The United Nations refugee agency is calling on the leaders of 35 European and Southern Mediterranean (EuroMed) countries, meeting this weekend in Barcelona, Spain, to strengthen their commitment to the principles of refugee protection as they discuss cooperation on population movements across the Mediterranean Sea.
EuroMed brings together the 25 European Union (EU) member States and 10 Mediterranean partner governments, gathering for the first time since the November 1995 launch of the Barcelona Process designed to encourage political, economic and social cooperation between countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Thousands of migrants and refugees who want to reach Europe undertake the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea each year to escape persecution or war, or simply to improve their economic prospects, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
The human tragedy associated with the rising death toll at sea and recent events involving Spain's North African enclaves and Morocco, has added greater urgency to these discussions, it said.
"This situation has now reached the proportions of a major humanitarian crisis and requires urgent action from all the countries concerned," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said today. "Preventing further loss of life needs to be a clear priority in the framework of the EuroMed partnership."
Saying it recognizes the legitimate right of governments to manage irregular migration, UNCHR has noted that within large refugee flows there often are people fleeing persecution and violence.
"States have a legal and moral responsibility to provide protection to those in need," Ms. Pagonis said. "The question is how to ensure that those seeking asylum have an effective access to fair and efficient determination procedures, even if they arrive together with people migrating for other reasons."