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UNHCR calls for regional responsibility-sharing, identifying the situation in the Mediterranean as an 'opportunity'


UNHCR calls for regional responsibility-sharing, identifying the situation in the Mediterranean as an 'opportunity'

The UN Refugee Agency's protection chief says restrictive policies, like push-backs and border closures, do not stop people from undertaking dangerous journeys, and that joint efforts could be undertaken to address the continued movement of refugees and migrants along the Central Mediterranean.
7 April 2017
A young Syrian couple who were rescued from the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy wait to board a bus at the port of Taranto, Italy, in June 2014.

NEW YORK – The protection chief at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, called today on countries to consider developing a regional mechanism to better deal with the flow of migrants and refugees across the Central Mediterranean, noting that restrictive policies forced people into the hands of people smugglers.

In a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York, Volker Türk, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said that it was essential to “counter the narrative of unmanageable crises and the rhetoric of isolationism”, while encouraging States to consider innovative responsibility-sharing mechanisms.

Speaking during a session devoted to migration in the Mediterranean basin, he said: “It may be timely to explore the prospects for developing a comprehensive regional approach for the situation of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean.”

He noted that without safety, basic rights, regular status and education for their children, many refugees would be forced to move onward.

So far this year, more than 30,200 refugees and migrants have chanced their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, and at least 905 have died or gone missing making the journey.

Calling for the establishment of a joined-up, regional mechanism to improve search-and-rescue operations for people at peril in the Mediterranean Sea, Türk suggested that a joint commitment to those who had been saved, as well as shared responsibility for rescue operations and reception capacities, including through temporary stay arrangements pending refugee resettlement, local solutions or assisted voluntary return for non-refugees, could help address the continued movement.

Noting that the number of arrivals this year was higher than at this time last year, he said a comprehensive regional approach could be developed to address the continued movement of refugees and migrants across the Central Mediterranean, stating that, “with the right systems in place and a willingness to cooperate”, the situation could be addressed.

“In this respect, the Mediterranean Sea is also a symbol of the potential for collective action and responsibility in the face of the challenges wrought by displacement.”

Referring to the recent Brussels Conference on Syria, Türk also urged “timely financial support and strengthened cooperation between humanitarian and development actors.”

"The Mediterranean need not be only a symbol of the complex world of conflict, violence and displacement in which we are living, but also a harbinger of hope for a different kind of engagement – one that is rooted in a deep sense of responsibility to one another and founded in a spirit of compassion and fundamental humanitarian values," he concluded.

For the full speech, click here.