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UN asks EU to protect migrants crossing the Mediterranean

Press Trust of India  |  Geneva 

The UN today asked the EU to take concrete steps for resuming search and rescue operations and offer "protection to people" making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to seek asylum in Europe.

Speaking of the latest tragedy which has killed more than 800 migrants off the coast of Libya last Saturday, the UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees for Protection, Volker Turk, said, "It's clearly another wake-up call particularly for Europe to find ways and means to address the particular challenges on the Mediterranean.

"We are talking of a global displacement crisis which is playing out at the door steps of Europe. We hope very much that the European Council on Thursday will provide a strong direction that takes these action point further and ensures that the asylum and refugee component is given sufficient attention," he added.

The political crises in areas around West Asia and North Africa have resulted in the Mediterranean sea becoming a heavily-trafficked pathway for people fleeing extremely volatile situations in their home country in search of a better life to Europe.

UNHCR estimates that around 36,000 people this year, have made the risky journey across the sea, a large chunk of which includes around 8,865 Syrians and 3,363 Eritreans.

"UNHCR now believes that the number of fatalities to be over 800 making this the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean. We currently have a total of 1300 deaths in April," said Adrian Edwards, UNHCR spokesperson.

The UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported 28 survivors of the 850 people aboard the ill-fated three-decked boat that left Tripoli and capsized off the coast of Libya last Saturday.

As the EU came under heavy criticism, the foreign ministers huddled in Luxembourg to grapple with one of the most serious migration crisis in recent times and came up with a 10-point plan which will be further discussed in the European Council meeting.

"Mare Nostrum was an extremely important search and rescue regime which saved thousands and thousands of life. And we hope that the European Council meeting on Thursday will give adequate attention to the search and rescue dimension of this issue," Turk said.

The Italian government had announced the end of Mare Nostrum-a naval mission in October last year that rescued migrants who attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea-which saved an estimated 1,00,000 lives.

The operation was stopped citing expenses and that the operation would encourage migrants to make the crossing.

First Published: Tue, April 21 2015. 19:32 IST