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UN: “Urgent and Decisive Action” Needed for Refugees After Greece Tragedy

Since 2014, it has been estimated by the UN that there have been more than 20,000 deaths and disappearances in the Mediterranean, making it the most dangerous path for migrants and refugees in the world.

Since 2014, it has been estimated by the UN that there have been more than 20,000 deaths and disappearances in the Mediterranean, making it the most dangerous path for migrants and refugees in the world.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR, along with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), have called for “urgent and decisive action” to be taken by the European Union after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Greece last Wednesday.

400 to 750 people were thought to be on board the boat, and hundreds of people have been presumed to have drowned to death (as of Monday, 19th of June). Only 104 people have so far been rescued from sea, with 78 bodies retrieved so far. The majority of the refugees were from Syria and Libya, according to Hellenic Red Cross volunteers.

According to UN agencies, the boat that sank had been in distress since Tuesday, however the Hellenic Coast Guard only launched a search and rescue operation after the boat had fully capsized on Wednesday morning.

UNHCR and the IOM stated in a joint press release: “The duty to rescue people in distress at sea without delay is a fundamental rule of international maritime law…regardless of their nationality, status or the circumstances in which they are found, including on unseaworthy vessels, and irrespective of the intentions of those onboard.”

Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, stated that further action was in dire need from the European Union after this tragedy, emphasizing: “The EU must put safety and solidarity at the heart of its action in the Mediterranean.”

In light of the tragedy, the UNHCR and IOM stated that harsher action must be taken against human traffickers and people smugglers, and for more routes to be opened for safe migration into Europe. Federico Soda, the Director of the IOM’s Department of Emergencies, stated that the current approach to migration through the Mediterranean was not working and needs an immediate solution:

“Year after year, it continues to be the most dangerous migration route in the world, with the highest fatality rate. States need to come together and address the gaps in proactive search and rescue, quick disembarkation, and safe regular pathways.”

Since 2014, it has been estimated by the UN that there have been more than 20,000 deaths and disappearances in the Mediterranean, making it the most dangerous path for migrants and refugees in the world.

Since the tragedy on Wednesday, 10 NGOs – including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Doctors Without Borders – have issued a joint statement, citing that the European Union is “complicit in the loss of lives at sea”.

The statement continued: “We urge the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, to finally take a clear stand on the open graveyard at Europe’s land and sea borders, and to hold Member States accountable.”

As of now, it remains to be seen if any more survivors or bodies will be found from the wreckage – and with Europe’s close border policy, it seems likely that human traffickers and smugglers will continue to benefit from the desperate cash and hopes of those most vulnerable.

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