UNHCR urges Europe to allow 507 rescued passengers to disembark

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Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has called on European governments to allow the immediate disembarkation of 507 people recently rescued in the Mediterranean who remain stranded at sea.

The Agency said that many are reportedly survivors of appalling abuses in Libya and are from refugee-producing countries, and therefore are in need of humanitarian assistance. It is believed that some have already expressed an intention to seek international protection.

Watch: Richard Gere joins Open Arms; Asylum seekers remain stranded at sea

“This is a race against time”

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, stated that this is a race against time.  He stated that storms are coming and conditions are only going to get worse. Cochetel added that to leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather would be to inflict suffering upon suffering. “They must be immediately allowed to dock, and allowed to receive much-needed humanitarian aid”, he stated.

Read: Malta “causing tension” by accepting only 39 immigrants – Open Arms

151 people remain on board the Open Arms vessel while 356 people more have been rescued in recent days by the Ocean Viking.

UNHCR believes that a port of safety should be immediately provided and responsibility shared amongst States for hosting them after they have disembarked.

Many Europeans leaders expressed their shock at the events last month when more than 50 people died in an airstrike on a detention centre in Tajoura, Libya, and as many as 150 others died in the largest Mediterranean shipwreck of 2019.

Read: Updated: 40 immigrants saved by Sea-Eye arrive in Malta

These sentiments must now be translated in to meaningful solidarity with people fleeing from Libya, stated UNHCR. This includes providing access to territory and asylum procedures to people seeking international protection.

Nearly 600 people have died or gone missing

It is believed that nearly 600 people have died or gone missing on the Central Mediterranean in 2019. In comparison to the Central Mediterranean, far more people are arriving, and far fewer people dying, on the Western and Eastern Mediterranean routes.

The Agency believes that increased search and rescue capacity on the Central Mediterranean is needed; and that in this contect, the role of NGO boats should be acknowledged and supported, not be stigmatised or criminalised.

Read: EP president urges immediate assistance to migrants stranded on Open Arms

UNHCR reiterates that intense fighting in Libya, as well as widespread reports of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, means it cannot be considered a safe port, and no one should be returned there.