The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) issued a joint statement on Friday calling for “urgent and decisive action to prevent further deaths at sea following the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean, the worst in several years,” the organizations pointed out.
Referring to the tragic sinking of a fishing boat carrying migrants in international waters 47 nautical miles off Pylos, southwestern Peloponnese, on Wednesday, as “the largest shipwreck off Greece on record”, IOM and UNHCR noted that the number of people onboard the vessel remains unclear, despite media reports mentioning a number between 400 and 750 migrants. So far 104 people have been rescued and 78 bodies retrieved.
The organizations’ statement said that the boat was reportedly in distress since the morning of the June 13, and that a large-scale search and rescue operation was announced by the Hellenic Coast Guard on the morning of June 14, after the boat capsized, they said.
The rest of IOM’s and UNHCR’s joint statement follows in its entirety:
“The duty to rescue people in distress at sea without delay is a fundamental rule of international maritime law. Both shipmasters and States have an obligation to render assistance to those in distress at sea regardless of their nationality, status or the circumstances in which they are found, including on unseaworthy vessels, and irrespective of the intentions of those onboard.
Any action carried out with regard to search and rescue should be conducted in a manner consistent with the obligation to prevent loss of life at sea.
IOM and UNHCR welcome the investigation that has been ordered in Greece into the circumstances which eventually led to the boat capsizing and the loss of so many lives.
Both UNHCR and IOM have been on the ground in Kalamata, in southern Greece in close coordination with the authorities providing support and assistance to the survivors, including non-food items, hygiene kits, interpretation services and counselling for survivors who are traumatized following the ordeal.
IOM and UNHCR reiterate that search and rescue at sea is a legal and humanitarian imperative.”
“It is clear, that the current approach to the Mediterranean is unworkable. Year after year, it continues to be the most dangerous migration route in the world, with the highest fatality rate. States need to come together and address the gaps in proactive search and rescue, quick disembarkation, and safe regular pathways. These collective efforts should have the human rights of migrants and saving lives at the centre of any response,” said Federico Soda, IOM Director for the Department of Emergencies.
“The EU must put safety and solidarity at the heart of its action in the Mediterranean. In view of the increased movements of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean, collective efforts, including greater coordination between all Mediterranean States, solidarity and responsibility-sharing, as reflected in the EU’s Pact on Migration and Asylum are essential to save lives. This includes the establishment of an agreed regional disembarkation and redistribution mechanism for people who arrive by sea, which we continue to advocate for,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.