Little protection for the vulnerable, even on major migration routes: UNHCR – Global Issues


A new report from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) confirmed that every year hundreds of thousands of people risk their lives to migrate from sub-Saharan Africa without access to immediate assistance, shelter or information about the dangers they may face, including from human traffickers – even though the location of major movement centers is known.

Avoidable hazards

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, said the The lack of crucial services left refugees and migrants at “high risk of harm and death” and also caused dangerous secondary travel.

Our ability to work directly with local authorities is lacking. Yet those local authorities are there“They are on routes used for migrants and refugees, they are in places where humanitarian actors cannot be present, either because of security concerns or because the authorities do not want humanitarian actors to be present,” he added.

To remedy the situation and save lives, the UNHCR official called on donors and stakeholders to support the agency’s humanitarian work and that of local partners in specific locations.

This includes better access to legal routes to safety and an improvement in protection services for victims, but also for those at risk of becoming victims along the routes,” explains Mr Cochetel.

Focus on combating human trafficking

The UNHCR report notes that services specifically tailored to victims of human trafficking remain in short supply, despite efforts to strengthen protection for them along migration routes in Ethiopia, Niger, Egypt and Morocco, where national strategies exist to address the practice, including national referral mechanisms for victims of trafficking in human beings.

“There are clear links between human trafficking and violence against women and the report highlights the lack of specialized services and support measures for female victims of trafficking,” the UNCHR publication said.

“Only in Morocco and Ethiopia are services available for women at risk or victims of human trafficking. However, even these limited services are in danger of being discontinued next year.”

International face of migration

In addition to African migrants, some have traveled from Asia and the Middle East.

Many underestimate the risks and dangers and many die while crossing the desert or near borders, UNHCR said, noting that most also face serious human rights violations, including sexual violence, kidnappings, torture and physical abuse.

“Many do not go to capitals where humanitarian actors are based and well represented,” Mr Cochetel told journalists in Geneva. “They go through secondary routes and reach smaller cities in hard-to-reach areas” also in the Sahara Desert. “This is where services should be located.”

With the right level of funding, the services supported can provide immediate humanitarian assistance, shelter, referral mechanisms, information on the dangers associated with undertaking dangerous journeys and access to justice.

Libya leads

Using the example of Agadez in central Niger in the Sahara Desert – a major migration hub towards Libya and where the security situation remains extremely dangerous for migrants – Mr Cochetel emphasized that local authorities are in place: “Let us work with these authorities. These authorities see the problem and would like to do something. Search and rescue in the desert is something we would like to develop.”

Measures promoted by UNHCR to protect migrants from human trafficking include:

  • Promoting the early identification of refugees and migrants at risk or victims of human trafficking, both on land routes and at disembarkation;
  • Facilitating access to human trafficking solutions, including mainstream pathways such as family reunification and humanitarian evacuation;
  • Improving migrant regularization and longer-term support in host countries – offering voluntary returns to countries of origin “should not be the only solution considered as this could lead to risks of renewed trafficking upon return”;
  • Facilitating access to legal support, including access to justice and remedies. Improving access to support for male victims of trafficking, as men are often not eligible for the limited support available.

According to the UNHCR, 108.4 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide. Most refugees (76 percent) are hosted in low- and middle-income countries.

In addition, the UN migration agency IOM reports that there are more than 280 million international migrants on the move, representing 3.6 percent of the world’s population.

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