The Malta Independent 1 December 2022, Thursday
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More than 3,000 asylum seekers died in Mediterranean tragedies this year, UNHCR says

Neil Camilleri Saturday, 11 October 2014, 09:30 Last update: about 9 years ago

The United Nation's refugee agency, UNHCR, has called on the EU to "overhaul" its policy on Syrian migrants and urged the 28-nation bloc to provide emergency funds to Malta, Italy and Greece.

UNHCR said the European Union should overhaul its policy toward Syrian refugees while warning that the number of fatal accidents at sea could rise further as winter approaches. Earlier this week the refugee agency had already warned about the possibility of an increase in migrant tragedies, and referred to two disasters that took place last year on 3 and 11 October. More than 500 migrants, mostly Syrian, are thought to have perished in the two tragedies.

UN officials, presenting their proposals in Athens, said more than 3,000 asylum seekers had died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year. They urged the EU to provide ports for reception and to process asylum applications across member states.

The news comes at the same time the Greek government warned it is expecting a three-fold increase in the number of migrants and asylum seekers received this year when compared to 2013. Most are now coming from Syria.

In an interview with DeutsheWelle on Tuesday, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Hans ten Feld said the EU "is not doing enough" to help Syrian refugees who have fled their war-torn country in even bigger numbers as hostilities intensified. Mr ten Feld praised Germany for agreeing to take 20,000 Syrian refugees but hit out at the EU for not pulling its weight.

"It is clear that there is more solidarity required in Europe. Out of 28 member states, only about ten really receive asylum applications. We would really like to see other countries follow Germany's example."

UNHCR is running a worldwide programme to resettle Syrian refugees. But according to Mr ten Feld Europe has only admitted some 5,000, while Syria's neighbours have been taking in more. According to him, the plan is to see Europe take in some 20,000 Syrians by 2020.

A recent UNHCR report on resettlement of migrants saidTurkey has received 600,000 Syrian refugees and the number of refugees from other countries, mainly Iraq and Iran, has tripled. The estimated total resettlement needs in South Eastern Europe - Malta and Turkey - are 148,690. Turkey is obviously bearing a much bigger burden. It has a total of 148,190 persons from Syria in need of resettlement.

The report says resettlement will continue to be sought for the most vulnerable among the refugee population in Malta,estimated at 475 persons, as Malta is a small island with limited absorption capacity.

Earlier this week, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Gutierres gave a harrowing account of what happened in the Mediterranean during the summer. "In all, 90,000 people crossed to Europe between July and September 30 and at least 2,200 lost their lives, compared to 75,000 crossings and 800 deaths between 1 January and 30 June.  In other words, a person making the journey in the first half of the year faced a 1.06% chance of losing their life while the odds for someone doing the same crossing in the summer more than doubled to 2.4%. In all, 165,000 people have made the crossing so far this year compared to 60,000 for all of 2013 - making 2014 a record year and reflecting the level of desperation among many of those involved."

Mr Gutierres said in light of the dangers, UNHCR is reiterating its call for Europe to commit more resources for the rescue at sea in the Mediterranean and to step up efforts to provide legal alternatives to dangerous voyages. "If Europe fails in these efforts, many more lives will continue to be lost and incidents such as the disasters off Lampedusa a year ago will become more common."



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