UN welcomes EU migrant plan, asks for more

UN welcomes EU migrant plan, asks for more

GENEVA – Reuters
UN welcomes EU migrant plan, asks for more

AP Photo

The United Nations welcomed on April 24 the European Union’s plan to triple the size of its naval search mission in the Mediterranean, but said the key test was whether lives were saved and those fleeing war had a chance of gaining asylum.

The EU’s assurances meant the operation would have capacity, resources and scope comparable to Italy’s Mare Nostrum, which was ended six months ago, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said. 

“UNHCR believes they are an important first step towards collective European action - which is the only approach that can work for a problem of such a large and transnational nature,” spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing. 

Four days after up to 900 desperate people drowned trying to reach Europe from Libya, EU leaders agreed at an emergency summit on Thursday to restore funding for naval search missions to last year’s level. 

About half the people who crossed last year were fleeing war or persecution in Africa and the Middle East, thereby deserving refugee status, the UNHCR said. 

It urged Europe to provide access to refugee status through other legal channels, and to spell out what the new measures will mean for resettling and relocating migrants. 

“From UNHCR’s experience, we know that, without realistic and substantial alternative channels for people to reach safety, the much-needed increase in international efforts to crack down on smugglers and traffickers is unlikely to be effective,” it said. 

“Ultimately the test will be whether we see reduction in lives lost, effective access to protection in Europe without having to cross the Mediterranean, and an effective Common European Asylum System, which truly lives up to its commitments of solidarity and responsibility-sharing,” Edwards said. 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it “applauds the EU’s conclusions that saving lives must be the priority”. 

“There has been a collective re-think and we hugely welcome that,” IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle told the briefing.