The United Nations has initiated a massive probe into Monday’s deadly boat accident in the Mediterranean in which nearly 500 migrants mainly African are believed to have perished. The team has been tasked with investigating the incident, one of the worst sea disasters in 2016 involving migrants.
According to eyewitness accounts, scores of people including migrant women and children were swept away by the southern Mediterranean currents as soon as their boat capsized. As many as 200 among the refugees feared lost may have hailed from Somalia, according to Somalian government sources. Survivors had reported that the tragic incident occurred when migrants using poorly equipped sailboats attempted to board a larger vessel in a desperate bid to reach southern Europe from Libya.
The probe announced by UN refugee agency UNHCR on Tuesday suggested that unconfirmed eyewitness accounts from survivors may not have been adequately verified by other independent sources. The probe was therefore intended to satisfactorily corroborate actual eyewitness accounts in the absence of official confirmation on numbers.
International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo is equally circumspect about the accuracy of the accounts being reported.
“We cannot confirm anything until we have a direct testimony or something from official authorities,”
While many of these migrants may be attempting to flee war-torn Libya, it is believed that a considerable number could have been those migrating for mostly economic reasons, particularly those migrants arriving from sub-Saharan countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.
Last month, Turkey and the European Union had jointly endorsed an agreement which was meant to restrict the otherwise unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers and economic migrants streaming into western European territory mostly through the eastern Mediterranean. Under the agreement, migrants flocking from Turkey into Greece were to be deported back to the former’s territory. However, among nearly 50,000 of those arriving prior to the signing of the agreement, scores are still reportedly stranded in the country, painfully languishing in open spaces just inside the Greek-Macedonian border.
According to statistics, since the commencement of the agreement, over 6,000 people have attempted to chance the exceedingly perilous Aegean Sea route. Earlier in January nearly 50 people, almost half of these children, perished in the waters near Greece marking one of the worst-ever incidents of this kind to occur since the migrations originally began. Over a hundred people were believed to have been on board the sailboat at the time of the tragedy, reports had said.
Human rights groups have slammed the EU-Turkey deal, arguing the agreement gravely ignores refugees’ rights and clearly contravenes the parameters of international law. According to Fred Abrahams, associated with the Human Rights Watch, the countries may have acted in an utter disregard for the rights of asylum seekers in particular.
“In the mad dash to start the deportations deal with Turkey, the European Union and Greece tossed rights to the wind, including for people who wanted to seek asylum. The abusive deportations expose the fundamental flaws in the EU’s expedited mass returns to a country that cannot be considered safe.”
Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has also blasted EU’s deal with Turkey in a report, suggesting that the deal is a major cause for concern especially on matters specific to the treatment of migrants and their right to obtain legal assistance as necessitated, under the expressly delineated provisions of International Law.
‘The EU-Turkey Agreement, however, at best strains and at worst exceeds the limits of what is permissible under European and international law. Even on paper, it raises many serious questions of compatibility with basic norms on refugees’ and migrants’ rights. It has so far given every indication of being even more problematic in practice”
However, despite the heavy criticism, political leaders in countries which have endorsed the agreement have defended the initiative citing the more recent drop in refugee numbers flocking into their borders as an indicator of the deal’s early success.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 700 people have perished in 2016 thus far attempting the deadly journey across the Mediterranean into southern Europe. More than a million migrants and refugees had arrived in Europe in 2015, compounding the dilemma of the host countries that have largely struggled to confront and deal with the soaring tide of migrants and refugees, with a vast majority of these arriving by sea.
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