By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 3 2017 (IPS)
European leaders should take decisive action to address the tragic loss of life on the Central Mediterranean route and the deplorable conditions for migrants and refugees in Libya, urged two major United Nations agencies dealing with migrants and refugees.
“To better protect refugees and migrants, we need a strong European Union that is engaged beyond its borders to protect, assist and help find solutions for people in need,” said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a joint statement.
“This includes building capacity to save lives at sea or on land, strengthening the rule of law and fighting against criminal networks.”
IOM and UNHCR launched their appeal on the eve of the informal meeting of the European Council on Feb. 3 in Valletta, Malta, calling for “concerted efforts” to ensure that sustainable migration and asylum systems are put in place in Libya, when the security and political situation permits, and in neighbouring countries.
They also urged a move away from migration management based on the automatic detention of refugees and migrants in “inhumane” conditions in Libya towards the creation of proper reception services.
“Open reception centres should offer safe and dignified conditions, including for children and victims of trafficking, and respect key protection safeguards.”
The two UN bodies expressed hope that Valetta’s informal summit would also help move towards the adoption of a common approach to migration by the European Union.
“Concrete measures in support of the Government of Libya are needed to build capacity to register new arrivals, support the voluntary return of migrants, process asylum claims and offer solutions to refugees. This should include a significant expansion of opportunities for safe pathways such as resettlement and humanitarian admission, among others, to avoid dangerous journeys.”
IOM and UNHCR reminded that in Libya, together with partners, they have made “tremendous efforts to deliver basic protection to refugees, migrants and affected local populations,” who in some places are also in dire need of assistance.
“Security constraints continue to hinder our ability to deliver life-saving assistance, provide basic services to the most vulnerable and find solutions through resettlement, assisted voluntary return or self-reliance. Unhindered humanitarian access remains a priority.”
“We believe that, given the current context, it is not appropriate to consider Libya a safe third country, nor to establish extra-territorial processing of asylum seekers in North Africa,“ IOM and UNHCR stated, adding that hey hope that “humane” solutions can be found to end the suffering of thousands of migrants and refugees in Libya and across the region.
2016 was the worst year in terms of people perishing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. According to preliminary figures from UNHCR, of the 363,348 people who crossed the sea, 5,079 people –almost 1 in 72 – were lost (died or missing).