No fewer than 1,500 refugees and migrants have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in the first seven months of 2018, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
The refugee agency said the bleak milestone was confirmed after more than 850 lives were lost in June and July alone, marking the Mediterranean crossing as the deadliest sea route in the world.
UNHCR said it was particularly concerned, as the rate of deaths was increasing, in spite of the total number of people arriving on European shores is significantly reduced compared to previous years.
Around 60,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, about half as many as in 2017 and a return to pre-2014 levels.
However, one in every 31 people attempting the crossing in June and July died or are missing, compared to one in 49 in 2017, the UN agency said.
Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Mediterranean, said: “UNHCR urges States and authorities along transit routes to take all necessary action to dismantle smuggler networks.
“In order to save lives at sea, we must use appropriate and necessary measures to hold to account, those who seek to gain profit from the exploitation of vulnerable human beings’’.
Exploitative traffickers and smugglers were reportedly organising increasingly dangerous crossings, in ever-more unseaworthy and flimsy vessels.
These boats, which smugglers severely overloaded with passengers, are then left to sail out at sea in the hope that a rescue will come in time, UNHCR regretted.
Without further action, more people are expected to perish at sea in the months ahead, as traffickers look to exploit the opportunities offered by improved weather conditions, the refugee agency warned.
Unlike in previous years, when Italy received the majority of new arrivals, Spain has become the primary destination with more than 23,500 people arriving by sea, compared to around 18,500 in Italy and 16,000 in Greece.
In July, UNHCR urged for search and rescue capacities on the Mediterranean Sea to be strengthened, after various legal and logistical restrictions were placed on NGO boats looking to rescue people in distress at sea.
Earlier in 2018, a number of boats carrying rescued passengers were left stranded at sea for days on end after being refused initial opportunities to disembark.
“Enhanced search and rescue capacities and a clear and predictable mechanism for disembarkation are cornerstones of the Joint Concept Note put forward by UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
They are calling for a regional and collaborative approach to saving lives on the Mediterranean Sea.
“Without a harmonised and collaborative way forward, that brings coastal states and key stakeholders from the maritime and shipping industry together, we are certain to see the tragedy of the Mediterranean Sea continue.
“With so many lives at stake, it’s vital that we give shipmasters confidence that they will be able to dock rescued passengers and thereby ensure that the long-standing principle of rescuing people in distress at sea is protected,’’ Cochetel said.
Refugees fleeing Syria make up around 13.5 per cent of all new sea arrivals in Europe, the largest nationality group, highlighting the continued desperation faced by those affected by the world’s largest refugee crisis.
UNHCR reiterated its call for the international community to address the root causes of displacement that are driving people from their homes and forcing them to take increasingly dangerous and perilous journeys.
The World Bank on Friday expressed its willingness to provide technical support to Nigeria in critical areas to facilitate the country’s economic growth and development.
The bank’s Vice President for African Region, Mr Hafez Ghanem said this in a statement issued by Mr James Akpandem, Special Adviser to the Minister of Budget and National Planning in Abuja.
Ghanem spoke when he visited the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma.
He said the Bank would provide technical support for Nigeria in the areas of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) Mid-term Review, Power Sector Reform, Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), and population management.
According to him, the bank will also provide technical support for ERGP delivery, performance tracking and reporting, capacity building for sector officials and economic modelling for policy analysis and forecasting.
Ghanem also pledged the bank’s commitment to increase its support for Nigeria’s Social Investment Programme.
The World Bank chief reiterated that he was in Nigeria to discuss with relevant Nigerian officials regarding the areas Nigeria would like to receive additional support from the bank.
He acknowledged that the present administration in Nigeria had shown commendable commitment in growing the economy.
Ghanem pledged that he would ensure Nigeria had an opportunity to speak about its economic progress at the annual meetings of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (WB/IMF) scheduled for later in the year in Indonesia.
While receiving Ghanem, the Minister told him that the ERGP was Nigeria’s medium-term plan (2017 – 2020) that articulates government’s vision for the country.
Udoma said the plan also laid the foundation for Nigeria’s long-term economic growth.
He said the present administration had to set very aggressive targets in order to meet the serious challenges caused principally by the collapse in crude oil prices.
“Indeed, the collapse of crude oil prices exposed how dependent the economy is on commodity exports.
“The ERGP was therefore developed to reform the economy so as to reduce its reliance on a single commodity and place it on the path of sustained, diversified and inclusive growth.
“With the introduction of the ERGP, the economic decline has been reversed; the economy has emerged from recession and is beginning to grow again,” he said.
The minister said that in spite of the positive economic news, there was much more to be done to achieve the targets set in the ERGP.
He said the government was focused on accelerating the implementation of the various initiatives in the ERGP and would soon commence a mid-term review of the plan.
He said Nigeria would appreciate technical assistance in the areas of Power Sector Reform and PPPs, ERGP as improvements in these areas were critical to achieving the rapid transformation of the economy.
He pointed out that although a large population could be an asset, a high population growth rate could pose a challenge for any country.
According to him, Nigeria’s rate of population growth needs to be moderated as one of the means of ensuring that the benefits of economic growth have the desired impact and improves the welfare of all the people.
“In that connection, Nigeria can benefit from the experience of countries that have had success in managing their population growth.”
Udoma asked for assistance from the World Bank in arranging for Nigeria to have access to relevant information on the best and most successful methods of achieving success in this area.
The minister also expressed appreciation for the support the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and other development partners had been rendering toward the development of the ERGP.
He appealed to the IFC to redeem the pledge to provide funding support for some of the projects identified during the ERGP Focus Labs.
‘It will be appreciated if the Vice President of World Bank can help designate a special session during the forthcoming IMF/World Bank meetings in Indonesia to enable Nigerian representatives to speak to participants about the ERGP.
“This will enable us to attract more investments into Nigeria to further facilitate the achievements of the objectives and targets of the Plan’
The statement also said the Minister of State, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, appreciated the bank’s assistance in the area of security, social investment and the cash transfer programme.
Ahmed urged for more support, especially in the management of Nigeria’s growing population and inclusive growth.
She said if Nigeria succeeded in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) programme, it would make a major contribution to the continent as it would meet the targets set for Africa.