Migrants on board the Aquarius ship as it enters the Grand Harbor in Senglea, Valletta, Malta. Credit: EPA/DOMENIC AQUILINA
Migrants on board the Aquarius ship as it enters the Grand Harbor in Senglea, Valletta, Malta. Credit: EPA/DOMENIC AQUILINA

UNHCR has launched a new appeal for a regional approach to highlight definite disembarkation points for boats that rescue migrants, after having praised Malta's decision to allow the Aquarius to dock at its ports.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, in a statement, expressed its appreciation for the Maltese government's decision to allow the disembarkation of 141 asylum seekers and migrants rescued in the central Mediterranean by the ship Aquarius, which is run by the NGOs SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF). 

It said, however, that this case of stalling in recent days, one of many that have occurred, newly highlighted the need for a regional plan for the Mediterranean area that offers clarity and predictability on a landing point for ships that transport rescued people. "This is essential if further such situations are to be avoided," it said. 

Regional approach for rescues 

UNHCR also lauded European countries that have offered relocation places for rescued passengers post-disembarkation, which it said "demonstrates the benefits that can be reaped from a collaborative approach". However, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said, "The situation should never have come to this in the first place. It is wrong, dangerous and immoral to keep rescue ships wandering the Mediterranean while governments compete on who can take the least responsibility". 

UNHCR has repeatedly called for a regional approach to manage rescue operations and disembarkations in the Mediterranean, and it formulated precise proposals in a joint statement (http://www.unhcr.org/5b35e60f4) on June 27 together with the UN's Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Appeal to ship commanders to continue rescues 

UNHCR also launched an appeal to the ship's commanders to continue their efforts in supporting rescues at sea. "Although the number of people crossing the Mediterranean is today much smaller than in recent years, the rates of people perishing or going missing remains high. Already this year, more than 1,500 people have drowned or gone missing on the Mediterranean," it said. 

"There is an urgent need to break away from the current run of impasses and ad-hoc boat-by-boat approaches on where to dock rescued passengers," Grandi said. "Only with clearly identifiable ports of safety will shipmasters feel confident when responding to distress calls that they'll be able to promptly disembark passengers, and won't become objects of lengthy negotiations." 

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