United Nations Activity in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea is one of thee biggest migration routes in the world as people in Africa take the perilous journey to Libya to try and get onto a vessel that will take them onward to mainland Europe.

The fact that Libya has descended into chaos following the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship puts people at even more peril. In the past, the refugees used to pile onto rickety old vessels that often used to sink while on their way to Europe. Nowadays, the people smugglers use huge inflatable dinghies to send people on their way with minimal, if any, training.

In the past, the migration dilemma was usually dealt with by the tiny island nation of Malta and Italy, which also holds island territories which are on the same route.

The tipping point

The issue came to a head in 2016 when a boat carrying some 800 people capsized in the Mediterranean. Malta and Italy scrambled their rescue teams to save those who somehow managed to survive. Following this tragedy, the European Union and the United Nations decided that it was time to do something about the issue.

The UNHCR now coordinates many of the patrol vessels that rescue migrants close to the shores of Libya. But their work does not end there. When these people are brought to shore, they are put into detention centres and holding camps, which are also put under the watchful eyes of the UNHCR.

Members of the UNHCR help allocate resources that are made available through the United Nations and they also collaborate with local authorities to process the the applications for asylum that are made by refugees in the country of arrival.

Unfortunately, the issue is still a very hot topic in Europe and may view migrants as criminals or potential criminals. The UNHCR does what it can to try and educate people about the plight of refugees.