Drowning refugees, drowning humanity: a statement by the Secretary General of ICMC

Geneva, 15 April 2015 - Today, another 400 people are reported drowned or missing off the Libyan coast. The horror of these situations is no longer only related to the ever growing number of death and missing people but must be understood in the lack of a proactive attitude that marks international and especially EU politics.

Migrants rescue in the MediterraneanRescued migrants are transferred to an Italian Coast Guard ship. Photo: UNHCR The Mare Nostrum operation saved more than 150,000 people in 2014. Yet, it was aborted because it was said to become a pull factor for more migrants to take the risk of crossing the Mediterranean and because supportive financial means could not be found to continue the operation thus far carried by the Italian Navy. The Frontex Triton Operation, which has taken over from the Italian Navy, cannot possibly substitute for the same levels of lifesaving action because its operational focus no longer includes an active search of the many embarkations in distress.

Around 350,000 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea last year. Thousands have drowned and the figures on those still reported missing will likely remain inaccurate forever. These impressive figures speak to the desperation of those fleeing war, persecution and poverty; they also inform on the practices of human smuggling networks. Nonetheless, these numbers are too often read and understood in terms of self-defensive risk and fear.  While there is sufficient knowledge of these facts, the blindness that goes with it becomes a crime.

There is a need for international monitoring and protection from life endangering situations, including drownings in an attempt to escape other dangers. The faces of the growing number of minors and women must wake us up from the thought that these people are a burden on host country economies, that they constitute a security risk and that they are not wanted. There is a need to build safe itineraries instead of detention centers on both sides of the Mediterranean; a need for recognizing that those migrants are people and not risks; a need for well understood solidarity and humanity to replace selective blindness. There is a need to look for uphill solutions rather than merely combating the unacceptable profit-making business of smugglers; a need to give concrete lifesaving forms to the EU principles of solidarity and justice.

The Frontex agency reports that the majority of migrants reaching Italy through the Mediterranean are refugees fleeing from Syria. It is obvious that without political solutions many more people will continue to flee this and other war-torn countries. The numbers of migrants and refugees using the Mediterranean as an entry route will equally continue to rise and so will the dramatic drownings and the profits made by unscrupulous smugglers. The traditional safe corridors for relief aid to be brought into the crisis zones today need an additional corridor for safe passage out of the war torn countries and into host countries.

A temporary status in host countries saves lives. ICMC calls for an immediate intervention of the international community to address the root causes of these migration flows and urgently develop structured and efficient resettlement.

The boats are full, when will our conscience be?


Johan Ketelers,
ICMC Secretary General