Geneva, July 19 (IANS/AKI) Nations must rescue migrants and people in need of protection, but those who they save do not have “the unfettered right” to choose their host country, the UN refugee agency UNHCR stated on Thursday.
“While states have obligations to save lives and afford protection to refugees, people who are rescued do not have the unfettered right to choose where they wish to go,” UNHCR’s chief Filippo Grandi Grandi said.
“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,” he underlined.
UNHCR welcomed the actions taken this week by six European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Spain and Portugal – to take a share of around 450 refugees and migrants stranded in the Mediterranean amid a battle over where the rescue ship should dock, 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,” he said.
Current arrangements for managing the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean, bringing them to shore and processing them are “far from adequate”, Grandi said.
He called for solutions that go beyond “piecemeal” or “ship-by-ship” arrangements,” saying this approach put migrant lives at risk “with each attempted boat journey”.
Grandi also deplored moves by Italy and Malta to crack down on charity boats operating in the Mediterranean, sharply reining in their rescue efforts as they accuse them of encouraging migrants to make the perilous crossing.
Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s closure of Italian ports to charity and international rescue ships has sparked a series of diplomatic standoffs since June involving Italy, Malta and other EU states over where rescue migrants should land.
“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,” said Grandi.
He urged EU states to implement the conclusions of a summit of European leaders in late June at which they controversially agreed to set up secure centres for migrants in the bloc, to tighten its borders, create ‘disembarkation platforms’ outside the bloc and to redistribute refugees among member states.