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UNHCR appalled at news of refugee and migrant deaths on Mediterranean Sea

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UNHCR appalled at news of refugee and migrant deaths on Mediterranean Sea

19 January 2019
An aerial shot of the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily, May 2011.

UNHCR is deeply saddened at emerging reports of an estimated 170 people who either died or went missing in two separate shipwrecks on the Mediterranean Sea.

Some 53 people have died on the Alborán Sea, western Mediterranean, according to recent information from NGO sources. One survivor is understood to have been rescued by a passing fishing boat after being stranded for more than 24 hours at sea and is receiving medical treatment in Morocco. Moroccan and Spanish rescue vessels have been searching for the boat and survivors for several days to no avail. 

The Italian Navy are also reporting an additional shipwreck on the central Mediterranean. Three survivors were taken for treatment on Lampedusa, and reported that 117 people, who are currently dead or missing, were on board with them when they departed from Libya.

UNHCR has been unable to independently verify the death tolls for both shipwrecks.

“The tragedy of the Mediterranean cannot be allowed to continue,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “We cannot turn a blind eye to the high numbers of people dying on Europe’s doorstep. No effort should be spared, or prevented, from saving lives in distress at sea.”

In 2018, 2,262 people lost their lives attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. UNHCR is concerned that actions by States are increasingly deterring NGOs from conducting search and rescue operations, and is calling for these to be lifted immediately.

At the same time, greater efforts are needed to prevent refugees and migrants from taking these desperate journeys in the first place. More safe and legal pathways to access asylum in Europe are needed for those fleeing war and persecution so that no one feels they have no other choice than to put their lives in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers and smugglers. 

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