UNHCR calls for urgent action as deaths at sea increase

UNHCR is “calling for urgent support to prevent deaths at sea and to protect refugees and asylum seekers who risk their lives while traveling by land or crossing the sea,” said a UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo at a press conference in Geneva.

In 2021, 1,924 people died or disappeared on the routes of the central and western Mediterranean, while another 1,153 died or disappeared on the sea route from northwest Africa to the Canary Islands. The number of deaths and missing persons reported in 2020 was 1,776 for the three routes. A total of 478 people have also died or disappeared at sea since early 2022.

Boats often in poor condition

Most sea voyages are made in dilapidated inflatable boats in poor condition, many of which have overturned or deflated, causing loss of life.

“The journey from the coastal states of West Africa, such as Senegal and Mauritania, and the Canary Islands is long and dangerous. It can take up to 10 days. Many ships have strayed or disappeared without a trace in this area of ​​the sea, “said Ms Mantoo.

Land routes are also still very dangerous, and many more are believed to have died on the way to the Sahara Desert and remote border areas, in detention centers or while being held captive by smugglers or traffickers. The litany of abuses reported by those who travel these routes include extrajudicial executions, illegal and arbitrary detention, sexual and gender-based violence, forced labor, slavery, forced marriage, and other serious human rights violations.

dangerous trips

The Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequent border closures that continued into 2021, also affected movements to North Africa and European coastal countries, with many desperate refugees and migrants turning to smugglers to facilitate these dangerous journeys.

“UNHCR warns that continued political instability and conflict, deteriorating socio-economic conditions and the impact of climate change could further increase displacement and secondary movements outside countries of first asylum or transit,” the spokesman said.

As part of the launch of its updated protection strategy and solutions for refugees making dangerous journeys on routes to Europe across the central and western Mediterranean and the Atlantic, UNHCR is seeking $ 163.5 million to help and protect thousands of refugees and others.

UNHCR is calling for support to help provide credible alternatives to these dangerous journeys and prevent people from falling victim to traffickers. The approach calls for greater humanitarian assistance, support and solutions for people in need of international protection and survivors of serious human rights violations.

The call covers about 25 countries in four different regions, connected by the same land and sea routes used by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. These are the countries of origin, departure, first asylum, transit and destination.

Guarantee credible alternatives

At the same time, UNHCR urges states to commit to strengthening humanitarian action, development efforts and peacebuilding to address protection challenges and solutions.

UNHCR also calls on the states of these regions, both in Africa and Europe, to strengthen legal frameworks and operational capabilities at land and sea borders and in urban centers, and to guarantee credible alternatives to dangerous travel through inclusion, strengthening youth programs and the local community. development.

“States must ensure unhindered humanitarian access in order to provide essential services to people on the move or stranded on the road, intercepted at sea or detained in detention centers, and to determine whether they have the protection needs of the international community.” said Mrs. Mantle.

“Without this, refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs and others will continue to make dangerous journeys in search of security and protection. Other people, including migrants, will continue to seek a better life, in the hope of finding employment or educational opportunities elsewhere, in the absence of sufficient legal avenues – temporary or long-term – for safe and orderly migration, “he added.

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