European Leaders Urged to Strengthen ‘Minimalist’ Approach to Mediterranean Migration Crisis

Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, April 23, 2015

United Nations officials joined a leading relief agency on Thursday in exhorting European leaders to improve their planned response to the Mediterranean migration crisis and address root causes of the surge of people risking death at sea to reach Europe.

“A tragedy of epic proportions is unfolding in the Mediterranean,” they said in a statement released in Geneva, as European ministers prepared to hold an emergency meeting on the crisis in Brussels.

“The European Union response needs to go beyond the present minimalist approach in the 10 Point Plan on Migration.” The European ministers agreed to that plan on Monday.

The statement was issued by António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees; Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, its high commissioner for human rights; Peter Sutherland, its special representative for international migration and development; and William L. Swing, director general of the International Organization for Migration, a 157-member intergovernmental group based in Geneva.

Their plea reflected what one United Nations official called an attempt to influence a debate that appeared to be driven by short-term political expediency at the expense of humanitarian principles.

A European 10-point plan outlined at the start of the week called for enhanced search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, but put the emphasis on border protection and action against traffickers rather than addressing the causes of the crisis or the plight of migrants.

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“The worry clearly is that the European response doesn’t look as if it will be sufficient by a long way and we will see more deaths,” said a United Nations official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. “If you think you can close the gates to people fleeing war and repression, then you are clinging to a fantasy.”

More than 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean seeking entry to Europe in 2014, a record. {snip}

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The U.N. statement on Thursday called on Europe to begin a “robust, proactive and well-resourced” search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean, to create channels for safe and regular migration and to make a firm commitment to take in significantly higher numbers of refugees.

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