GENEVA – The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on Wednesday urged Mediterranean countries to urgently expand their search and rescue services at sea.
It said that Italy closed down its Mare Nostrum rescue programme in October for financial reasons, handing over the effort to the EU Triton mission, a much smaller operation.
“Unfortunately Mare Nostrum was never replaced by an equivalent capacity to rescue people,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said on a visit to Beirut.
The UNHCR has not only called for a more robust EU rescue operation, but also for a scheme to compensate commercial shipping companies for rescuing migrants, it said.
While noting the increasing number of Syrian refugees who risk their lives to cross the sea to Southern Europe, Guterres urged EU countries to open alternative, safer avenues for entry.
“European countries should offer more visas and should take in more Syrians on a long-term basis, by boosting their permanent resettlement programmes”, he said.
He also called on EU government to be more generous in offering visas to refugees for family reunions. (dpa/NAN)
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