“The EU and its Member States must prioritise the saving of lives at sea as the weather gets worse and people continue to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece,” said Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland. “Today's tragic accidents outside Turkey's coast highlight the need for more and better rescue capacity between Turkey and Greece, and for alternative safe and legal routes to Europe”.
At least six children drowned when two boats sank off the Turkish coast on Friday, according to Turkish media.
“Does it no longer have any impact on us when children are drowning in the Mediterranean? It is absurd and tragic to witness how desperate people are forced to risk their lives at sea in search of protection, while European politicians are competing to escape responsibility,“ said Egeland.
Despite worsening weather conditions, the number of people crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece reached an all-time high in October, leading to a sharp increase in the number of drowning deaths. This year, more than 585 people have lost their lives at sea trying to reach Greece, 495 of these lost their lives in the last three months, according to IOM.
More safe and legal ways for people to seek safety would minimise the need to rely on smugglers, NRC said. These would include resettlement programmes, humanitarian visas, sponsorship programmes, family reunification programmes, and educational scholarships, but could also include opening up alternative routes across land.
”Many women and children are now crossing the Mediterranean to be reunited with their husbands and fathers who have fled in advance. With a good family reunification system, these parents would not need to put their children’s lives at risk by crossing an increasingly dangerous stretch of sea”, Egeland said.
”We also witness disabled and sick refugees crossing the sea, because of a lack of access to medical assistance in Syria and the neighbouring countries. These are people who ideally should be prioritised for resettlement, but too few countries have been willing to recieve a significant number of people,” he added.
So far this year, more than 874,000 people have fled across the Mediterranean to Europe, according to UNHCR. This equals less than 0.2% of the total population of the EU and EEA. With the necessary screening of asylum seekers according to their need for protection, this number will likely be reduced.
“The number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe is not very big when compared to the total population of the continent,” said Egeland. “This is a test of our humanity. Europe can handle this crisis, but states need to work together and support the countries that are most overwhelmed. In addition, there is an urgent need to scale up the support to the countries of origin, to Syria and the neighbouring countries, to Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, to ensure that people are not forced to risk their lives on a dangerous journey to Europe.”
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