UNHCR welcomes end to latest Mediterranean standoff

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has welcomed recent developments that have seen several European countries collectively end a standoff on the Mediterranean involving some 450 refugees and migrants who had been stranded at sea amid a battle over disembarkation.

Since Saturday, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Spain and Portugal have agreed to land and together share processing of the 450 people, including any asylum claims that might be lodged.

“We hope that these arrangements will now be quickly and effectively implemented,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

“As well as ending an ordeal for these individuals, this sets a positive example of how, by working together, countries can uphold sea rescue and manage borders while simultaneously meeting international asylum obligations.”

The U.N. has however bemoaned the inadequate arrangements in the Mediterranean for managing rescue, disembarkation and the follow up processing of migrants.

The refugee agency said that the recent actions to refuse disembarkation of rescued people by NGO vessels, and other restrictions on NGO operations, are deeply worrying, and do not address the root causes that drive refugee outflows and irregular migration, nor the desperation that drives people to flee by sea in dangerous boats. This then leads to more attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea where lives are being lost.

The U.N. agency also clarified that while states have the obligation to save lives and afford protection to refugees, those who are rescued do not have the unfettered right to choose where they wish to go. It said that disembarkation needs to occur in a place of genuine safety, including for those who may be in need of international protection; but not necessarily in a place of their preference.