The International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) secretary-general, Koji Sekimizu has reiterated the need for action to address unsafe and illegal migration at sea.
Following recent reports of over 2000 migrants being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea, and several hundred losing their lives, Sekimizu has said that there needs to be a ‘concerted effort’ to address the issue of criminals who illegally organised sea transit for migrants.
“We do not seek to prevent migration. People have the human right to migrate. But it is time to stop illegal, unregulated passage arranged by people smugglers. Not only do they put the lives of the migrants in danger, they also endanger the rescue services and merchant shipping which take part in the rescue operations. Something needs to be done against the smugglers or the situation will not improve. It is placing an intolerable strain on rescue services and on merchant vessels,” Sekimizu said.
While the secretary-general said the efforts made by the Italian coastguard and other authorities were appreciated, he also drew attention to the fact that more than 200,000 people were rescued and more than 3,000 reported to have died in unregulated, illegal sea passages on the Mediterranean during 2014.
“This is a serious issue for IMO and a humanitarian tragedy,” Sekimizu said.
"There is a strong tradition of search and rescue at sea and this will continue but the search and rescue services provided by a number of countries are overstretched. Even with the contribution of the Italian Navy and Italian Coast Guard, more than 600 merchant ships were diverted last year to go to the support of persons in distress at sea. This is beyond acceptable limits and without the Italian efforts many more would have died. The efforts of Italian rescuers – and others – are greatly appreciated but we have reached the point where we need to focus more effort on the prevention side.”
On the 4 March 2015, the IMO will host an inter-agency meeting on the Travelling of Migrants by Sea which is expected to be attended by the International Organisation for Migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Interpol, among other organisations. The IMO says that it expects the meeting to develop potential ways forward both by individual agencies and through the Global Migration Group.