Today I read this appeal from UNHCR asking for more funds to assist refugees taking irregular routes to Europe. But statistics indicate that most people taking the Central Mediterranean route – which is now the most prevalent irregular sea route to Europe – are overwhelmingly migrants (from countries such as Nigeria, Bangladesh etc). An earlier UNHCR appeal noted that they estimate there to be 900 refugees and asylum seekers in detention and 60 refugees have been referred for resettlement. While every case is significant these are relatively low numbers. So rather than focus on people in greatest need using this route, we have a bifurcated approach between refugees and migrants.

There has been a lot of necessary attention on the way the media uses the word ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ when describing the people who are taking irregular routes to Europe. I think most people understand the basic difference between a refugee and a migrant. But there has been less attention on the way international organisations employ labels to invoke need. See this screen grab from twitter that discusses the use of the term ‘non-Syrian’ which has been used to describe other groups reaching Greece across the Eastern Mediterranean route.

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One of the issues we rarely talk about is competition between agencies for funds. The aim of any press release or funding appeal is to highlight how a particular agency or organisation is best placed to assist a target group of vulnerable people. But in the case of mixed flows of migrants and refugees how do agencies like UNHCR with its focus on refugees and IOM with its focus on migrants work together? According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in one of the above-mentioned press releases “We have urgent work to do in Libya and can only do it together”. But are separate agencies and separate appeals the best way to achieve this.

Despite launching a Mixed Migration Working Group for Libya in late 2016 , it would seem that a jointly coordinated approach is still in the making. This could partly be due to working modalities – many international organisations working on Libya in reality do so from neighbouring Tunisia (albeit due to security reasons) and with the Libya funding appeal only 28.4% covered competition for funds is real. However there are funds for migration, with the EU launching a EUR 90million programme for migrants in Libya only a few days ago. So now we see read lots of tweets, press releases and appeals about how best to address the situation inside Libya and across the Mediterranean that arguably shows the international community is not speaking with one voice on this issue.

This makes for a very confused message that reaches Libyan actors, affected governments and the general public. While it may be too much to ask for everyone to speak with one voice, agreement on a few key messages is surely not too hard an ask.

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