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Act To Protect Migrants In Central Mediterranean Sea, Bachelet Urges Libya And EU


GENEVA (26 May 2021) – UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on the Libyan Government
of National Unity and the European Union and its Member
States to urgently reform their current search and rescue
policies and practices in the central Mediterranean Sea that
too often rob migrants of their lives, dignity and
fundamental human rights.

“The real tragedy is that
so much of the suffering and death along the central
Mediterranean route is preventable,” Bachelet said
Wednesday, as the UN Human Rights Office issued a report on
search and rescue and the protection of migrants in the
central Mediterranean.

“Every year, people drown
because help comes too late, or never comes at all. Those
who are rescued are sometimes forced to wait for days or
weeks to be safely disembarked or, as has increasingly been
the case, are returned to Libya which, as has been stressed
on countless occasions, is not a safe harbour due to the
cycle of violence,” the High Commissioner
said.

According to the report, evidence suggests that
the lack of human rights protection for migrants at sea
“is not a tragic anomaly, but rather a consequence of
concrete policy decisions and practices by the Libyan
authorities, the European Union (EU) Member States and
institutions, and other actors that have combined to create
an environment where the dignity and human rights of
migrants are at risk.”

The report, which covers the
period from January 2019 to December 2020, notes with
concern that the EU and its Member States have cut back
significantly on their maritime search and rescue
operations, while humanitarian NGOs have been obstructed
from carrying out their life-saving rescue operations. In
addition, private commercial vessels increasingly avoid
going to the aid of migrants in distress because of delays
and stand-offs over their eventual disembarkation in a port
of safety.

The EU Border and Coast Guard Agency
(FRONTEX), the EU Naval Force for the Mediterranean
(Operation IRINI) and EU Member States have encouraged the
Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) to take on more responsibility for
search and rescue operations in international waters.
However, this has happened without sufficient human rights
due diligence and safeguards, leading to an increase in
interceptions and returns to Libya, where migrants continue
to suffer serious human rights violations and abuses. In
2020, at least 10,352 migrants were intercepted by the LCG
at sea and returned to Libya, compared to at least 8,403 in
2019.

The European Commission and EU Member States
should ensure that all agreements or measures of cooperation
on migration governance with Libya are consistent with
Member States’ obligations under international law,
including international human rights law, the report urges.
All EU coordination with the Libyan authorities over search
and rescue should be conditional upon assurances that
migrants rescued or intercepted at sea will not be
disembarked in Libya and will be designated a port of
safety.

Despite a significant drop in the overall
number of migrants arriving in Europe via the central
Mediterranean route in recent years, hundreds of people
continue to die – at least 632 so far in 2021.

For
those rescued, delays in being disembarked in a place of
safety have caused further suffering, with migrants
sometimes left for days or weeks on board vessels poorly
suited to long-term accommodation. The report notes that
such delays became more acute during 2020 as a result of the
COVID-19 pandemic, with some migrants forced to quarantine
aboard vessels at sea. Once disembarked, migrants also faced
a host of challenges, including inadequate reception
conditions, and the risk of mandatory, prolonged or
otherwise arbitrary detention.

“We can all agree
that no one should feel compelled to risk their lives, or
those of their families, on unseaworthy boats in search of
safety and dignity,” Bachelet said. “But the answer
cannot be simply preventing departures from Libya or making
the journeys more desperate and dangerous.”

The High
Commissioner, who has expressed her concern at what she
termed “this
lethal disregard for desperate people,”
reiterated the
need for more determined action to deploy sufficient search
and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean. She also
called for support for the work of humanitarian NGOs, and
the adoption of a common and human rights-based arrangement
for the timely disembarkation of all people rescued at
sea.

“Until there are sufficient safe, accessible
and regular migration channels, people will continue to try
to cross the central Mediterranean, no matter what the
dangers or consequences,” she added. “I urge EU Member
States to show solidarity to ensure that frontline
countries, such as Malta and Italy, are not left to shoulder
a disproportionate responsibility.”

Read the
full report here
: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Migration/OHCHR-thematic-report-SAR-protection-at-sea.pdf

Read
the web story here
: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Act-protect-migrants-central-mediterranean-sea.aspx

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