most important one is to provide legal channels to Europe for migrants seeking international protection,” he added.
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