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  ‘Saving lives at sea is not optional’: EU chief calls for unity amid warnings migration crisis is not over

  • EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that “migration is an issue that has been discussed long enough.”
  • The migration crisis in 2015 caused “deep divisions” within the bloc and “scars (that are) still healing today,” von der Leyen acknowledged Wednesday, calling on all member states to “step up” to the challenges posed by migration.
  • Migration charities and NGOs, like Human Rights Watch, are already warning the EU that its policies have to focus on human rights.
Migrants packed tightly onto a small inflatable boat attempt to cross the English Channel near the Dover Strait, the world's busiest shipping lane, on September 07, 2020.
Migrants packed tightly onto a small inflatable boat attempt to cross the English Channel near the Dover Strait, the world’s busiest shipping lane, on September 07, 2020.
Luke Dray | Getty Images News | Getty Images

European countries must come together to address the issue of migration, the head of the European Commission said Wednesday, telling member states that “saving lives at sea is not optional.”

Addressing the issue of migration in her State of the Union address on Wednesday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “migration is an issue that has been discussed long enough.” She called on the bloc to overcome “deep divisions” caused by the 2015 migration crisis and to pull together to help the member states most “exposed” to migration.

“Those countries that fulfill their legal and moral duties or are more exposed than others must be able to rely on the solidarity of others in our whole European Union,” she said.

Europe’s migration crisis of 2015 saw hundreds of thousands of migrants, mainly from war-torn Syria, attempt to reach Europe, often with tragic consequences.

Five years on and the number of people attempting to make the crossing remains elevated, although not nearly as high when compared to 2015. In that year alone, an estimated 1 million migrants entered the EU, according to the United Nations, with almost 4,000 feared to have drowned in the attempt to reach Europe by sea.

READ  Homecoming: 109 stranded Nigerians return from Mali via humanitarian corridor

The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that, so far this year, there have been 48,529 migrant arrivals to Europe, predominantly by sea. The number is far lower than previous years with the coronavirus pandemic acting as a dampener on migration; In January 2020, the IOM reported that 110,669 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2019, marking the sixth straight year that at least 100,000 arrivals were recorded on three Mediterranean sea routes.

The migration crisis in 2015 caused “deep divisions” within the bloc and “scars (that are) still healing today,” von der Leyen acknowledged Wednesday, calling on all member states to “step up” to the challenges posed by migration.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her first State of the Union speech of 2020 on 16 September in Brussels, Belgium.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her first State of the Union speech of 2020 on 16 September in Brussels, Belgium.
Jonathan Raa | NurPhoto via Getty Images

 

Several countries in eastern Europe closed borders and refused to accept quotas of migrants after the EU devised a migrant relocation scheme to relieve countries like Greece, Spain and Italy where most migrants arrived, and still do, to this day, with many in migrant camps, or reception centers, located in southern Europe while their asylum claims are processed.

Tempers have frayed both in reception centers which can be crowded and unsanitary and within the towns and islands (including Greek islands, Sicily and Malta) where centers are primarily located. Locals and governments have also been left frustrated at what they see as a lack of progress and solidarity over the issue of migration too.

The thorny issue of migrant camps returned to the fore last week after a fire ripped through the Moria Reception and Identification Center in Lesbos.

The fire left 12,000 migrants and refugees homeless, including an estimated 4,000 children, the UN said as it called for EU states to work together urgently to “de-congest the islands and assist Greece.”

The Commission, the EU’s executive arm, is scheduled to launch a long-awaited migration pact next week with the emphasis expected to be on preventing migrants from entering the EU, according to EU Observer.

READ  African migration: what the numbers really tell us 

Migration charities and NGOs, like Human Rights Watch, are already warning the EU that its policies have to focus on human rights.

“The European Commission should ensure that its new ‘Pact on Migration and Asylum,’ expected on September 23, reflects the right lessons learned from the devastation and human misery on Lesbos. The Commission and EU member states should commit to border governance that respects human dignity and the right to seek asylum while ensuring a fair distribution of responsibility among EU member states,” Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

Moral dilemmas

Signaling the EU’s direction on migration, von der Leyen said a clear distinction had to be made between migrants that “have the right to stay, and those who do not” and the Commission would take steps to combat people smugglers, strengthen external borders, deepen external partnership and to ensure “that people who have the right to stay are integrated and made to feel welcome.”

Federico Soda, migration expert and the IOM’s Chief of Mission in Libya, a country that sees hundreds of migrants attempts to make the sea passage to Europe, characterized the migration situation surrounding Europe as “dormant” rather than resolved.

Syrian irregular migrant family, whose boats were flooded, rescue after they were stranded on the islet while they are trying to reach Greek side of Evros River in Edirne, Turkey on February 29, 2020.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

“If you measure it in terms of people reaching your borders then the crisis has ‘passed’,” Soda said, “but if you measure it in terms of people dying, suffering and being abused it’s by no means passed. And if you look at it politically in terms of the European Union I also don’t think it’s by any means passed.”

READ  Migrants play key role in disaster response, IOM explores diaspora’s engagement in humanitarian assistance

“You have to look at it from the European side in terms of what progress has been made within the union to develop policies that are adequate for these types of population movements that will inevitably (continue),” he said.

“Even to this day, the main countries that are bearing the brunt of these arrivals are mostly very dissatisfied with the response from the rest of the European member states … It’s been brushed over, put aside, but it’s by no means resolved.”

Soda said Europe needed to address migration and asylum policies now, as well as working with other nations to address inequalities within — and between countries — that spurred migration, which he conceded was a “long-term process.”

“At the moment Europe’s approach is that its borders are closed and we just don’t think that’s sustainable … You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that the geography of the European continent is going to continue to have people coming and knocking at its doors in an irregular, undocumented way. And it’s the south (of Europe) now but it could be the east in future. And the reality is that these issues within the EU are still very, very much a point of great political tension.”

Culled from CNBC

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

READ  New safety measures allow Malian refugees to return to camp in Burkina Faso

“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

READ  UAE repatriates 170 NIgerians with expired visas for from Dubai

“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

READ  Average of 11,500 people boarded vessels monthly from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in 2019

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

READ  Bringing judges and prosecutors together to combat impunity for trafficking in persons in Nigeria

UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

READ  UNHCR, IOM call for a truly common and principled approach to European migration and asylum policies

“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

READ  Homecoming: 109 stranded Nigerians return from Mali via humanitarian corridor

“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

READ  Refugees Commission begins verification of IDPs in Nigeria

Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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