UN chief pleads with Europe to do more to save refugees

Ban Ki-Moon demands “collective response” after he was left “heartbroken” by deaths of refugees in separate incidents.

A coffin is rolled onto a truck at a customs building with refrigeration facilities in the village of Nickelsdorf
Austrian officials said they had discovered a Syrian travel document in the truck [Reuters]

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called on European countries to do more to protect the lives of refugees making perilous journeys to reach EU states. 

Austria makes arrests over refugee deaths

Speaking on Friday, Ban called on governments to create safe and legal routes into the continent to avoid tragedies like the deaths this week of hundreds of refugees found suffocated in a truck in Austria and drowned off the coast of Libya.

“Much more is required…I appeal to all governments to expand safe and legal channels of migration and act with humanity, compassion, in accordance with their international obligations,” Ban said.

“This is a human tragedy that requires a determined collective response.”

Ban’s comments a days after two separate tragedies.  

About 200 people were feared dead when a boat carrying refugees across the Mediterranean to Europe sank off the coast of Libya.

The UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees, said about 500 people were on board at the time. Libyan security officials said the dead including people from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco, and Bangladesh.

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Sources told Al Jazeera that many of the dead had been trapped in the cargo hold of the vessel, where people unable to pay “deck” fares to human traffickers are kept.

The deaths near Libya came shortly after the discovery of a truck parked on a motorway in Austria containing the remains of 71 refugees who had suffocated inside. 

Austrian police said the dead comprised 59 men, 8 women, and four children including an infant.

Authorities said a Syrian travel document was found in the vehicle, but more time was needed to confirm the identities of those who had died.

Officials in Austria said three people had been arrested including the owner and drivers of the truck, but Hungarian authorities said four men, three Bulgarians and an Afghan, were in detention.

Images purporting to be of the truck on social media showed decomposed bodies piled on top of one another. 

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EU ministers are debating ways of reducing the numbers of refugees making the journey to the 28-member bloc.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has put forward elements of a five-point plan that foresees establishing safe havens in the refugees’ home countries where those seeking asylum in the EU could be processed and – if they qualify – be given safe passage to Europe.

Beyond safe havens, possibly protected by troops acting under a UN mandate, the Austrian plan to be submitted to EU decision-makers foresees increased controls on Europe’s outer borders and coordinated action against human smuggling.

It also calls for refugee quotas for each of the EU’s 28 members – something that many countries have opposed.

Refugees get off a train at the Macedonian station of Tabanovce, a few hundred metres away from the border with Serbia [AP]
Refugees get off a train at the Macedonian station of Tabanovce, a few hundred metres away from the border with Serbia [AP]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies