These massive arrivals and the fact that more than 1,150 people have either disappeared or lost their lives while trying to reach Europe since the beginning of the year show that rescue at sea is as crucial as ever.
The Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy, which is by far the one currently most frequently used by asylum seekers and migrants to cross into Europe, has proven to be particularly deadly. Since the beginning of 2017, one person out of 35 has died on the sea journey from Libya to Italy, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
A matter of life and death
“Saving lives must be the top priority for all and, in light of the recent increase in arrivals, I urge further efforts to rescue people along this dangerous route. This is a matter of life or death which appeals to our most basic sense of humanity and should not be called into question”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said in a press release 8 May.
The Italian Coast Guard, in coordination with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and NGOs have saved tens of thousands of lives. In 2016, NGOs rescued more than 46,000 people in the central Mediterranean, representing over 26 per cent of all rescue operations. This trend continues, reaching 33 per cent since the beginning of the year.
UNHCR is reporting on an increasing numbers of passengers on board vessels used by traffickers, and a worsening quality of vessels and the increasing use of rubber boats instead of wooden ones.
Norwegians saved 60,000 lives
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is also urging for further efforts to rescue refugees and migrants along the deadly Mediterranean route.
“We are happy to see that the Norwegian government has decided to continue the contributing to the search and rescue operations”, says NRC Senior Advisor, Pål Nesse.
Since the summer of 2015 the two Norwegian vessels: Siem Pilot and Peter Henry von Koss, have rescued more than 60,000 refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean, according to the Norwegian government. In May this year Siem Pilot will be eplaced with the Norwegian vessel Olympic Commander.
Libya is not safe
NRC also strongly object to any consideration of return at sea of migrants and asylum seekers to Libya.
“With the present unsafe environment and extensive human rights violations in that country, we believe this would violate the ‘non-refoulment’ principle of the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights”, says Nesse.
He underlines that there is an urgent need to address the root causes which lead people to move, as well as to offer credible alternatives to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection.
“Europe needs a comprehensive and co-ordinated migration and refugee response that takes into consideration the right to seek asylum and provide legal and safe alternatives to the boat smugglers”, he says, and adds that: “Safe returns or other options should be handled quickly and with dignity for those concluded not to be in need of international protection”.