GENEVA, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- The UN refugee agency UNHCR appealed on Monday to states to urgently offer safe ports and disembarkation to two NGO vessels on the Mediterranean carrying 49 rescued refugees and migrants, including young children.
UNHCR said in a statement here on the last day of 2018, "Time is increasingly of the essence. Rough seas are expected in the coming hours and conditions on the boats are likely to deteriorate."
The UN refugee agency said that more than 2,240 people have either died or gone missing at sea attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean in 2018.
The high losses came despite a significant reduction in the number of arrivals.
The UN agency said that 32 people have been on board the Sea Watch 3 vessel since Dec. 22, while Sea Eye rescued a further 17 on Dec. 29.
"Decisive leadership is required, in line with fundamental values of humanity and compassion, to offer safe disembarkation and bring the 49 safely to land," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the central Mediterranean.
He said that negotiations on which states will subsequently receive them should only come after they are safely ashore.
"In 2019, there is a critical need to end the current boat-by-boat approach, and for States to implement a regional arrangement that provides shipmasters with clarity and predictability on where to disembark refugees and migrants rescued on the Mediterranean," said the UNHCR.
It commended the work of NGO search and rescue vessels for their critical role toward preventing the death toll from being far higher.