UN: UNHCR stresses importance of search missions on the Mediterranean

New York, US (PANA) - With nearly 150 people dead or missing in another shipwreck off the Mediterranean coast, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) on Thursday stressed the importance of saving lives at sea.

In a statement, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Mr. Volker Turk, said: "This latest tragedy comes as a stark reminder of the vital importance of robust search and rescue capacities."

He disclosed that "a 16-year old boy is believed to be the only survivor of the boat that sunk with 147 passengers, including five children and several pregnant women", stating: "The 16-year-old survivor said their boat left two days ago from Sabratha, in Libya, and started taking on water after a few hours of navigation."

He said that the UNHCR interviewed the boy in Lampedusa, Italy.

"He survived the shipwreck by hanging to a fuel tank, until he was rescued by a Spanish ship operating under Operation Sophia," the UNHCR official noted in reference to the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED) operations launched after the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks.

Mr. Turk also expressed deep sadness at the news of the deaths, adding: "Saving lives at sea must remain the key priority for all."

He, however, commended the action of the Italian Coast Guard in coordination with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, noting the importance of non-governmental organizations, which provide additional and "much needed" rescue capacity.

According to UNHCR figures, NGOs performed 26 per cent of rescue operations in the central Mediterranean in 2016.

In September 2016, when UN member states adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which stressed the need for governments to intensify international cooperation on strengthening search and rescue at the sea.
-0- PANA AA/VAO 30March2017

30 march 2017 15:57:04

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