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UNHCR and IOM call for decisive action following Mediterranean tragedy

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UNHCR and IOM call for decisive action following Mediterranean tragedy

16 June 2023
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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are calling for urgent and decisive action to prevent further deaths at sea following the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean, the worst in several years. 

While the number of people onboard the boat, which capsized on 14 June off the coast of Greece, is not clear, it is believed to have been somewhere between 400 and 750, according to various testimonies. So far 104 people have been rescued and 78 bodies retrieved, while hundreds remain missing and feared dead.

The boat was reportedly in distress since the morning of 13 June. A large-scale search and rescue operation was announced by the Hellenic Coast Guard on the morning of 14 June, after the boat capsized.

The duty to rescue people in distress at sea without delay is a fundamental rule of international maritime law. Both shipmasters and States have an obligation to render assistance to those in distress at sea regardless of their nationality, status or the circumstances in which they are found, including on unseaworthy vessels, and irrespective of the intentions of those onboard.

Any action carried out with regard to search and rescue should be conducted in a manner consistent with the obligation to prevent loss of life at sea.

UNHCR and IOM welcome the investigations that have been ordered in Greece into the circumstances which eventually led to the boat capsizing and the loss of so many lives.

Both UNHCR and IOM have been on the ground in Kalamata in southern Greece in close coordination with the authorities providing support and assistance to the survivors including non-food items, hygiene kits, interpretation services and counselling for survivors who are traumatized following the ordeal.

UNHCR and IOM reiterate that search and rescue at sea is a legal and humanitarian imperative.

“The EU must put safety and solidarity at the heart of its action in the Mediterranean. In view of the increased movements of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean, collective efforts, including greater coordination between all Mediterranean States, solidarity, and responsibility-sharing, as reflected in the EU’s Pact on Migration and Asylum are essential to save lives. This includes the establishment of an agreed regional disembarkation and redistribution mechanism for people who arrive by sea, which we continue to advocate for,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

“It is clear that the current approach to the Mediterranean is unworkable. Year after year, it continues to be the most dangerous migration route in the world, with the highest fatality rate. States need to come together and address the gaps in proactive search and rescue, quick disembarkation, and safe regular pathways. These collective efforts should have the human rights of migrants and saving lives at the centre of any response” said Federico Soda, IOM Director for the Department of Emergencies.

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