Statement from IOM, UNHCR and UNRWA: Latest tragedy at sea off Syria must prompt action


The shipwreck off the coast of Syria late Thursday is simply tragic.

The boat had reportedly set off towards Europe on Tuesday from the port of Miniyeh, near Tripoli, Lebanon, carrying between 120 and 170 migrants and refugees, mostly Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians. Passengers included women, children, men and elderly people.

Search and rescue operations have confirmed that at least 70 people died so far. They were found in Syrian waters. Early reports indicate that 20 people were transferred to the hospital in the city of Tartous, some in a serious condition.

In Lebanon, the three agencies are following up with the relevant authorities and will offer support to bereaved families. UNHCR in Syria is also providing some material support to survivors in Tartous.

“This is yet another heart-wrenching tragedy and we extend our deepest condolences to all those impacted,” said Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “We call for full solidarity from the international community to help improve the conditions of forcibly displaced people and host communities in the Middle East, particularly in countries neighboring Syria. Too many people are being pushed to the brink.”

“People looking for safety should not be compelled to take such perilous and often deadly migration journeys,” said António Vitorino, IOM Director General. “We must work together to increase safe and legal pathways to regular migration to help reduce loss of life and protect vulnerable people on the move.

“This is just tragic. No one gets on these death boats lightly. People are making these perilous decisions, risking their lives in search of dignity. We must do more to offer a better future and address the sense of hopelessness in Lebanon and across the region, including among Palestine refugees,” said United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini.

In response to increased sea departures from the region over the past months, IOM, UNHCR, and UNRWA call on coastal states to increase efforts to build their capacity to provide search and rescue services and to work to ensure predictability in identifying safe places of disembarkation.

However, it is even more critical that action is be taken to address the root causes of these movements and for the international community, in line with the principle of responsibility-sharing, to strengthen access to safer, alternative pathways to stop people resorting to dangerous journeys. Much more humanitarian and development support must also go to those displaced and host communities throughout the region to help stem their suffering and improve their living conditions and opportunities.

Failing this, refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, and internally displaced people will continue to take dangerous journeys in search of safety, protection, and a better life.

Background Information:

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.7 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

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