Safe and Legal Routes
While global attention has been drawn to the evolving conflict in Ukraine and the mass movement of civilians to neighbouring countries, irregular migration routes continue to be deadly for many people around the world who are searching for safety.
Over the last year, the number of migrants crossing the Balkan route (which begins in Turkey, goes through Bulgaria or Greece and winds its way through various former republics of Yugoslavia) has begun to rise, in part attributing to the recent Afghanistan crisis. According to latest reporting , 5,859 people used this route in 2018 and this rebounded to 60,541 in 2021. Hungary’s punitive border policies towards migrants have left hundreds of asylum seekers abandoned in rural areas of neighbouring Serbia. Earlier this year, Poland announced that it had started building a €353m wall along the frontier with Belarus aimed at preventing refugees from entering the country and many people had previously been neglected a the borders across this route. As the crisis in Ukraine continues to unfold, surrounding countries have bypassed established refugee procedures to allow for the mass movement of civilians fleeing the conflict. While we have seen compassionate responses to the evolving crisis, as violence intensifies and the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine continues to increase, we must not perpetuate dynamics of elitism at borders, and we must treat all people as equal – ensuring that third-country nationals and already marginalised groups are not discriminated against when navigating borders and aid systems. As an international NGO which has responded to migration crises around the world, we have always established the rights of asylum seekers and prioritised the needs of marginalised groups, thus we reinforce today that everyone deserves equal access to aid and asylum support.
Around 70 migrants who have been missing off the Libyan coast since February have now been presumed dead according to the UN agency for migration. 22 migrants have been found dead after 2 boats recently capsized, and the death toll in the Central Mediterranean is now believed to be around 215 this year alone. This comes as nearly 2,000 migrants were recorded to have drowned in 2021.
It is estimated that more than 12,000 people are currently being held in 27 prisons across Libya. The aid organisation, Oxfam, has denounced that over 20,000 migrants who were taken back by coast guards to Libya in 2021 have gone missing. There have been many reports of blackmailing and extortion in Libyan jails and detention centres, many migrants face inhumane conditions and are exposed to violence at these sites. InfoMigrants has received many testimonies over the years about the violent techniques used by detention guards to intimidate and exploit those trapped at the centres. For those transiting from Libya who are intercepted by the Libyan coastguard, detention can become a stark reality. According to data gathered by UNHCR, out of 15,000 people disembarked, only 702 people were released from disembarkation points in the first 6 months of 2021. Libya is not a safe port for disembarkation, we have seen time and time again the exploitative and violent measures adopted in Libya’s detention facilities and there have been repeated accounts of modern-day slave trade across the region.
According to Filippo Grandi, head of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the conflict has triggered the “fasted-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War”. More than 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine, creating a devastating humanitarian crisis. They are mostly women and children. Read more about the Ukraine context here.
Safe and Legal Routes
By “safe and legal routes” we mean all those regularized measures and pathways that can ensure a safe passage for people found to be in need of international protection, that do not force them to put their lives at risk to claim asylum. Furthermore, it is also a mechanism through which to ensure and a prepared and robust reception and integration system is available on arrival, a luxury often not afforded to those arriving through irregular channels.
As mentioned previously, when we are inundated with constant updates on the numbers of lives lost at sea, or in dangerous migration routes, such news can instill a sense of apathy among people, the numbers are hard to digest and the identities of those who make such dangerous crossings can be lost within the general narrative of the articles. These people are children, mothers, fathers, people fleeing war, poverty and in search of safety and a better future. We must continue to advocate for alternative pathways of migration and to raise awareness on the importance and need for #SafeAndLegalRoutes for migration so that people don’t have to risk their lives to reach safety. For more information about what Safe and Legal Routes are and how they can be implemented, access the blog here.
Every life is important, every identity is unique and every statistic is a human being. Sensationalist news can bring about a general sense of fatigue as we feel unable to contribute in changing the story and outcomes, by joining our campaign, you can help MOAS tell a different kind of story – where every life is valued as we call for safe and legal routes.
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