As the death toll mounts in the Med, Europe must urgently expand safe pathways for people on the move

By International Rescue Committee

As the death toll mounts in the Med, Europe must urgently expand safe pathways for people on the move

The International Rescue Committee is calling for urgent action from the EU and its member states as the number of refugees and other migrants risking the treacherous journey from northern Africa to Europe continues to increase.

According to UNHCR, more than 35,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea so far this year, with reports of 192 arrivals a few nights ago. This marks an increase from the 27,200 received during the same period in 2021. Tragically, at least 875 people have lost their lives along the Central Mediterranean Route in 2022 so far.

As the number of people forced to take these dangerous journeys continues to rise, the IRC is urging the EU and its member states to urgently expand safe and regular pathways to protection in Europe, and ensure they are supported along their journeys.

Susanna Zanfrini, IRC Italy Head of Office, says: “Nobody should be forced to risk their lives in a rickety boat or unseaworthy vessel in search of safety and protection. Yet, again this summer, we’re witnessing a spike in the number of people attempting to cross one of the world’s deadliest migration routes. Many of these people have been driven from their homes by rising food insecurity, unemployment, and the impact of climate change, with some fleeing violence, conflict, or persecution in countries like Afghanistan, Sudan, or Somalia. Those who reach Lampedusa are crammed into a reception center that is currently full to more than four times its capacity – nearly 1,900 housed in a space intended for just 350. This desperate situation could and should have been avoided. Arrivals to islands such as Lampedusa tend to peak over the summer months due to better weather conditions. Rather than shirking their responsibilities and demonizing people in search of protection, Italy and other EU states must cooperate to expand safe, regular pathways for those forced to make the desperate trek across the sea, and welcome new arrivals with humanity, dignity, and in a spirit of solidarity.”

Imogen Sudbery, IRC Executive Director of Policy & Advocacy, Europe, says: “As the number of displaced people globally has soared to more than 100 million for the first time, it’s imperative that EU leaders take urgent, principled action to prevent more suffering at Europe’s borders. If they fail to do so, the Mediterranean will not just become a graveyard for more people seeking protection, but for its own values of human rights, dignity, and equality.”

As the death toll in the Central Mediterranean continues to mount, the IRC is calling on the EU and its member states to:

  1. Expand safe, regular pathways to protection and mobility from Africa to Europe so that people are not forced to risk their lives on dangerous journeys. The first step will be to commit to resettling at least 40,000 refugees in 2023, paying particular attention to needs along the Central Mediterranean Route. This must be complemented by scaling up safe, regular routes to Europe via increased humanitarian corridors, family reunification, and visas for work or study.
  2. Urgently establish an EU-funded search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as ensure that any support – including financial, technological, or training – to the Libyan authorities, including the Coast Guard, on policies and practices that concern migration, is conditional on upholding the human rights of people on the move.
  3. Strengthen coordination with other maritime rescue actors – including NGOs – so that all people rescued at sea are taken to a place of safety, which Libya is not, as repeatedly stated by UNHCR.
  4. Prioritize the end of arbitrary detention and the release of all those currently held in detention centers in all diplomatic efforts with the Libyan authorities, while urging the latter to ensure alternatives to detention for people on the move – especially women, and children who face specific protection risks.
  5. Support partner countries along the Central Mediterranean Route in promoting access to services and protection measures – especially for women, children, and others in vulnerable situations – as well as ensuring access to information about administrative, legal, and basic social services along the route.
  6. Reach a political solution for a permanent, legally binding, and predictable responsibility-sharing system, based on relocations, so that countries on Europe’s borders do not bear disproportionate responsibility for supporting new arrivals.

Present in Libya since August 2016, the IRC provides life-saving health and protection services, supports wider health system strengthening efforts, and builds the capacity of Libyan youth in peacebuilding and governance initiatives. In 2022 so far, the IRC has carried out 49 emergency responses, supporting more than 3,800 people, including 190 women and 228 children.