Conflicts, Disasters Driving More Migrants to Risk Mediterranean Crossing, Briefers Warn Security Council Ahead of Libya Mandate Decision
The Mediterranean remains a perilous route for a swelling number of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach Europe, Security Council members said today, as they discussed the situation in the high seas off Libya ahead of a decision to renew resolution 2240 (2015), which authorizes States and regional groups to inspect and seize vessels in that area suspected of being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking.
Ruven Menikdiwela, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that while nearly 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers are registered with the refugee agency in Libya, it is not authorized to access the disembarkation points. As such, many detained refugees are escorted to border areas and expelled to neighbouring countries, mainly Egypt, without procedural safeguards. “Libya is not a place of safety for the purposes of disembarkation, following rescue at sea,” she stressed, underscoring that any cooperation or assistance provided to Tripoli should uphold the human rights of refugees and migrants.
Pär Liljert, Director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Office to the United Nations, reporting that 2,093 deaths were recorded along the central Mediterranean route between January and September, expressed concern over the rise of discrimination and xenophobia directed at migrants and refugees. Noting that more and more people may embark on perilous journeys due to conflict, disasters and environmental degradation, he urged all States to ensure the dignity of those within their borders through a human rights-based approach that prioritizes lives.
In the ensuing debate, several Council members expressed concerns about abuses of migrants and refugees in Libya. Some called for a more holistic approach to tackle the drivers of irregular migration and prioritizing assistance, underscoring the importance of Libya’s stabilization to strengthen control over its territory, while others spotlighted the rescue efforts of the European Union’s Naval Force Mediterranean Operation IRINI.
The Russian Federation’s representative said that his delegation requested the meeting following the information that 3,111 people died in the Mediterranean, while trying to reach Europe. Tragedies such as the one on 14 June off the coast of Greece, in which 78 people died, demonstrate that the mechanism provided for in resolution 2240 (2015) is not functioning or is ineffective, he added. He questioned whether his European colleagues support investigations into the failure of European border services to aid migrants in distress, and what measures are being undertaken within the Operation IRINI framework.
Mozambique’s representative, also speaking for Ghana and Gabon, said that more must be done to address conflict, terrorism, poverty and climate change — factors that have led to the “worrisome scenario” being seen today. Strongly condemning the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and refugees in Libya, he called on the national authorities to ensure that migrants are protected from human rights violations. The stabilization of Libya would allow to strengthen control over its territory and reduce the Mediterranean migrant crisis, he said.
Malta’s representative, emphasizing that the Mediterranean remains a perilous migratory route, said that resolution 2240 (2015) and its renewals reaffirm the Council’s determination to combat the smuggling of migrants and trafficking of persons off the Libyan coast. Reiterating Malta’s commitment to save lives and respond to displacement crises, she said that the Council should address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement through a comprehensive and integrated approach.
France’s representative said that establishing a Libyan State is the only way to end trafficking. He called for more intensive cooperation among States to prevent dramas such as the ones unfolding in the Mediterranean. Council members must help counter insecurity, he added, noting that the Wagner Group’s presence in the Sahel fuels terrorism and leads to displacement.
MAINTENANCE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY
RUVEN MENIKDIWELA, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), reported that between January and August, more than 102,000 refugees and migrants attempted to cross the central Mediterranean from Tunisia to Europe, up 260 per cent compared to 2022. More than 45,000 made the same journey from Libya. Some 31,000 people were rescued at sea or intercepted and disembarked in Tunisia and another 10,600 in Libya. Departures from Algeria remain limited with almost 4,700 arrivals in Spain until August, an increase of 18 per cent compared to 2022. In total, 186,000 people arrived from January to 24 September by sea in Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta, with more than 130,000 people arriving in Italy. This constitutes an increase of 83 per cent compared to the same period in 2022. Moreover, as of September 24, more than 2,500 people were accounted as dead or missing, a two-thirds increase from the same period in 2022. “Lives are also lost on land, away from public attention,” she said, adding that the journey across Africa to coastal points of departure remains one of the world’s most dangerous. High departure rates in Tunisia result from the perception of insecurity among refugee communities, following incidents of racially-motivated attacks and hate speech, as well as collective expulsions from Libya and Algeria, she said.
