According to figures provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 348,000 migrants and asylum seekers fled their country and tried to reach foreign countries' coasts after a risky sea journey. More than 4,000 of them did not survive.
The main sea routes used by migrants and asylum seekers in 2014 have been established as follows by the UNHCR:
- some 82,000 people crossed the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, leaving Ethiopia and Somalia for countries in the Arabian Peninsula.
- an estimated 54,000 people have left Bangladesh or Myanmar and headed to Thailand, Malaysia, or Indonesia.
The UNHCR's 2014 High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges was focused this year on "Protection at Sea". A recent informal discussion that took place in Geneva specifically dealt with the "Specific protection challenges affecting migrants at sea and how the global community could better respond to their plight.”
The UN Human Rights Office last month issued the OHCHR Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders "with a view to translating the international human rights framework into practical border governance measures."
During the Geneva based event, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, stressed the inherent risks of some countries' immigration policies that increasingly refuse asylum to sea-bound migrants who escaped war or poverty. According to him, these policies should better address the reasons why so many people migrate and conciliate a more humane approach with security considerations.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees also recalled the challenge of smuggling and trafficking networks that take advantage of these people's despair and widely contributes to their tragic deaths, by drowning for example.
"Ultimately, unless they can access safe and regular migration channels, desperate people may continue to brave the perils of the sea in search of protection, opportunity and hope. In their place, we would probably do the same. And perhaps only this recognition of our common humanity can guide us to make the right choices in response." said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, during this event.