Minister calls for more action over boat drownings

Good cooperation: Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga (right) and Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Keystone

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga has said that it is important for people not to get “too used to” migrant boat tragedies on the Mediterranean.

This content was published on June 3, 2016 - 10:13 and agencies

She made the comments following a meeting in the capital, BernExternal link, with Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for RefugeesExternal link, on Thursday.

On May 31, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) saidExternal link that at least 880 people were believed to have downed in the previous week in a spate of shipwrecks and boat capsizings on the Mediterranean.

It added that 2016 was proving to be particularly deadly, with some 2,510 lives lost so far, compared to 1,855 in the same period in 2015, and 57 in the first five months of 2014.

Europe must do more to stop these tragedies from happening, Sommaruga told the Swiss news agency after the meeting.

Libya situation

The situation in Libya is catastrophic, she continued, which is pushing people into taking this dangerous journey to Europe. The international community is helpless because it has no point of contact in Libya.

Switzerland would be ready to support projects in Libya, Sommaruga said. It is taking part in an International Organisation for Migration (IOM)External link project to support particularly vulnerable refugees in returning to their homelands, she added.

Switzerland and the UNHCR agree on the importance of help in the field, Grandi said. The aim is to stabilise the situation and develop perspectives.

The strain on Turkey and Greece was discussed. Switzerland supports the UNHCR in both countries, it was made clear.

Switzerland is also taking in refugees – 1,000 so far from the crisis regions around Syria - as part of the UNHCR’s resettlement programme. A further 500 people are expected this year.

Reform of the European asylum system was also a topic. Both UNHCR and Switzerland welcomed the proposals of the European CommissionExternal link to ensure no country is left with a disproportionate pressure on its asylum system (add link). All countries must take some responsibility, Sommaruga intoned.

In terms of funds, Switzerland has made CHF250 million ($252 million) available since the crisis started in 2011 for humanitarian aid in Syria and neighbouring countries. Grandi thanked Switzerland for its efforts but said he was worried about the increasing humanitarian needs and lack of funds to deal with this. Switzerland was an important partner for the UNHCR, Grandi said.

On Friday, the government announced that it had adopted the 2015 report External linkon Switzerland’s foreign policy for migrants, adding that the year had been marked by the intensification of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, which had led to huge rise in asylum requests in Europe. It underlined its humanitarian and development work in the regions. 

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