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Migration across the Mediterranean – why we now need a coalition of the willing

Refugees being rescued from drowning.

Refugees being rescued from drowning., © picture alliance

22.07.2019 - Article

The challenges of displacement and migration are complex and require solutions at various levels. However, a rapid and pragmatic answer is urgently needed as regards the distribution of people rescued at sea. Germany is willing to do its part.

By mid-July 2019, almost 700 men, women and children had lost their lives in the Mediterranean while attempting to make the crossing to Europe. These dramatic figures show that Europe must urgently find an answer to the wide-ranging challenges posed by displacement and migration. Where do the problems lie and what are the possible solutions?

A stable mechanism for sea rescues

A rapid and pragmatic solution is most important as regards disembarking and distributing people rescued at sea. It often takes weeks before a ship is allowed to dock in a port and for its passengers to be assigned to a host country. This situation must stop. This requires a stable mechanism that resolves these issues at least provisionally in advance.

Ahead of a meeting of EU Foreign Affairs and Interior Ministers in Paris today (22 July), Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Germany was willing to “make a reliable contribution to this also in the future” and “to move forward with other countries as partners in a coalition of those willing to help”. If enough countries share this willingness, the deadlock in the EU could soon be resolved, at least for sea rescues. The European asylum system as a whole would then need to be reformed in order to permanently ease the burden on host countries such as Italy and Malta that are particularly affected by the situation.

More aid for transit countries like Libya

However, a new distribution mechanism can only be part of a broader answer to the challenges of displacement and migration. Among other things, this response must include more support for countries outside Europe that are particularly hit by refugee and migrant flows.

Libya, for example, needs particular support in this area. According to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 640,000 refugees and migrants from 39 countries are currently registered in Libya. However, only a small percentage of these people has a right to international protection. Around 5600 people, some of whom live in terrible conditions in so-called detention centres located very close to conflict zones, are particularly vulnerable.

In response, Germany has increased its contribution to UNHCR for Libya by a further two million euros to a current total of five million euros and has also boosted funding for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) by 500,000 euros to a total of 1.5 million euros. One of the aims of this increased funding is to support UNHCR’s efforts to resettle particularly vulnerable people from Libya via the Niger.

Addressing the causes of displacement and irregular migration

However, a lasting solution will only be possible if the causes of displacement and irregular migration are addressed. Germany is thus actively supporting projects aimed at preventing crises and helping to ensure that the reasons why people flee their homes do not arise in the first place. Alongside participation in peace missions, such projects include measures to strengthen local police structures in the Congo and promote the reconciliation process in Mali. Stabilisation projects in conflict and post-conflict situations re-establish a safe environment, basic healthcare and functioning infrastructure, thus giving refugees opportunities to return to their home countries.

The aim of long-term effective mechanisms in the field of migration must also be to tackle the causes of irregular migration. Studies repeatedly show that a lack of economic opportunities and of trust in governance are the main reasons why people leave their home. This issue must be addressed in the endeavours to manage migration effectively, as agreed for example in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

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