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Stemming migration death toll from Africa to Spain

UN-backed conference seeks to stem death toll in migration from Africa to Spain

Faced with a rising death toll at sea among migrants seeking to reach Spain from Africa, the United Nations refugee agency today sponsored a conference in Madrid to promote practical and effective cooperation between Mediterranean States to tackle the humanitarian and protection aspects of irregular migration.

“Thousands of lives have been lost over the last decade,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva. “The rising death toll at sea stemming from movements from North Africa has put the issue of irregular migration on the international agenda.”

The conference – Rescue at Sea and Maritime Interception in the Mediterranean – has been organized by UNHCR with funding from the European Union and aims to foster greater understanding of the dynamics of maritime movements.

“People taking the perilous sea journey, crammed in unseaworthy vessels, do so for a variety of reasons,” Ms. Pagonis said. “Although the majority tend to be economic migrants, a proportion of those travelling across the Mediterranean – and, inevitably, of those dying in the attempt – are refugees.”

UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, in Madrid for the opening of the conference, will also visit the Canary Islands where, in recent weeks, hundreds of people have arrived by sea from North Africa. She is due to meet with local authorities and visit recent arrivals at a reception centre in Las Palmas.

Last week, Ms. Feller was in Mauritania, where she discussed with the authorities how and where UNHCR can contribute to better management of the problem.

UNHCR sees itself as a partner in a broad collaborative response to the challenges posed by mixed flows of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. These challenges demand responses which address the specific needs and rights of the individuals involved, including the prompt identification of those in need of international protection.

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