UNHCR welcomes Malta disembarkation of Sea Watch and Sea Eye passengers, calls for better, predictable approach

A man holding a one-year-old child disembarks from the Dutch-flagged rescue ship Sea Watch in Malta.  © UNHCR/Federico Scoppa

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomes today’s news that 49 rescued refugees and migrants on board the Sea Watch 3 and Albrecht Penck NGO vessels have been safely disembarked in Malta. We commend the Maltese authorities for having provided safe port and the decision of the eight European States to receive them. We also commend the European Commission for their role in coordinating the response from Member States.

UNHCR is nonetheless very concerned that the search for a solution to the plight of people rescued at sea and so obviously in distress has taken so long – more than 18 days in the case of the Sea Watch 3, despite the fact that those on board included women and children. This is unacceptable.

“Rescue at sea does not end when someone is pulled out of the water, it means getting them to dry land and a place of safety as soon as possible,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “The imperative to save lives comes above politics and cannot be a responsibility that’s negotiated on a case by case basis.”

Attempts at forging a collective and predictable system for disembarking people rescued on the Mediterranean have been very slow to progress, despite proposals put forward jointly by UNHCR and IOM. As a result an ad hoc approach continues to prevail, and people rescued from the Mediterranean face days or weeks of waiting before being allowed to land.

116,674 people reached Europe via the Mediterranean in 2018, a significant reduction compared to previous years and a return to pre-2014 levels. However, the journey has become more deadly. One life was lost for every 50 people who attempted the journey.

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