UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that more than 1,000 people had died at sea in the Mediterranean in 2019 in a bid to reach Europe. The statement came on the anniversary of the shipwreck off Lampedusa on October 3, 2013.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi said the majority of the deaths had occurred on the route between Libya and Europe, stressing that since the early onset of the so-called refugee crisis in 2014, "more than 15,000 people have perished in the ... Mediterranean trying to reach safety," Grandi said.
"We can, and must, do better."
IOM has meanwhile confirmed that at least 1,041 people have died in Mediterranean waters this year.
Grandi calls for EU-led rescue mission
Even though the number of people attempting to embark on sea crossings to Europe had dropped sharply in recent years, "proportionately the number of lives being lost has risen" at the same time, Grandi remarked, adding that in the view of UNHCR "full search and rescue capacity urgently needs to be restored in the Mediterranean."
"This should include a return to the seas of an EU state search and rescue operation," Grandi said. Grandi said that all countries in the Mediterranean basin must "uphold their responsibilities for ensuring people are rescued and disembarked swiftly, with saving lives as the core priority".
Gratitude for NGO rescue
Grandi also underscored that it was important "to thank and acknowledge our NGO partners, who over the last few years have played a crucial role in ensuring the death toll was not even higher."
"When they reach land after rescuing people at sea, their boats should not be seized and their crews should not be arrested. Their efforts should be praised, not criminalized nor stigmatized," Grandi said.
Praise for EU initiative
Filippo Grandi also welcomed "the recent discussions among states on establishing a regional approach to disembarking people rescued at sea," highlighting an EU initiative to redistribute sea arrivals among various EU nations.
"At the same time, efforts are needed to address the root causes of why people move, including strengthened support for countries of asylum and transit, and renewed efforts to broker and sustain peace."
Libya 'not a safe place'
"Lastly, we need renewed understanding that in its current violent predicament, Libya is not a safe place for returning people rescued at sea," Grandi stressed.
"People rescued and intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard continue to be returned to Libya and routinely detained inside detention centers, where they face terrible conditions, appalling human rights abuses and the rising threat of being caught up in the hostilities."
The UNHCR meanwhile renews calla for the closure of all such detention centers in Libya.