Statement to the Central Mediterranean Contact Group Ministerial Meeting

Bern

Federal Councillor,

Distinguished delegates,

Despite a recent drop in arrivals, thousands of people continue to cross to Europe each month. As of 7 November, over 114,000 had crossed the sea to Italy since the start of the year.

I want to stress one important point. These include many in need of international protection, and others with compelling humanitarian needs. Twenty-four percent of those coming through the western African route, and 74% through the eastern African route, receive protection in Europe. This is why I would like to thank Switzerland for having emphasized protection considerations in this third meeting of the Contact Group.

A drop in arrival rates does not mean that the situation is solved; nor can a ‘quick fix’ that succeeds in limiting departures from one area provide a magic solution. We see fewer direct departures from Niger to Libya and more via Algeria and Morocco; and more departures from Tunisia to Europe.

Regrettably, we are seeing little progress towards a resolution of the crises in sub-Saharan Africa that are driving forced displacement. And regrettably, people continue to die at sea: since January, over 2,400 people. Rescue at sea must be sustained and strengthened. I wish to thank States for their considerable efforts, and also to commend the important contribution of NGOs and the shipping industry. No effort should be spared, in line with international maritime and human rights law, to continue to save lives.

I also encourage more States to participate in disembarking those rescued.  I remain concerned that those disembarked in Libya end up in very difficult conditions in detention centres, exposed to considerable risks. More than 17,000 refugees and migrants are currently in detention in Libya. Many others are held by smugglers and traffickers, under the protection of well-known militias.

It is important to support Libyan border management authorities, including the coast guard, as it can help stem flows and avoid deaths at sea. But this will be insufficient and inadequate if no effort is made to also strengthen protection, including through support to a broader range of government entities, including those responsible for reception and asylum.

UNHCR is also playing its part. Together with IOM, we are working on a set of protection and solutions interventions in countries of origin, transit and asylum - addressing the drivers of refugee and migratory flows; strengthening the capacity of countries to address them; and expanding resettlement and other legal pathways. In Libya, this includes support to broader stabilisation efforts and most importantly, attention to the needs of Libyan displaced people and other affected nationals.

Lack of security complicates these efforts; but working in coordination with the Libyan authorities, we are expanding our presence and making progress – as we demonstrated recently in Sabratha, where we worked closely with the authorities to meet the compelling humanitarian needs of refugees and migrants. However, we should have realistic expectations about the pace at which humanitarian efforts can be brought to scale.

More safe and legal pathways are needed, to provide viable alternatives to dangerous irregular journeys – including resettlement opportunities and greater access to family reunification.

I understand that the European Commission has received some resettlement pledges for the period ending in December 2019. At this stage, we only have indications of 10,500 pledges for the countries of asylum and transit linked to the Central Mediterranean routes. This is insufficient. Resettlement is not the only solution, but it is part of the solution. I wish to reiterate my call for 40,000 additional places for these countries. The pledges already made, including in Paris on 28 August 2017, must translate into a more robust and predictable engagement. 

I am particularly grateful to the governments of Libya and Niger for making possible a first transit evacuation of some 25 refugees last Saturday for onward resettlement consideration by France. I call on other States to help establish additional evacuation platforms, and on more EU Member States to support resettlement of future cases. When we cannot bring protection to refugees, we must bring refugees to protection. This life-saving measure is an extraordinary gesture of solidarity and cooperation between Niger and Libya.

More action is also needed on the various routes to strengthen reception conditions and access to protection, so that asylum seekers are able to secure asylum and pursue solutions from the first country of asylum they reach. UNHCR stands ready to implement innovative programmes to address gaps. Unfortunately this requires resources which have not yet been mobilized. Our programmes in Africa for this purpose are currently just 14% funded.

Finally, more action is needed to tackle trafficking, as I told the Security Council two weeks ago. The identities of many traffickers are well-known, and efforts to tackle their operations, including through the use of asset freezes and travel bans, and by disrupting their supply of revenues and materials, must be stepped up. At the same time, greater investments are needed in identifying victims of trafficking; strengthening their access to protection - including safe shelter; and investigating and prosecuting their traffickers, including in Europe.

I am optimistic that by aligning multilateral engagement and bilateral priorities along the routes leading to the Central Mediterranean, we can together secure more predictable and effective support for asylum seekers, refugees and the internally displaced – and ultimately, better protection for those most in need.  

Thank you.