In Libya, nearly 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers are registered with UNHCR, she continued, noting that the refugee agency is not authorized to access the disembarkation points controlled by entities involved in interception and rescue at sea. Many detained refugees are escorted from Libya to border areas and expelled to neighbouring countries, mainly Egypt, without procedural safeguards. “Libya is not a place of safety for the purposes of disembarkation, following rescue at sea.” Turning to the simultaneous arrival of large numbers of people on Lampedusa, and noting its limited reception capacities, she said that UNHCR supports the authorities in “decongesting” the island. “Italy cannot be left on its own in responding to the needs of the arrivals,” she said, calling for a regional disembarkation and redistribution mechanism for people who arrive by sea. The challenges of mixed movements of refugees and migrants require a “panoramic” view of population movements, stressing the need for establishing proper, legal, substantive migration pathways, she said.
She went on to set out several urgent recommendations, including human rights safeguards, increased search and rescue at sea, the prosecution of smugglers and traffickers, and resettlement and complementary pathways. Elaborating, she said that any cooperation or assistance provided to Libya or Tunisia should uphold the human rights of refugees and migrants. All States around the Mediterranean must urgently step up search and rescue efforts and implement effective and predictable disembarkation mechanisms. States must also cooperate on a route-based approach to investigate and prosecute smugglers. Finally, UNHCR urges all States to invest more in development and inclusion in countries of asylum and transit, as well as to remove barriers to family reunification and to expand resettlement quotas for refugees from Libya and other countries in North Africa, she said.
PÄR LILJERT, Director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Office to the United Nations, citing recent IOM data, said that between January and September, more than 187,000 people crossed the Mediterranean “in pursuit of a better future and the promise of safety”. Tragically, during the same period, IOM recorded 2,093 deaths along the central Mediterranean route. “While significant attention is dedicated to deaths at sea, the stories shared by migrants suggest that several tragedies may be going unnoticed, especially during the crossing of the Sahara Desert.” Although the central Mediterranean is “the most dangerous” route, Greece has seen a 300 per cent increase in arrivals this year, while entries into Italy have numbered 130,000 compared to 70,000 in 2022.
The impact of the conflict in Sudan is visible in the demography of those who arrive in Europe via the central Mediterranean route, he said. In August, 1,294 Sudanese transited through Tunisia, while crossings from Libya into Tunisia also increased. Expressing concern that discrimination and xenophobia directed at migrants and refugees are on the rise, he urged all States to ensure the dignity of those within their borders through a human rights-based approach that prioritizes lives. He added that IOM is also concerned about refugees and migrants who are intercepted at sea and sent back to face appalling conditions and abuse in detention centres. There were 10,992 such cases as of mid-September, he said.
“As the world is experiencing higher rates of conflict, disasters and environmental degradation than at any time in the past three decades, compounded by glaring inequalities and increased poverty, we can expect more and more people to embark on perilous journeys,” he said. In this context, IOM recommends that the international community find ways to foster regular migration; enhance regular pathways for migrants who do not qualify for refugee status; ensure that the rights of those in irregular situations are respected; support national and regional efforts to prevent and resolve forced displacements; and increase search and rescue operations and capabilities. “We must recognize that solutions to irregular migration cannot solely rely on preventing departures, but also on ensuring that we are effectively addressing the various drivers of migration in countries of origin, transit and, oftentimes, in countries of initial destination,” he added.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) noted that he requested today’s meeting after reading the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2652 (2022) (document S/2023/640), which showed that 3,111 people died in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe, an increase of 77 per cent from 2022: “This is a very sordid picture.” Tragedies such as the one on 14 June off the coast of Greece, in which 78 people died, demonstrate that the mechanism provided for in resolution 2240 (2015) is not functioning or is ineffective, he said, adding: “Why is this resolution needed if the European Union is unable to properly carry out the functions placed on it on its own request?” Recalling a remark by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy that everything must be done to protect “a blossoming garden from guests from the jungle,” he questioned whether his European colleagues support investigations into the failure of European border services to aid migrants in distress, and what measures are being undertaken within the Operation IRINI framework. The rights of refugees, internally displaced persons and stateless persons must be protected, he said, adding that the European Union does not extend the solidarity it shows to Ukrainian migrants to those migrating from North Africa and the Middle East.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), also speaking for Ghana and Gabon, called the central Mediterranean the deadliest route for refugees and migrants. States must prioritize assistance, search and rescue efforts, and protection and humanitarian support, and rescued migrants must be assigned a safe port of disembarkation and be treated with dignity regardless of their origins, religion, age or status. Greater efforts are also needed to address conflict, terrorism, poverty and climate change — factors that lead to the “worrisome scenario” being seen today. The flux of migrants through Libya has led to the creation of smuggling and trafficking networks in that country, he added, highlighting that the Global Compact on Migration and Global Compact on Refugees remain essential to improve migration governance and give better access to protection, assistance and justice for survivors. Equally important is the need for strengthening regional initiatives, including the African Union’s Migration Policy Framework for Africa and the United Nations-African Union-European Union Task Force on migration.
