International Rescue Committee (IRC): As the Death Toll Mounts in the Med, Europe Must Urgently Expand Safe Pathways for People on the Move

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The International Rescue Committee is calling for urgent action from the EU and its member states as the number of refugees and other migrants risking the treacherous journey from northern Africa to Europe continues to increase.

According to UNHCR, more than 35,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea so far this year, with reports of 192 arrivals few nights ago. This marks an increase on the 27,200 received during the same period in 2021. Tragically, at least 875 people have lost their lives along the Central Mediterranean Route in 2022 so far.

As the number of people forced to take these dangerous journeys continues to rise, the IRC is urging the EU and its member states to urgently expand safe and regular pathways to protection in Europe, and ensure they are supported along their journeys.

Susanna Zanfrini, IRC Italy Head of Office, says:

“Nobody should be forced to risk their life in a rickety boat or unseaworthy vessel in search of safety and protection. Yet, again this summer, we’re witnessing a spike in the number of people attempting to cross one of the world’s deadliest migration routes. Many of these people have been driven from their homes by rising food insecurity, unemployment, and the impact of climate change, with some fleeing violence, conflict or persecution in countries like Afghanistan, Sudan or Somalia.

“Those who reach Lampedusa are crammed into a reception centre that is currently full to more than four times its capacity – nearly 1,900 housed in a space intended for just 350. This desperate situation could and should have been avoided. Arrivals to islands such as Lampedusa tend to peak over the summer months due to better weather conditions. Rather than shirking their responsibilities and demonising people in search of protection, Italy and other EU states must cooperate to expand safe, regular pathways for those forced to make the desperate trek across the sea, and welcome new arrivals with humanity, dignity and in a spirit of solidarity.”

Tom Garofalo, IRC Libya Country Director, says:

“People are desperate to leave Libya because of the conditions they are living in. Every day, they know they could be abducted, arbitrarily detained and subjected to violence and abuse. Risking their lives at sea is a last resort. Yet, tragically, this route across the Central Mediterranean Sea is fraught with dangers, and has claimed the lives of more than 870 people already this year.

“In 2022, more than 9,800 refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants have been intercepted by the Libyan authorities, including the Coast Guard, and returned to Libyan shores. The IRC’s teams at disembarkation points in Libya regularly treat the horrific injuries sustained by those sent back to the country – dehydration, exhaustion, burns from leaked fuel, and other physical and mental scars from their traumatic journeys. Yet, rather than receiving the lasting support they need, the majority are sent to detention centres where conditions are often deplorable. 

“As we enter the peak summer months, we know that more and more desperate people will attempt the dangerous journey from Libya in search of safety in Europe. It is absolutely critical that the EU relaunches its own dedicated search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean as soon as possible to prevent further suffering and loss of life.”

Imogen Sudbery, IRC Executive Director of Policy & Advocacy, Europe, says:

“As the number of displaced people globally has soared to more than 100 million for the first time, it’s imperative that EU leaders take urgent, principled action to prevent more suffering at Europe’s borders. If they fail to do so, the Mediterranean will not just become a graveyard for more people seeking protection, but for its own values of human rights, dignity and equality.”

As the death toll in the Central Mediterranean continues to mount, the IRC is calling on the EU and its member states to:

Expand safe, regular pathways to protection and mobility from Africa to Europe so that people are not forced to risk their lives on dangerous journeys. The first step will be to commit to resettling at least 40,000 refugees in 2023, paying particular attention to needs along the Central Mediterranean Route. This must be complemented by scaling up safe, regular routes to Europe via increased humanitarian corridors, family reunification and visas for work or study.
Urgently establish an EU-funded search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as ensuring that any support – including financial, technological or training – to the Libyan authorities, including the Coast Guard, on policies and practices that concern migration, is conditional on upholding the human rights of people on the move.
Strengthen coordination with other maritime rescue actors – including NGOs – so that all people rescued at sea are taken to a place of safety, which Libya is not, as repeatedly stated by UNHCR.
Prioritise the end of arbitrary detention and the release of all those currently held in detention centres in all diplomatic efforts with the Libyan authorities, while urging the latter to ensure alternatives to detention for people on the move – especially women, and children who face specific protection risks. 
Support partner countries along the Central Mediterranean Route in promoting access to services and protection measures – especially for women, children and others in vulnerable situations – as well as ensuring access to information about administrative, legal and basic social services along the route.
Reach a political solution for a permanent, legally binding and predictable responsibility-sharing system, based on relocations, so that countries on Europe’s borders do not bear disproportionate responsibility for supporting new arrivals.

Present in Libya since August 2016, the IRC provides life-saving health and protection services, supports wider health system strengthening efforts, and builds the capacity of Libyan youth in peacebuilding and governance initiatives. In 2022 so far, the IRC has carried out 49 emergency responses, supporting more than 3,800 people, including 190 women and 228 children.

In Italy, the IRC works to protect refugees and asylum seekers, with a focus on women, unaccompanied children and those requiring psychosocial support. The IRC works with partners to enhance their capacity to swiftly identify trafficking survivors, and strengthen their access to legal assistance and support. The online platform Refugee.info provides clear and timely information for refugees and asylum seekers in need of local support services, empowering them to make informed decisions about their lives.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Rescue Committee.

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