Special Mediterranean initiative launched

The UN Refugee Agency steps up efforts to manage the crisis.

SNP member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Alyn Smith has welcomed publication of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) plan for enhanced operational response and assistance to countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, faced with significant numbers of migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe.

The UN initiative consists of a number of coordinated actions to deliver, build on and expand post-rescue reception capacity in southern European countries, including speedy identification of people with specific needs, such as unaccompanied and separated children, victims of trafficking, and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. 

UNHCR missions on EU soil are rare given the EU Member States usually have sufficient domestic systems to cope, and the UNHCR mission underlines the seriousness of the crisis and the inadequacy of the EU response.

Alyn said: 

“In the first five months of 2015 alone, some 1,850 refugees and migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean in their attempt to reach European shores. This is a crisis on a global scale, which requires coordinated and far-reaching response.

"No member state should be facing this alone, all member states should play their part.  That the UNHCR is having to step in is, while welcome, also a pretty damning indictment of EU action thus far.

“The dramatic events in the Mediterranean caused public outcry and, belatedly, resulted in European governments stepping up their rescue efforts in the recent months, saving thousands of lives. As one of the elected members for Scotland, I have been staggered by the number of calls and emails from Scottish people demanding action. Our open letter calling for immediate humanitarian assistance in the Mediterranean met with huge support from civic society and the general public.

“Now, the UNHCR expertise will be very welcome, boosting our preparedness for increased number of migrants and refugees in the coming months. Working closely with the European Union and its Member States in countries of asylum, transit and destination, UNHCR will expand the capacity of the receiving countries and advocacy services to provide support based on principles of humanity, access to asylum and protection, and crucially - respect for human rights.

“This crisis is not going to vanish overnight, with an ongoing political turmoil and wars in the Middle East and North Africa, thousands more are poised to take the same risks and seek better lives in Europe. The aim of this initiative is to prepare us to deal with the consequences of that crisis to our best ability.”

The Special Mediterranean Initiative document is available at the following link: <http://www.unhcr.org/557ad7e49.html>