IOM, UNHCR call for urgent, decisive action to prevent further deaths at sea 

In this file photo, rescued refugees and migrants stand aboard a boat at the town of Paleochora, southwestern Crete island on November 22, 2022, following a rescue operation. Costas METAXAKIS / AFP

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have called for urgent and decisive action to prevent further deaths at sea following the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean, ReliefWeb reported.

At least 78 people have died, 104 have been rescued and hundreds more are feared missing in the deadliest refugee shipwreck off Greece this year. The victims drowned when the large trawler they were travelling in capsized off the southern Peloponnese on June 14.

“The duty to rescue people in distress at sea without delay is a fundamental rule of international maritime law,” the IOM and UNHCR said. “Both shipmasters and States have an obligation to render assistance to those in distress at sea 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.”

According to the UN bodies, the number of people on board the boat is not clear, but it is believed to have been somewhere between 400 and 750. 

The Greek coastguard said a surveillance plane from Europe’s Frontex agency had spotted the boat on Tuesday afternoon, but the passengers had “refused any help,” Agence France-Presse earlier reported.

“In the afternoon, a merchant vessel approached the ship and provided it with food and supplies, while the [passengers] refused any further assistance,” the coastguard said.

The IOM and UNHCR have welcomed the investigation that has been ordered in Greece into the circumstances that eventually led to the boat capsizing and the loss of so many lives, saying “search and rescue at sea is a legal and humanitarian imperative.”

“It is clear, that the current approach to the Mediterranean is unworkable. 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. These collective efforts should have the human rights of migrants and saving lives at the center of any response,” said Federico Soda, IOM director for the Department of Emergencies.

“The EU must put safety and solidarity at the heart of its action in the Mediterranean. In view of the increased movements of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean, collective efforts, including greater coordination between all Mediterranean States, solidarity and responsibility-sharing, as reflected in the EU’s Pact on Migration and Asylum are essential to save lives. This includes the establishment of an agreed regional disembarkation and redistribution mechanism for people who arrive by sea, which we continue to advocate for.” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection.

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