UN presses for EU reforms as migrant numbers, deaths swell

UN presses for EU reforms as migrant numbers, deaths swell

EU must ensure ‘fair and efficient asylum procedures,’ improve search and rescue efforts, UNHCR spokesperson tells Anadolu

By Beyza Binnur Donmez

GENEVA (AA) – Almost halfway through the year, nearly 61,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe through the Mediterranean route, with an overwhelming majority making the perilous journey by sea.

More than 1,000 of these people, who risk their lives in search of a better future, have perished along the way, according to latest UN data.

Those who have made it to countries such as Italy, Spain, and Greece then face another nightmare – the threat of immediate deportation or a painfully tedious asylum process that leaves them in a foreign land for months without any guarantee of their rights.

That is where the UNHCR is focusing its efforts, by continuously advocating for “fair and fast asylum procedures,” the UN refugee agency’s spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told Anadolu.

An integral part of these is the draft EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, which underlines effective actions that EU states can take to better protect refugees, she said, urging all countries to agree and adopt it at the earliest.

The draft pact aims to break the longstanding deadlock around the EU’s approach to migration and asylum, putting in place a workable, rights-based, and sustainable system, she added.

“Ensuring access to territory and addressing human rights violations at borders are crucial to a fair and functioning asylum system,” said Mantoo.

“Fair and efficient asylum procedures, coupled with an effective solidarity mechanism, make for a system that works for both refugees and states.”

Another equally crucial part is “dignified returns for people wishing to go back to their countries of origin, or who are found not to be in need of international protection,” she added.

- ‘Saving lives must remain top priority’

Mantoo emphasized the need for longer-term reforms “to ensure an EU that better protects refugees wherever they may come from.”

Citing Italy’s example, she said the country has seen a sharp rise in the number of arrivals through the Central Mediterranean, reaching around 42,000 this year, an increase of 289% from a year before.

This is the third consecutive year of an increase in these figures, she said.

“Such crossings are perilous, and many vessels are unseaworthy and easily capsize,” said Mantoo, stressing that the EU must prioritize safety to curb the continued loss of life at sea.

“What is needed is more state-led and better-coordinated search and rescue efforts, predictable disembarkations in places of safety, and expedited access to screening and asylum procedures to identify those who may need international protection, and return – in safety and with dignity – for those who do not.”

Saving lives must “remain the top priority” in the Mediterranean, as a rescue at sea is a humanitarian imperative firmly rooted in international law, she said.

Search and rescue operations undertaken by all actors have “vital importance,” she added.

“We call for support from Europe and the international community to stabilize the situation. Migratory flows need to be looked at comprehensively,” said Mantoo.

With sufficient funding, humanitarian aid and development initiatives, the situation in host nations of significant numbers of refugees, as well as in the countries that surround them, must be addressed, she added.

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