The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, during her speech opening the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, on September 9, 2019 | Photo: EPA/Salvatore Di Nolfi
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, during her speech opening the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, on September 9, 2019 | Photo: EPA/Salvatore Di Nolfi

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has voiced concern for a number of policies carried out by European countries which she feels express a “lethal disregard” for migrants. In a speech on Monday, Bachelet said actions by some European countries to criminalize NGOs have had “deadly consequences for adults and children seeking safety.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday said she was concerned by the "lethal disregard" for desperate migrants crossing the Mediterranean expressed through the policies of some European countries.

In a speech opening the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet said that actions by several countries in Europe "criminalize, impede or halt the work of humanitarian rescue vessels and search planes." She noted that the sharp decrease in the number of search-and-rescue vessels have had "deadly consequences for adults and children seeking safety."

The High Commissioner recalled that several vessels were stranded at sea for weeks while they were waiting for a port in which to disembark migrants. She also noted how many migrants were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and taken back to Libya, where their rights and, potentially, their lives were "seriously threatened." She continued: "I am concerned by this lethal disregard for desperate people."

UN rights chief calls for action from the EU

In July, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reported that over 900 migrants had drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of the year, although many more deaths could have gone unrecorded.

Bachelet once again urged more determined and effective actions by the EU and its member states; in particular deploying search and rescue operations and supporting NGOs in their rescue efforts. She then paid homage to organizations and human rights activists who continue to work to defend the rights of migrants "under difficult circumstances."

Bachelet also expressed support for courts across the EU that are "continuing to support national and international laws" regarding the protection of people who are forced to flee, despite defamatory campaigns and, in some cases, threats made by politicians.

It wasn't just Europe which came under fire. US migration policies too were criticized in her speech.The Commissioner said that she was "deeply disturbed" by recent measures that have drastically reduced the protection of migrant families, in particular "the continued separation of migrant children from their parents."

She expressed concern for policies currently implemented in the United States, Mexico and a number of Central American countries that are "putting migrants at heightened risk of human rights violations and abuses and may violate the rights of vulnerable people." Bachelet concluded: "Nothing can justify" inflicting such deep trauma on a child.

 

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