Irish Naval Service deployed to rescue refugees from drowning

UN Refugee Agency UNHCR is calling on the international community to do more to save the lives of refugees who take risky routes towards the Mediterranean, following the release of its 2021 strategic action plan and related funding appeal for this situation.

UNHCR is worried about displacement in the East and Horn of Africa, increased sea arrivals to the Canary Islands, with over 1,060 deaths recorded in the Central and Western Mediterranean in 2020 alone. The Agency is seeking over USD$100m to enhance refugee protection in African countries en route to the Mediterranean. Offering safe and viable alternatives to the perilous journeys marred by abuse and deaths is the critical priority.

The risks of trafficking and abuses, such as kidnap for ransom, forced labour, sexual servitude and gender-based violence at the hands of traffickers and gangs, are very likely to continue, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

The UN Refugee Agency has released its Strategic Action Plan for 2021.

“We hear harrowing first-hand accounts of brutality and abuses refugees and migrants suffer along the routes towards the Mediterranean. Many fall prey to traffickers and smugglers and are abused, extorted, raped, and sometimes killed or left to die,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean Situation.

UNHCR’s strategy seeks to increase outreach, identification and assistance to refugees along the route, as well as enhance access to education and livelihoods in countries of asylum. Priority is also given to protection assessments for those in remote locations, and to increased cash-based assistance to vulnerable refugees in urban settings.

UNHCR is appealing to states to strengthen safe and legal pathways for refugees, including through family reunification, and by enhancing the use of the two Emergency Transit Mechanisms in Rwanda and Niger for those evacuated from Libya.

UNHCR also aims to broaden the support and services for survivors and facilitate better access to justice. Additional efforts to inform and alert those on the move about the risks of onward movements and services available locally will be also ramped up.

This year the Agency hopes to identify and assist more refugees along these routes and in host countries, and to strengthen access and delivery of protection for abuse survivors.