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Countries competing in 'immoral race to bottom' on migration

UNHCR urges countries to offer relocation, tells Italy to disembark migrants

igrants wait to disembark from the Italian coast guard vessel Diciotti at the port of Catania.

igrants wait to disembark from the Italian coast guard vessel Diciotti at the port of Catania.

The UN Refugee Agency has appealed to EU states to urgently offer relocation places to some 150 rescued persons who remain stranded on board an Italian coast guard vessel.

In the meantime, the UNHCR urged the Italian authorities to allow the immediate disembarkation of those on board the Diciotti.

The boat has been docked in Italy in the Sicilian port of Catania since August 20 – the majority of those on board are reportedly from refugee producing countries.

Italy's populist government said on Friday it would cut funds for the European Union unless other states take in boat migrants stranded in an Italian port, earning a rebuke from Brussels for making unacceptable "threats".

An unaccompanied minor migrant is helped after disembarking from the Italian coast guard vessel Diciotti.An unaccompanied minor migrant is helped after disembarking from the Italian coast guard vessel Diciotti.

“Throughout history, Europe has recognised a fundamental moral and legal obligation to come to the aid of people fleeing war, violence and persecution,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

“The time has come to end the back-and-forth that has seen countries competing in a race to the bottom on who can take the least responsibility for people rescued at sea. It is dangerous and immoral to put the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers at risk while states engage in a political tug-of-war on long-term solutions.”

UNHCR commended those European States that have come forward to receive people rescued from the Mediterranean Sea, which has highlighted the benefits of a collaborative approach.

Read: Italy ‘never fulfilled pledge’ to take migrants from Malta

However it said it was concerned about the potential consequences of a continued ‘ad-hoc’ approach.

In June, a conclusion of the European Summit was, “On EU territory, those who are saved, according to international law, should be taken charge of, on the basis of a shared effort.”

In 2018, more than 1,600 people have lost their lives attempting to reach European shores, despite the number of people attempting to cross being significantly reduced compared to previous years.

“Coming out of the horrors of the Second World War, Europeans were amongst some of the key architects of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which has enshrined in international law the fundamental human right to seek asylum,” said Grandi. 

But while these discussions continue, frightened people who may be in need of international protection should not be caught in the maelstrom of politics. They deserve to be treated with dignity. UNHCR said it is ready to support states with developing an approach that has, at its core, rescuing lives in distress at sea and in addressing the root causes driving forced displacement.

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