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OVER one thousand refugees have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.
UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley told the Star: “Reaching this milestone once is awful — reaching this milestone six years in a row is a tragedy.
“We have to change the way we respond. We cannot continue to ignore the plight of people dying on our doorstep. More search and rescue capacity, including a return of EU state search and rescue vessels, is urgently needed.
“The crucial role of NGO search and rescue operations must be acknowledged. They have saved countless lives. They should not be criminalised nor penalised for their humanitarian efforts.
“No arrests of crew. No seizure of boats. No denial of ports to dock.”
Last month the European Union agreed to extend its anti-human trafficking mission Operation Sophia for a further six months. But the bloc still failed to redeploy any search and rescue ships, which were cut from the mission entirely in April due to objections from Italy.
A spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said: “At least 1,000 men, women and children have lost their lives at sea this year in the Mediterranean Sea. This tragic milestone should never have been reached. It is damning evidence of the human cost of European inaction.
“After six years of sustained tragedy in the Mediterranean, European leaders must wake up to the ongoing emergency in the Mediterranean and fulfil their duty to protect the vulnerable people who take this extreme risk.
“Increased search and rescue capacity and a reliable disembarkation mechanism are urgently needed to ensure this toll goes no higher.”
The UNHCR also called on Greece today to urgently move thousands of refugees out of dangerously overcrowded reception centres on the Aegean islands.
“The situation on Lesbos, Samos and Kos is critical,” UNHCR spokeswoman Liz Throssell said today.
“The Moria centre on Lesbos is already at five times its capacity with 12,600 people. At a nearby informal settlement, 100 people share a single toilet.”
The announcement comes days after a mother and — according to some reports — a child burnt to death in a fire at the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos.
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