The United Nations High Commission for Refugees was created in 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. Its purpose is to safeguard the rights of refugees and assist in resolving refugee problems worldwide. This agency has been making extensive efforts to raise public awareness about the crisis of immigration by providing information on their website and social media platforms. The UNHCR has estimated that, so far, since January 2015, around 470 people have either died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea, compared to 15 people during the same period last year. This is a drastic increase in just one year and exhibits the urgency with which the EU needs to come together to find a solution in order to keep the death toll from rising.
Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, sent a letter to the European Union, offering proposals for action that the European Union could take in combating the crisis in the Mediterranean Sea (read the press release here ). These proposals are all part of the UNHCR’s Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI), the goal of which is to encourage communication and cooperation among member states to respond to the immigration crisis.The UNHCR’s proposals include the creation of a European search and rescue mission, similar to the Italian Mare Nostrum mission, which would be funded by the whole EU, and also to have the EU offer compensation to shipping companies “for losses incurred while rescuing people in distress at sea.” Furthermore, the UNHCR is prompting the EU to come up with ways to handle newly arrived immigrants, so that the burden of the work does not fall exclusively on the coastal states, like Italy. They also want to help countries like Germany and Sweden, who are receiving the highest numbers of asylum applications. Additionally, as reported in the press release, the UNHCR is proposing a pilot program that would relocate Syrian refugees rescued off the coast of Greece and Italy to different countries across Europe, allowing for a more fair and even distribution system.
With people in places like Syria facing increasingly dangerous conditions at home, the UNHCR is also calling on EU member states to commit to helping refugees find aid and protection in their own countries. This is an opportunity for Europe to set an example and implement a humanitarian response that helps citizens who are fleeing war and violence at home. There is still a long journey ahead towards complete cooperation within the EU; however, I believe that the UNHCR proposals are a step in the right direction.