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Legal Pathways Needed to Stem Migrant Deaths on the Mediterranean


FILE - Migrants wearing life vests float in an inflatable boat during a rescue operation from the Aquarius vessel of SOS Mediterranee NGO and MSF (Doctors Without Borders) in the sea some 25 Nautical miles (29 miles, 46 kilometers) north of the Libyan coast, Aug. 27, 2017.

The U.N. refugee agency is calling for more resettlement places and other legal pathways to stop the alarmingly high number of deaths of refugees and migrants along the perilous Central Mediterranean Sea route from Libya to Italy.

This has been a particularly deadly beginning to the New Year. The International Organization for Migration reports 176 refugees and migrants have died while making the Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy in the first 10 days of this month. It notes only seven people died on this route during the same period last year.

IOM says the majority of survivors come from African countries, including the Gambia, Senegal, Sudan, Mali and Nigeria. Other survivors are from Bangladesh and Pakistan.

FILE- Guinean migrants wait at the airport before being deported to Guinea, in Misrata, Libya, Dec. 27, 2017.
FILE- Guinean migrants wait at the airport before being deported to Guinea, in Misrata, Libya, Dec. 27, 2017.

U.N. refugee spokesman, William Spindler, says the alarmingly high death toll is intolerable, and legal pathways for refugees to find safety must be found to end the ongoing spiral of tragedies. He says people take these long, dangerous journeys because they have no other option or alternative.

“So, we need to find ways to providing alternatives for them before they undertake these journeys," he said. "By the time they arrive in Libya, many of them have already suffered appalling abuse and huge dangers crossing the Saharan desert and so on.”

FILE - Migrants sit at the back of a truck as it is driven through a dust road at night in the desert town of Agadez, Niger, May 25, 2015.
FILE - Migrants sit at the back of a truck as it is driven through a dust road at night in the desert town of Agadez, Niger, May 25, 2015.

Spindler says many lives can be saved if refugees are able to receive protection closer to their countries of origin. The UNHCR is calling for a comprehensive approach to help refugees and migrants seeking protection from persecution and war or in search of a better life through legal means, such as resettlement and family reunification.

It says nations also must deal with the root causes and drivers of refugee displacement, including lack of development, poor governance, human rights violations, and conflict.

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