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Migration issues More help for Africa mooted after boat tragedy

Keepring watch: Lampedusa is a key destination for migrant vessels

(Keystone)

More should be done to help refugees in their countries of origin, the Swiss foreign and justice ministers say. Their comments come following the latest deadly boat accident involving migrants in the Mediterranean.

On Friday at least 30 people – said to be mostly Syrians - died after a boat capsized in Maltese waters near Lampedusa, an island close to Italy - the same day another 12 migrants died in a shipwreck off of Egypt.

Those tragedies came just eight days after at least 300 Eritreans died when their boat sank within sight of Lampedusa. The island lies 120 kilometres off the North African coast and is a key destination for migrant vessels bound for Europe.

“Switzerland should work better and more intensively with its European partners within the Schengen treaty framework  and with migrants’ countries of origin,” Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said in comments given to the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

This latest “terrible tragedy” had shown that international cooperation was more important than ever, he added. Burkhalter thus welcomed that the Swiss parliament had  decided to increase development aid to 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2015.

“Added to this are the migration partnerships that we want to conclude with more countries and which belong to a complete migration policy,” he added.

Within Africa, Switzerland already has such agreements with Tunisia and Nigeria, which have agreed to support Switzerland over deportations. In return Switzerland helps with repatriation aid and programmes.

More to be done

For her part, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told Swiss public radio on Saturday that Switzerland could not solve migration issues alone.

Asked about whether asylum requests could once again be filed at Swiss embassies – a practice recently abolished – Sommaruga said this was worth “consideration” but only if other European countries also did so. “We will certainly discuss this in Europe,” she said.

She said that Europe was helping migrants. In terms of Switzerland, she pointed to development work, migrant partnerships and support for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  “We are already doing a lot, but we could do more,” she said in the interview.

Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat has said that the boat accidents are turning European waters close to Africa into “a cemetery”. Both Malta and Italy have called for the EU to take more action to help. On Sunday Muscat arrived in Libya to discuss the issue of migrants using this north African state as a staging ground for their sea journeys toward European shores.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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