UN official apologises after Mediterranean migrant remarks spark outcry
A UN refugee agency official apologised on Wednesday after a comment about how grieving mothers of lost Mediterranean migrants had encouraged and funded their dangerous journeys sparked an outcry on Twitter.
Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR's special envoy for the Western and Central Mediterranean situation, reacted to a tweet about a march through the Tunisian port of Zarzis to commemorate migrants lost in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe.
The march was led by mothers of the missing.
"Grieving for the loss. But the same mothers had no problem encouraging or funding their children to embark on those dangerous journeys," Cochetel tweeted on Tuesday.
"Like in Senegal, symbolically prosecuting parents for putting at risk their children could trigger serious attitudinal change on death journeys."
The Frenchman then came in for strong criticism on Twitter, with users of the social media platform accusing him of being insensitive.
Reflecting on the strong reactions to my previous tweets, my comments were inappropriate. I am sorry especially to the mothers who have lost their children. My frustration at seeing so many lives lost and the impunity the smugglers enjoy, does not justify my words. https://t.co/v7RkgY2ZXk— vincent cochetel (@cochetel) September 7, 2022
He apologised on Wednesday.
"Reflecting on the strong reactions to my previous tweets, my comments were inappropriate," he said.
"I am sorry especially to the mothers who have lost their children. My frustration at seeing so many lives lost and the impunity the smugglers enjoy, does not justify my words.
"I just hope that people would not have to take such crazy risks to leave Tunisia and that no-one would encourage them to do so," he said.
"Safe and orderly pathways are needed."
Alarm Phone, a group running a hotline for migrants needing rescue, demanded Cochetel's resignation.
They said his comments were "cynical" and showed "no understanding of the many complex reasons why people embark on dangerous journeys".
A UNHCR spokesman said the agency does not support prosecuting migrants' family members.
"The only exception would be if they were involved in criminal or trafficking activities," he said.
"We fully understand the reactions to the tweet. The special envoy has apologised."
UNHCR, he said, "extends its deepest condolences to all those affected by this tragedy."
"We at UNHCR always stand in solidarity with all those impacted, including those who lost their children."
Some 1,264 people are dead or missing this year in attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to the Missing Migrants Project initiative by the UN's International Organization for Migration.
A total of 2,048 were recorded as dead or missing in 2021.
In total, there have been 24,548 missing migrants recorded in the Mediterranean since the start of 2014.