The Mediterranean is the most dangerous sea route for refugees and migrants Amnesty International said today, as it launched a new report into the global refugee crisis, at the start of Refugee Week.
This year has been particularly deadly for migrants attempting the Mediterranean crossing, with 1,865 people dying up until 31 May 2015, compared to 425 during the same period in 2014.
Following the massive loss of life in the early part of this year, European leaders have put some measures in place to tackle the huge death toll. The UK government has boosted Italy’s the search-and-rescue programme by sending naval warship HMS Bulwark, which has rescued thousands of men, women and children. However, until the international community recognises that this is a global problem that requires states to significantly step up international cooperation, it will not be adequately resolved, Amnesty said.
Steve Symonds Amnesty International UK’s Refugee Programme Director, said:
“The Mediterranean is the most dangerous sea crossing in the world for refugees and migrants, a grim accolade.
“It’s not without competition either. In South East Asia we’ve seen boats full of desperate and starving people literally pushed back by Indonesia and Malaysia before they were shamed into taking them in.
“The compassion deficit seems to be a global plague.
“Yet this week is Refugee Week, and in communities up and down the UK people will be celebrating the contributions refugees make to their adopted country.
“Many people know refugees as their neighbours and friends, people who make our country all the richer. We mustn’t allow that truth to be obscured by the political failures, both at home and abroad, which continue to fuel the current global crisis.”
Syria: World’s largest refugee crisis
There are currently more than four million refugees from Syria, with 95% in just five main host countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
These countries are now struggling to cope, while the international community continues to fail to provide them with sufficient financial support or to offer adequate levels of resettlement for Syrian refugees, despite urgent calls by UNHCR.
The situation has deteriorated to the point that some of Syria’s neighbours have resorted to deeply troubling measures, including denying desperate people entry to their territory and pushing refugees back into the conflict.
The UK has resettled just 187 Syrian refugees.
Africa: Forgotten crises
Of the top ten countries globally from which people are fleeing as refugees, five are in sub-Saharan Africa. Outbreaks of fighting in countries including South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), have meant that there are an increasing number of people on the move.
In some of these situations, as in the case of South Sudan and Sudan, refugees are hosted by countries that are themselves beset by conflict.
South-East Asia: Turning away the desperate
In May, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand turned back boats carrying hundreds of refugees and migrants desperate for help, despite the dangers they faced. The UNHCR estimates that 300 people died at sea in the first three months of 2015 due to “starvation, dehydration and abuse by boat crews.”
On May 20 Indonesia and Malaysia changed course, announcing that they would provide “temporary shelter” for up to 7,000 people still at sea. However, this temporary protection would only last for up to a year, and on condition that the international community would help with repatriation or resettlement. Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have not ratified the UN Refugee Convention.
Elsewhere, a terrible precedent has been set in the region by the Australian government whose hard-line approach to asylum-seekers attempting to arrive by boat has, under the guise of saving lives, violated its responsibilities under refugee and human rights law.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said:
“From the Andaman to the Mediterranean people are losing their lives as they desperately seek safe haven. The current refugee crisis will not be solved unless the international community recognises that it is a global problem that requires states to significantly step up international cooperation. Later this week UNHCR will release their annual statistics on refugees and we will likely find that the crisis is getting worse. It is time for action.”
Find out more about Refugee Week at http://www.refugeeweek.org.uk