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Mediterranean boat tragedies Common European solution needed for refugee crisis

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga reacted to the boat crisis on Monday

(Keystone)

Switzerland is prepared to contribute to a common European solution to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said on Monday after several major boat tragedies claimed the lives of migrants attempting to travel by sea to Europe.

It is important to consider all options to help the people caught in the “deathtrap”, said Sommaruga. There are enough ideas on the table, but no easy solutions, she said, and it is difficult to set up an effective system in North African states, which are already struggling.

In March 2015 the Swiss cabinet agreed to take in 3,000 Syrian refugees over the course of three years and approved CHF50 million ($52.4 million) in aid for 2015. But refugees are fleeing from numerous countries in addition to Syria.

European countries have to cooperate to stem the crisis, said Sommaruga. However, she did not attend an emergency meeting of EU foreign and interior ministers in Luxembourg on Monday since Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.

European reaction

A 10-point plan for immediate action was presented following the Luxembourg meeting, and included strengthening of search and rescue operations on the Mediterranean Sea and a doubling of the financing and ships available to the EU's Triton border protection operation.

In a statement from Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe must first step up its fight against human traffickers and then work to overcome the root causes of migration.

Commenting on the situation on Monday, United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein didn’t mince words.

"Europe is turning its back on some of the most vulnerable migrants in the world and risks turning the Mediterranean into a vast cemetery," he said in a statement. The fact that so many people are fleeing their countries of origin is “the result of a continuing failure of governance accompanied by a monumental failure of compassion".

On Sunday, as many as 900 refugees are believed to have died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya. And on Monday there were further reports of migrant ships in distress.

“It is a terrible and unbelievable tragedy,” said Simonetta Sommaruga. “Our thoughts go out to the victims and their relatives.” 

The proposed 10-point plan:

1. The EU will reinforce the EU's maritime patrolling operations in the Mediterranean, called Triton and Poseidon, by giving them more money and equipment. The EU will also extend their scope to patrol a wider area of sea.

2. The bloc will make a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the people smugglers, using the EU's counter-piracy "Atalanta" operation off Somalia as a model.

3. The EU's law enforcement, border control, asylum and prosecutors' agencies will meet regularly and work closely to gather information on how the smugglers operate, to trace their funds and help investigate them.

4. The EU's asylum support office will to deploy teams in Italy and Greece for joint processing of asylum applications.

5. EU governments will fingerprint all migrants.

6. The EU will consider options for an "emergency relocation mechanism" for migrants.

7. The European Commission will launch a voluntary pilot project on resettling refugees across the EU.

8. The EU will establish a new programme for rapid return of "irregular" migrants coordinated by EU agency Frontex from the EU's Mediterranean countries.

9. The EU will engage with countries surrounding Libya through a joint effort between the Commission and the EU's diplomatic service.

10. The EU will deploy immigration liaison officers abroad to gather intelligence on migratory flows and strengthen the role of the EU delegations.

(Credit: Reuters)

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swissinfo.ch and agencies

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