Posted by: africanpressorganization | 8 November 2011

Expert Meeting on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Distress at Sea Opens in Djibouti



Expert Meeting on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Distress at Sea Opens in Djibouti


GENEVA, Switzerland, November 8, 2011/African Press Organization (APO)/ — IOM is taking part in a three-day meeting organized by UNHCR and the Government of Djibouti on how best to respond to the needs of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees who find themselves in situations of distress at sea.


The meeting, which opens today in Djibouti, brings together government representatives and academics alongside experts from UNHCR, IOM, the International Maritime Organization, the ICRC and IFRC.


Participants aim to identify challenges in responding to distress at sea situations involving people with various profiles and needs, including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. They will also seek to outline specific measures to improve rescue at sea arrangements, promote interstate cooperation and develop practical measures for the rescue and disembarkation of rescued people.


International attention has recently focused on the movement of Somalis and Ethiopians across the Gulf of Aden, on the increasing numbers of sea arrivals in Australia, and on the outflow of people from North Africa to Europe.


Despite the recurrence of situations involving people in distress at sea, search and rescue operations, disembarkation, processing and the identification of solutions for those rescued, including for persons of concern to UNHCR, are recurring challenges for States, international organizations and the shipping industry.


“Despite the tightening of existing Conventions to reinforce the global Search and Rescue regime, gaps remain when it comes to putting these principles into practice,” says IOM’s Irena Vojackova-Sollorano. “Cooperative approaches that bring together governments, the shipping industry, NGOs and international organizations are therefore urgently needed if we are to ensure the safety and protection of all people rescued at sea.”


The respect for the human rights of all beneficiaries of rescue at sea operations, regardless of their legal status is paramount. The special needs of vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied minors, women, victims of smugglers and traffickers, and persons in need of medical care must be given particular consideration in all response activities, whether during rescue operations, on board, at disembarkation and thereafter. Moreover, the principles of international protection must always be respected and any migrants rescued at sea that request asylum referred to UNHCR and relevant national authorities.


As part of the Praesidium Project, IOM has been working with the UNHCR and Save the Children since 2006 at the Reception and Rescue Centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa.


The three Organizations recently voiced their concern over the Italian authorities’ decision to declare Lampedusa an unsafe port. Such a decision could undermine the entire rescue at sea system for migrants and asylum seekers by making rescue operations much more hazardous and complex. The closing of the port in Lampedusa effectively means that the Italian Coast Guards would have to travel an additional 120 nautical miles to reach the next safe port at Porto Empedocle in Sicily.


In February 2007, IOM provided assistance to a group of 369 male Asian and African undocumented migrants who remained stranded onboard an unseaworthy vessel for more than a week off the Mauritanian coast. The ship, the Marine 1, was eventually allowed to dock in the northern Mauritanian port of Nouadhibou where they were assisted by IOM, the Mauritanian Red Crescent and Spanish Red Cross.



International Office of Migration (IOM)


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