The Refugee Council is marking International Migrants Day by highlighting the dangerous journeys many migrants take across oceans and deserts in order to reach safety.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees, chaired by Sarah Teather MP, is today bringing to life the treacherous journeys undertaken by migrants by taking a short boat trip on the Thames on a migrant boat from Lampedusa.
The boat has been commandeered and restored to full safety standards by artist Lucy Wood who has been raising awareness of the perilous journeys undertaken by thousands of migrants every year.
The APPG will then host a special meeting in Parliament with speakers including Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren, artist Lucy Wood and Gulwale, an Afghan teenager who travelled unaccompanied to the UK seeking safety.
In the absence of safe, legal ways to reach European territories, refugees are often forced into dangerous and abusive situations, pushed into undertaking life-threatening journeys and requiring the unscrupulous services of smugglers.
According to the UNHCR, in 2012, some 15,000 migrants and asylum-seekers reached Italy and Malta and almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea.
European countries have a legal obligation to provide protection under the Refugee Convention, but during the last decade the continent’s borders have become heavily securitised, with millions of pounds invested in Frontex, the agency established by the EU to strengthen Europe’s borders and protect the continent against unwanted illegal migrants.
These measures should not apply to individuals escaping war and persecution, but refugees are often forced to resort to the same irregular channels to leave their country of origin and travel towards safety.
Sadly, Europe’s formidable migration control apparatus does not sufficiently differentiate between individuals who may be in need of international protection and other migrants.
Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “Today we are highlighting the critical need for European governments to work in solidarity to ensure people fleeing human rights violations and persecution are given entry. When people are in need of our help, we must live up to our international obligations and offer it.
“We must keep a door to safety open for refugees and develop ways of identifying those with protection needs among the broader flow of migrants. As events this year have shown, it’s a matter of life and death.”