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A decade after the Lampedusa shipwreck, the continuing tragedies need to end

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A decade after the Lampedusa shipwreck, the continuing tragedies need to end

Joint statement by the Coordinator of the UN Network on Migration, Amy E. Pope, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi
3 October 2023
Rescued refugees and migrants disembark in Lampedusa

A wooden boat carrying 13 refugees and migrants from Tunisia and Morocco is towed into the port of Lampedusa in October 2020.

When a boat crammed with over 500 women, men, and children sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa 10 years ago, the world said “never again”. 

Today, on the 10th anniversary of that shipwreck, we have not lived up to that commitment; 2023 recorded the deadliest first quarter since 2017 and by 2 October, 2,517 people were accounted as dead or missing this year alone in the Mediterranean. 

Rarely does a week pass without stories from across the globe of tragedies and dramatic incidents, whether at sea or on land routes. They have become appallingly normalized. These tragedies are preventable and the need to provide a meaningful response cannot be put off any longer. Saving lives is not an option. It is a legal obligation. It is a moral imperative. 

We urge further efforts to strengthen cooperation in coordinated search and rescue operations; ensure that migrants and refugees receive life-saving assistance; end the criminalization, obstruction or deterrence of those providing humanitarian assistance; establish effective regular pathways that meet the needs and uphold the human rights of all concerned; counter trafficking and exploitation; and collect data to prevent and resolve cases of missing migrants and refugees and make them publicly available.

In 2018, UN Member States adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. These Compacts were born in part as a response to tragedies such as Lampedusa; intended to be implemented complementarily, they represent historic frameworks. 

The GCM seeks to establish coordinated international efforts to strengthen migration governance, and safeguard migrants. Simultaneously, the GCR is dedicated to strengthening responsibility sharing and facilitating solutions to support refugees.

Our responsibility as a global community is to assist those who embark on perilous journeys in search of a safer and more dignified life for them and their families. As the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire wrote: “No one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” 

Under our leadership, respectively as Director General of IOM and Coordinator of the UN Network on Migration, and as High Commissioner for Refugees, and with the support of the UN system, there will be a renewed commitment to action. 

We have made progress, as seen at the first International Migration Review Forum in May 2022, where Member States called for greater efforts on this. We can, and must, turn these calls into solutions. The Secretary-General, with our support, will develop concrete, actionable recommendations on these issues for the consideration of UN Member States next year. 

The second Global Refugee Forum, organized by UNHCR in December, will facilitate the announcement of concrete pledges, and consider ways in which burden and responsibility sharing can best be achieved, while urging more solidarity with refugees. 

Our approach will be comprehensive and grounded in a deep understanding of some of the root causes and the challenges faced by migrants and refugees along various routes worldwide. And it will be inclusive, drawing on the views, expertise and experiences of our partners: States, humanitarian actors, civil society, and those most directly affected – migrants, refugees and their families. 

It will be up to States to implement them. 

As we mark a decade since the Lampedusa shipwreck, we must redouble our efforts to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. The international community has the capacity to make a difference. Now we must demonstrate we have the will and commitment. 

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