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18 October 2018

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Italian Coast Guard rescues migrants and refugees bound for Italy. Photo: Francesco Malavolta/IOM

UNHCR, IOM Appeal to European Leaders to Tackle Mediterranean Deaths

Brussels – Ahead of this week’s meeting of European Union (EU) Heads of State and Government, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IOM, the UN Migration Agency, are together appealing to European leaders to urgently take steps to address this year’s record rate of drownings on the Mediterranean Sea.

The leaders of the two organizations warn that political discourse concerning refugees and migrants, particularly those arriving by boat, has become dangerously toxic in some countries, even at a time when arrivals to Europe are declining. This narrative is stoking unnecessary fears, making it harder for countries to work together and blocking progress towards solutions.

“The current tenor of the political debate – painting a picture of Europe under siege – is not only unhelpful but completely out of touch with reality,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “Arrival numbers are falling but the rate at which people are losing their lives is on the rise. We cannot forget that we are talking about human lives. Debate is welcome – scapegoating refugees and migrants for political gain is not.”

“Perilous irregular migration is in no one’s interest. Together we must invest more in regular migration, enhanced mobility and integration to foster growth and development that benefits both sides of the Mediterranean,” said IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino.

With more than 1,700 lives lost since the start of 2018, the rate at which people are drowning while trying to cross the Mediterranean has risen sharply this year.  In September alone, one person died or went missing for every 8 people who crossed to Europe on the Central Mediterranean, in large part due to reduced search and rescue capacity.   

In addition to the need to enhance search and rescue capacity, UNHCR and IOM have proposed a workable regional arrangement that would make disembarkation and processing predictable and swift.

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Junior: "It was 4am on the day the smugglers loaded 300 people onto the boat. Many fell into the water - the smugglers called it a sacrifice."

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