Political solution on Syria needed to stem Mediterranean migrant crisis - EU official

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 22 April 2015 13:35 GMT

Claus Sorensen, Director-General of the European Commission Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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With 42,323 migrants, Syria accounted for the highest number of migrants arriving in Italy by sea last year

(Refiles with correct date, April 21)

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, April 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Europe's aid chief said on Tuesday the failure of the United Nations Security Council to reach a political solution to end Syria's civil war means tens of thousands of migrants will continue to cross the Mediterranean to seek refuge in Europe.

Claus Sorensen, head of the humanitarian aid arm of the European Union (ECHO), said international diplomatic efforts to end four years of civil war in Syria must be stepped up to prevent people making the perilous crossing to Italy's shores.

With 42,323 of those migrants coming from Syria, the war-torn country accounted for the highest number of migrants arriving in Italy by sea last year, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Syrian migrants have tried to reach Italy's southern shores on large cargo ships provided by human traffickers demanding between $4,000 and $6,000 a head, the IOM said.

More than 36,000 people have tried to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, the U.N. said, many of them fleeing poverty and fighting elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa, and nearly 1,800 are feared to have died in the attempt.

As many as 900 people may have died off Libya's coast on Sunday when their packed boat capsized as they were trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa.

"(With) Syria, it is the lack of capacity of the international community to define a common strategy in the interests of the people, and not in the interests of different power brokers on the international scene," Sorensen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Bogota, referring to the failure of diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

"This is squarely the responsibility of the Security Council of the United Nations, and as long as they can't get their act together, I'm afraid this conflict will continue," he said, speaking during an official visit to Colombia.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the Mediterranean on Monday as "fast becoming a sea of misery."

Migrants are also fleeing parts of Africa plagued by violence, such as Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan.

"They have to wake up and not know if they will be alive until the end of the day," Sorensen said.

"All these countries need a political solution and it is scandalous that it has not been possible for the world community to find these solutions," he said, referring to Syria in particular.

Conflict, a lack of jobs and basic healthcare, and extreme weather linked to climate change, such as drought, are all driving people to seek a better life in Europe, Sorensen said.

On Monday, the European Union proposed doubling the size of its Mediterranean search and rescue operations after a decision to scale back naval operations last year appeared to have increased the risks for migrants without reducing their numbers.

(Reporting By Anastasia Moloney)

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