Berlin (dpa) – More than 1,000 people have drowned in 2019 so far trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the UN refugee agency said on Wednesday.
Some 1,028 people are assumed to have died as of Tuesday, Dominik Bartsch, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to Germany, said. In 2018, the UNHCR counted 2,277 deaths and missing persons.
Europe must face up to its responsibilities, Bartsch said.
“This is the sixth consecutive year that more than 1,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean,” Bartsch said. “This situation is a moral fiasco and absolutely unacceptable.”
According to an agreement recently reached between Germany, France, Italy and Malta, asylum seekers rescued from the sea and brought ashore will be distributed among the participating EU states within four weeks.
The aim is to have a regulation that applies to all EU states. Currently, the country in which a refugee first sets foot on European soil is the country responsible for processing their asylum application.
“A viable mechanism must be put in place so that people rescued in the Mediterranean do not remain on boats as hostages to weeks of haggling in often undignified conditions,” Bartsch said.
This is not about a guarantee to be allowed to stay, he added. “But these people must have the right to present their application for asylum.”
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), almost two-thirds of verified migrant deaths in the Mediterranean are people trying to cross from North Africa to Italy. Since the beginning of 2014, at least 15,000 people have died fleeing across the Mediterranean.