Close cooperation with other countries and agencies has led to the recent arrest and extradition of two key suspects of crimes against migrants and refugees from Ethiopia to the Netherlands and Italy, respectively, he continued. Strongly condemning the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and refugees in Libya, he called on the national authorities to ensure that migrants are protected from human rights violations. He also echoed the Secretary-General’s call for alternatives to detentions to manage migration, in line with international law. He went on to call for the Libyan authorities to show a renewed commitment, with the support of the Council and international community, to stabilize the country as soon as possible. “The stabilization of Libya would allow to strengthen control over its territory, dismantle the smuggling and human trafficking networks and reduce the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea,” he said.
DAI BING (China), spotlighting relief supplies and financial assistance provided by China to Libya following the storm that impacted the country, stated that the situation of migrants in Libya requires in-depth study to glean solutions and root causes. Some European Union countries have blamed others under the theme of human rights while at the same time shirking their responsibilities to ensure protection of migrants, thereby participating in severe human rights abuses. Fundamental rights must be upheld, he emphasized. Noting the role of poverty, social unrest and armed conflict as drivers of illegal migration in the high seas by Libya, he said: “Who would drift from place to place and undertake perilous journeys, unless their homes had not been destroyed and their survival hard to ensure?” In this context, he called for European Union countries to do more to address the root causes of irregular migration, including by helping develop economies and delivering overseas development assistance.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) said that Europe and the United States share many challenges related to irregular migration, as well as responsibility for managing migration on their borders. Prioritizing access to international protection and humane border management measures is essential to address forced displacement and irregular migration, he said, highlighting regional and multilateral approaches to that end. He commended the European Union for rescuing refugees and migrants on the high seas off Libya’s coast through its IRINI naval force operation, adding that there are reasonable grounds to suspect the use of vessels to smuggle migrants and engage in human trafficking. Operation IRINI is a key component to alleviating human tragedy at sea, as it puts the primary focus on the human rights of migrants. “This challenge is bigger than just Operation IRINI,” he emphasized, and the international community can do more to help vulnerable migrants.
ANDRÉS EFREN MONTALVO SOSA (Ecuador) said that his country’s long tradition of humanitarian protection has made it a regional and a worldwide reference, with the highest numbers of requests for refugee status in Latin America. To date, it has registered hundreds of thousands of people of 88 nationalities who need international protection, of which more than 75,000 were recognized as refugees. In addition, Ecuador has experienced all facets of the migratory phenomenon, be it country of origin, destination, return or refuge. As such, it has sought to promote safe, orderly, regular and responsible migration and to combat networks of trafficking and smuggling of migrants. Risky migration through different routes is a danger that exposes people to sexual violence, torture, slavery and other conditions of exploitation both during transit and at destination. Migrants and asylum seekers need to be treated with dignity, he said, urging States to put into place mechanisms for disembarkation on risky maritime routes.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), emphasizing that the Mediterranean remains a perilous migratory route, said that her country is committed to saving lives and to the effective management of mass migration, in line with international law. Resolution 2240 (2015) and its renewals reaffirmed the Council’s determination to combat the smuggling of migrants and trafficking of persons off the Libyan coast. Most often, the journeys of refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants are facilitated by human traffickers and smugglers, she said, adding that the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean Operation IRINI has helped to counter this phenomenon. Calling for further capacity-building measures, she reiterated Malta’s commitment to save lives and respond to displacement crises. For its part, the Council should address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement through a comprehensive and integrated approach, she added.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) said that while IOM has recorded 21,105 missing migrants since 2014, there are many more who have not been counted. “We need to combat trafficking and exploitation of migrants,” he said, adding that Switzerland works to improve the protection and sustainable integration of refugees, displaced persons and migrants in their first host region and along migratory routes. For its part, the international community must tackle the root causes of forced displacement caused by armed conflicts and the consequences of climate change. To this end, he added, the Council should enhance crisis prevention and protection of civilian populations. Strong partnerships are also crucial, he said, adding that Switzerland remains committed to improving the search for missing persons and restoring family ties. The Global Refugee Forum, to be held in Geneva in December, is an excellent opportunity to strengthen cooperation, announce new multi-stakeholder commitments and exchange best practices, he added.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), stating that France has welcomed 700,000 forcibly displaced persons, making it the third country of such refuge in the European Union, pointed out that among them were Ukrainian refugees who fled the Russian Federation’s war of aggression. That conflict has forcibly displaced more than 11 million people, including 6.3 million refugees, he added. France contributed €93 million to the UNHCR budget, while the European Union member States contribute more than €1.5 billion, which represents respectively 50 times and 750 times the contribution of the Russian Federation, which does not respond to humanitarian crises. France is committed to establishing a Libyan State — the only way to end trafficking, he said, calling for more intensive cooperation among States to prevent dramas such as the ones unfolding in the Mediterranean. Council members must help counter insecurity, he added, noting that the Wagner Group’s presence in the Sahel fuels terrorism and leads to displacement.
