GENEVA (AFP) – Ministers from 13 European and African countries on Monday pledged steps to ease the migrant crisis around the Mediterranean, vowing especially to improve conditions for migrants held in Libya.
Interior ministers and other representatives from countries impacted by the ongoing wave of migration up through Africa towards Europe, including Libya, voiced deep concern over the “ongoing human tragedy” along the so-called Central Mediterranean route.
“The participants intend to address the challenges posed by the alarming situation along the migration route to North Africa,” Switzerland, which hosted the third meeting of the so-called contact group on the crisis, said in a statement.
Thousands of migrants and refugees who attempt to travel along this route “find themselves in catastrophic situations,” it said, pointing to widespread abuse and extortion along the way, and to the many who perish in the desert or trying to cross the Mediterranean.
So far this year, nearly 3,000 people have died trying to make the dangerous sea voyage to Europe, according to U.N. figures.
A main focus for the participants at Monday’s meeting was “strengthening the prevention of migrant smuggling, combating human trafficking and supporting the voluntary return of migrants to their countries of origin,” Bern said.
In a joint declaration, the ministers voiced particular concern for the refugees and migrants who attempt to transit through war-ravaged Libya, often falling prey to serious abuse there at the hands of human traffickers and others.
A top priority, they said, was to “improve the conditions in detention centres and promote alternatives to detention.”
They vowed to support authorities and organisations providing humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees and push for the release from detention of especially vulnerable people, including children and the elderly.
The announcement came after the U.N. at the weekend evacuated 25 “extremely vulnerable refugees” of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Sudanese nationals from Libya to Niger.
U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi told Monday’s meeting that his agency hoped to evacuate another 400 vulnerable refugees from Libya by the end of the year.
The ministers also said they would work with Libyan authorities to create a system for monitoring the situation of detained migrants to ensure “the respect of international human rights and humanitarian standards.”
The declaration also stressed the need to step up investigations and prosecutions of human traffickers and to improve resettlement options for refugees along the migration route.
A few months ago, the U.N. refugee agency urgently called or 40,000 resettlement places for refugees stranded in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia.
But Mr. Grandi on Monday lamented that so far only 10,500 places had been offered worldwide.