Friday, 3 October 2014

UNHCR warns of worsening refugee crisis in Mediterranean

The number of people attempting to enter Europe across the Mediterranean - and dying in the attempt - could triple this year compared to last, warns the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"165,000 people have made the crossing so far this year compared to 60,000 for all of 2013 – making 2014 a record year and reflecting the level of desperation among many of those involved," the world's largest humanitarian body says.  

Most alarming, perhaps, is that the rate of crossings and of deaths has accelerated sharply since the beginning of the summer. "In all, 90,000 people crossed to Europe between 1 July and 30 September and at least 2,200 lost their lives, compared to 75,000 people and 800 deaths for the period between 1 January and 30 June." 

The UNHCR attributes the rise partly to renewed civil war in Libya and an exodus of asylum-seekers from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. 

It calls for "Europe to commit more resources for rescue at sea in the Mediterranean and step up efforts to provide legal alternatives to dangerous voyages." Among the legal alternatives suggested in the past are asylum application points that would be set up in safe countries such as Turkey, Tunisia and Lebanon. 

"We are failing to heed the lessons from the terrible events of last October," said High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterrez on the one-year anniversary of a migrant boat sinking off Lampedusa, in which some 400 Somalis and Eritreans died. "More and more refugees are drowning trying to reach safety," he said. 

Approximately 500 people drowned off the coast of Malta on September 10, when the fishing trawler they were headed to Italy in was deliberately rammed by another vessel. Only 11 people survived

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