THOMAS PATRICK PHIPPS (United Kingdom) said that Libya is a complex operating environment for tackling migration and human smuggling. Recognizing the efforts of France and Malta in drafting the renewal of the Council resolution 2652 (2022), he said that all migrants, regardless of their migration status, and refugees should be treated with dignity. Expressing concern about abuses of migrants and refugees in Libya, he called for a more holistic approach to tackle the drivers of migration across Africa and the western Mediterranean route. The United Kingdom continues to urge Libyan authorities to respect migrants and refugees, he said, adding: “Unfortunately, these challenges will sadly endure in Libya in the absence of a political solution.” Hopefully, the Russian Federation will give equal support to language focusing on human rights and international law when the Council discusses the extension of the United Nations Support Mission to Libya (UNSMIL) in October, he added.
GHASAQ YOUSIF ABDALLA SHAHEEN (United Arab Emirates) said that the world’s many challenges — including conflict, climate change and food insecurity — are leading the displacement of millions of people. Displaced persons now total 110 million, of whom half were displaced due to conflict. In this context, she underlined the need to protect migrants and refugees and ensuring their rights are respected. Voicing concern over the uptick in deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean, she said that the international community must do more to tackle the drivers of irregular migration and support development in post-conflict communities, including early recovery projects. With migration related to climate change set to increase, the link between both phenomena should be tackled, and support should be lent to countries impacted by such migration, she added.
SHINO MITSUKO (Japan) said that it is shocking that more than 3,000 persons died or went missing in the Mediterranean between August 2022 and June 2023. While many of those who arrived in Europe departed from Libya and Tunisia, the international community should not consider this as only a North African issue. Collective actions are required to solve this problem. While welcoming efforts to rescue migrants, intercept boats and tackle the smuggling and trafficking of persons off the Libyan coast, she called for a holistic approach to address the root causes of irregular migration. She also urged the Libyan parties to fully respect human rights, expressed concern over reports of violence and reiterated Japan’s commitment to international cooperation to stop the unfolding tragedy.
NORBERTO MORETTI (Brazil) said that measures authorized through Council resolution 2240 (2015) do not criminalize migration flows and should not be interpreted in such a way. Those intercepting vessels must place human rights and the immediate needs of migrants and refugees at the core of their efforts to prevent and counter smuggling and trafficking. The issue should not be politicized and taken out of context, he added. Moreover, States must ensure that border governance measures do not conflict with the prohibition of collective expulsions. Such measures must comply with human rights standards as well as search and rescue obligations under international maritime law. Calling for addressing the root causes of irregular migration, he highlighted the importance of effectively implementing the Global Compact for Migration. He also expressed hope that the Global Refugee Forum will foster ambitious commitments for improving the situation of those fleeing persecution.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), Council President for September, speaking in his national capacity, deplored illegal migration flows, which are putting the lives of innocent people at risk. Albania stands for the humane treatment of migrants. Migrant flows, albeit unsustainable, are causing tragedies, he said, adding that the death toll is unacceptable. Sustainable solutions must be sought and found. He commended the work of Operation IRINI and looked forward to the Council’s renewal of its mandate. Underlining the importance of preventive measures to disrupt criminal networks, he called for greater efforts to deal with the root causes of migration, including food insecurity, climate change, terrorism and conflict. As well, border management must be strengthened. He went on to express support for instruments that fostered legal migration “for those entitled to it”.