A migrant on board the Ocean Viking looks out at the Mediterranean while waiting for a place of safety in which to disembark | Photo: Anthony Jean / SOS Mediterranee
A migrant on board the Ocean Viking looks out at the Mediterranean while waiting for a place of safety in which to disembark | Photo: Anthony Jean / SOS Mediterranee

Due to unanswered distress calls, obstruction of humanitarian rescue efforts and pushbacks to Libya, the EU shares blame for the deaths of hundreds of migrants traveling across the Mediterranean route, a United Nations report finds.

A new report by the UN Human Rights Office on search and rescue operations (SAR) and the protection of migrants in the central Mediterranean found that policies and practices of the EU and Libyan authorities have failed to prioritize the lives, safety, and human rights of people attempting to cross from Africa to Europe.

The 37-page report entitled "Lethal Disregard" said that cases of human rights protection negligence are not tragic anomalies, but rather consequences of "concrete policy decisions and practices by the Libyan authorities, the European Union member states and institutions, and other actors."

Cutting down on humanitarian aid

"Every year, people drown because help comes too late, or never comes at all," said UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet, unveiling the report.

The report said that EU member states have curtailed their SAR operations and at the same time, humanitarian organizations have been obstructed from conducting rescues. Private vessels increasingly avoid helping migrants in distress due to stand-offs over disembarkation, the report pointed out.

 "The real tragedy is that so much of the suffering and death along the central Mediterranean route is preventable," said Bachelet, urging Tripoli and Brussels to urgently reform their SAR policies.

Also read: 130 migrants dead in Mediterranean: 'All they wanted was a normal life'

Libya not a safe place for disembarkations 

"Those who are rescued ... are returned to Libya which, as has been stressed on countless occasions, is not a safe harbor," said Bachelet.

Migrants sit at a security checkpoint after they were intercepted by Libya's Interior Ministry before attempting a journey to Europe, in the city of Khoms | Photo: REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili
Migrants sit at a security checkpoint after they were intercepted by Libya's Interior Ministry before attempting a journey to Europe, in the city of Khoms | Photo: REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili


In 2020, at least 10,352 migrants were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and returned to Libya. In 2019, the number stands at 8,403, according to data from the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

However, when migrants are returned to Libya, they face a range of serious human rights violations and abuses, the report pointed out and added that the European Union has encouraged the Libyans to take on more SAR duties.

"No-one should feel compelled to risk their lives, or those of their families, on unseaworthy boats in search of safety and dignity," said Bachelet.

"But the answer cannot be simply preventing departures from Libya or making the journeys more desperate and dangerous," she said.  "Until there are sufficiently safe, accessible, and regular migration channels, people will continue to try to cross the central Mediterranean, no matter what the dangers or consequences."

Also read: Five migrants drown fleeing Libya, 700 returned to detention

With Reuters, AFP

 

 

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