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Protesters demand respect for refugee rights in France.

On Saturday, 132 people got onto a rubber dinghy heading to Italian shores. The dinghy started deflating, trapping the men, women and children on board, before entirely sinking off the Libyan coast.

Around 50 people were rescued by a commercial vessel, but at least 80 were reported missing – people hoping for a better life after fleeing war and misery.

This is a tragedy now commonplace in the Mediterranean – soon to be forgotten as our attention is taken by the next one. But It should be one tragedy too many.

Every year on 9 May, Europe Day celebrates the peace and unity that Europe has brought us. But how can we truly celebrate this peace when the situation in the Mediterranean worsens by the year?

In the last four months, 274 people have been reported missing in the Mediterranean sea – a quarter of them children – yet the true figure is likely to be much higher. Last year, a record 362,400 migrants and refugees reached Europe over the Mediterranean. This year around 44,000 people have already arrived in Europe by sea – a 30 percent increase from 2016.

This tragedy is compounded by revelations of how the Italian navy refused to rescue a boat containing refugees fleeing Libya in 2013, leaving 250 people – including 60 children – dead in the water. With politicians scapegoating NGOs for saving lives in the Mediterranean, Europe must be willing to take Italy to task over this crime.

European leaders must act

Action is desperately needed to address the deteriorating situation in the Mediterranean. European citizens are having to take it upon themselves to welcome and help refugees in the spirit of solidarity, leaving politicians behind.

It is vital that European leaders stop condemning immigration and hyping up security risks when they are talking about human lives. The election of France’s new President and defeat of the National Front is symbolic against the rise of cultural isolationism, but we have to go further. It is imperative that the new French government strongly engages in the protection of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean and beyond.

The EU public are ready

French and European citizens, as well as associations and organisations, did not wait for their governments to react. They walked the talk, doing everything in their power to help – energised by the spirit of solidarity.

Sursaut-Citoyen has launched more than 1,000 public initiatives in France, such as providing accommodation for refugees, organising French language courses and giving legal support. These actions show citizen’s willingness to shoulder the responsibility of helping refugees and migrants, a responsibility left to them by ineffective national governments.

Terre des Hommes continues to engage through our international Destination Unknown campaign to put pressure on European decision makers and to call on them to protect refugees and migrants as a top priority, and for legal tools to be put in place to achieve this.

These initiatives are not enough to help refugees without political support. Terre des Hommes asks the new French government and EU decision makers to ensure migrants and refugees seeking to reach our soil are protected, receive a dignified welcome and are able to overcome the horrors of war and the silent violence inflicted by extreme poverty.

Read Destination Unknown campaign’s demands

This article was originally published in French on the Terre des Hommes France website.

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