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IMMIGRATION

Rich nations slammed for ignoring migrants

The UN's human rights chief on Wednesday condemned rich nations for their indifference to waves of global migration, after new figures showed more than 3,400 people died in the Mediterranean this year trying to reach Europe.

"The lack of concern that we see in many countries for the suffering and exploitation of such desperate people is deeply shocking," UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said at the start of talks on the issue in Geneva.
   
He added: "Rich countries must not become gated communities, their people averting their eyes from the bloodstains in the driveway."
   
A record 348,000 migrants and refugees took to leaky boats this year in search of a better life in Europe, South-East Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East, 4,272 of them dying in the process, according to the UN refugee agency.
   
Most of these were in the Mediterranean, where more than 207,000 made the crossing since January, almost three times the previous high of 70,000 during the Libyan civil war in 2011. A record 3,419 lost their lives.
   
For the first time in decades, almost half of those hoping to make it to Europe are refugees rather than economic migrants, including 60,051 Syrians and 34,561 Eritreans.
   
Others — men, women and children — are being driven by lack of jobs, food and water, as well as natural disasters.
   
"If entire families are risking their lives at sea today, it's because they have already lost everything else and see no other option to find safety," said the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.
   
"In their place we would probably do the same thing," added Zeid.

'Sea of death'

Many of those crossing the Mediterranean are towed on overcrowded boats behind "mother ships", which abandon them miles off the coast of Italy to sink or be rescued.
   
The Italian navy saved about 160,000 people under its Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue operation, which ran between October 2013 and October this year, admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi told delegates.
   
Rome ended the operation after fellow EU nations refused to help fund it, handing over to a more limited EU-run search and rescue mission known as Triton.
   
Some critics argued that saving the migrants was simply encouraging them to try their luck.
   
De Giorgi, the commander of the Italian navy, said his forces would continue to pursue smugglers.
   
"The Mediterranean Sea must not become a sea of death," he told delegates, calling for tougher measures against traffickers as well as more help for destination countries.

Address the root causes 

Guterres convened the two-day meeting involving governments, NGOs and shipping groups in a bid to find ways to stop so many people taking to the seas.
   
He said cracking down on traffickers was not enough — efforts must also increase to address the reasons why people are fleeing their homes, and to improve the official channels through which they can move countries.
   
An arc of conflict around Europe's southern, eastern and southeastern borders, in Libya, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, is one reason so many people are heading to the continent.
   
At the same time anti-immigration rhetoric is growing across the EU, fuelled by concerns about faltering economic growth and prompting calls for tougher border controls.
   
"At a time when an unprecedented number of people are forced to flee conflict and persecution across the world, barring them from accessing protection further afield is the opposite of what is needed," Guterres warned.
   
He said: "Any effective response must also address the root causes of this phenomenon."
   
While the Mediterranean is the most deadly route, it is by no means the only one.
   
At least 242 people died in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden out of 82,680 people making the journey, most of them travelling from Ethiopia and Somalia to Yemen or onwards to Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states, the UNHCR said.
   
About 540 people also died this year crossing the Bay of Bengal, out of a total of 54,000 making the journey, while another 71 deaths out of 4,775 crossings were reported in the Caribbean, the UNHCR said.

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IMMIGRATION

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse

Minors and adults housed in Swiss asylum centres have faced serious abuses at the hands of security staff, including beatings and chokeholds, Amnesty International warned Wednesday.

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse
An asylum centre in the Alpine village of Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a report, the rights organisation’s Swiss chapter detailed “alarming abuse” in the country’s federal asylum centres, and called for urgent government action to address the problem.

The report documents a range of abuses by staff of the private security companies Securitas and Protectas, which had been contracted by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Amnesty said it had spoken with 14 asylum seekers, including two minors, who reported having faced abuse from the security officers between January 2020 and April 2021, along with 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.

The asylum seekers described being beaten and physically restrained to the point where they could not breathe or fainted.

Some also complained about trouble breathing after being doused with pepper spray, and being locked in a metal container in freezing temperatures.

The report found that six of the alleged victims had to be hospitalised, while two said they had been denied the medical assistance they had requested.

“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.

Such attitudes had seemed to target people of North African origin in particular, she said. Some of the abuse cases, Amnesty said, “could amount to torture”, and would thus violate Switzerland’s obligations under international law.

In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centres.

It stressed that there was no acceptance for “disproportionate constraint” of asylum seekers, and vowed to “sanction all improper behaviour.”

Giraudel hailed that the SEM had recently announced it would open an external probe into isolated abuse allegations.

But, she insisted, the situation was alarming and required the government to stop looking at allegations of abuse as the work of “a few bad apples”.

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