The U.N. refugee agency is appealing to European Union countries to
make sure that people seeking asylum are given a fair hearing of their
claims for international protection. The UNHCR says it is concerned
about the treatment of the growing number of Africans arriving by sea
in Mediterranean countries.
U.N. refugee agency estimates more
than 67,000 people made the crossing to Europe by sea last year. It
says more than half arrived in Italy and Malta alone, mostly after
U.N. refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the
vast majority applied for asylum. And, he says, more than half of
those claiming asylum were found to be in need of international
"With few opportunities to enter the EU by regular
means, thousands of people threatened by persecution and serious human
rights violations in their home countries have no choice but to take
this dangerous sea route," said Redmond. "This highlights the vital need to ensure
that State agreements and measures to tighten borders do not block
access to safety for those who are seeking protection in the EU."
the end of last year, there were chaotic scenes of thousands of African
migrants landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Most of the
people who came by boat were from Somalia and Eritrea.
says the UNHCR appreciates the efforts made by Mediterranean States to
rescue people in distress at sea. At the same time, he says the agency
understands that these arrivals put an enormous financial and social
strain on receiving governments.
He says the UNHCR is
increasingly concerned by what it sees as growing animosity toward the
large number of irregular migrants taking the Mediterranean sea route
and landing in southern Europe.
"We just want to ensure that
people continue to receive access to proper asylum procedures," said
Redmond. "If they are found not to be deserving of international
protection, then, by all means, every government has the right and the
responsibility to protect its borders-take action and deport people if
Redmond cautions States they could be in violation
of international law if they send asylum seekers back to countries
where they cannot enjoy effective protection.