EU, UNHCR speak out after Lampedusa tragedy

European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Cecilia Malmström and the head of the UN High Commission for Refugees António Guterres are among those to have spoken out after the sinking of a boat carrying an estimated 500 African would-be migrants off the Italian island of Lampedusa led to more than 300 deaths.

Italy announced that it was holding a day of national mourning on October 4, a day after the sinking of the 20m vessel less than a km offshore.

The boat’s captain, reportedly a 35-year-old Tunisian, had been arrested, Italian interior minister Angelino Alfano said.

“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” Alfano said, quoted by the BBC. “Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”

The October 3 tragedy was the second boat disaster this week off Italy’s coast. Thirteen men drowned off the southern coast of Italy on September 30 when they attempted to swim ashore from a foundering vessel.

European Home Affairs Commissioner Malmström said that she was deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy.

“Europe has to step up its effort to prevent these tragedies and show solidarity both with migrants and with countries that are experiencing increasing migratory flows,” Malmström said.

“We have to become better at identifying and rescuing vessels at risk. We also need to intensify our efforts to fight criminal networks exploiting human despair so that they cannot continue to put people’s lives at risk in small, overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.”

The European Commission has developed a new tool, EUROSUR, which will become operational as of December this year, to improve the situation, Malmström said.

EUROSUR will help EU countries to better track, identify and rescue small vessels at sea thanks to better co-ordination between national authorities, appropriate channels of communication and improved surveillance technology.

“We expect all member states to support the adoption and implementation of Eurosur quickly and to use it at national level as soon as possible,” Malmström said.

“We also need to continue to address this phenomenon through co-operation and dialogue with countries of origin and transit and open new channels for legal migration,” she said.

The Commission has been engaging with several countries of North Africa to agree on a concerted manner of better managing migration flows and promoting mobility.

The EU recently agreed on a new Mobility Partnership with Morocco. The Commission hopes that similar agreements can be reached with other countries in the region, in particular Tunisia, Malmström said.

“While responding to these attempts to reach the EU, we should not forget that there are still many people in need of international protection. I therefore call upon member states to engage more in the resettlement of people in need of international protection. This would demonstrate an increased and much needed commitment to solidarity and the sharing of responsibility and would help to reduce the number of people putting their lives at risk in the hopes of reaching European shores.”

Malmström expressed her support to the Italian authorities for the enormous effort, including the apprehension of smugglers, they have undertaken over the past few months which have seen a vast increase in the influx of irregular migrants at their external borders.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres expressed shock at the fatal incident.

Guterres commended the swift action taken by the Italian Coast Guard to save lives, but had also “expressed his dismay at a rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea.”

UNHCR said it is actively engaging with countries in the region to provide effective alternatives for people resorting to taking these dangerous journeys so they do not have to risk their lives.

(Photo: UNHCR/F.Noy)




The Sofia Globe staff

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