Geneva, May 26 (EFE).- The European Union and Libya are to blame for the lack of protection of migrants and refugees crossing the central Mediterranean Sea, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday, urging the governments to backtrack on their decisions that have led to a decrease in search and rescue operations on that migration route.
According to Michelle Bachelet, the lack of human rights protection for those taking to the sea in the desire to reach Europe “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 commissioner was citing evidence from a report published by her office Wednesday on the search for and rescue of migrants in the central Mediterranean – a route that links Libya with the coast of Italy – from Jan. 2019 to December last year.
In 2020, the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted 10,352 people, according to official figures, and forced them back to Libya, up from 8,403 in 2019. Many of them were arbitrarily detained upon their return.
The report states that in the period analyzed, the EU and its member countries significantly reduced their maritime search and rescue operations, and that the work of humanitarian NGOs that carried out this task was hampered.
The tense situation also led more and more commercial vessels to avoid going to the aid of sinking boats as they know they will face lengthy delays and may even be prevented from disembarking in a safe port.
It said that the European Union, through Frontex and the EU Naval Force for the Mediterranean, has pushed the Libyan Coast Guard to assume more responsibility in the rescue of migrants in international waters, but the UN affirms that this must be conditional on those rescued not being returned to Libya, which is not considered a safe country.
For this reason, the high commissioner asked the EU and Libya to change their policies and practices in this matter, since the current ones are leading to many migrants losing their lives.
On the central Mediterranean route, 632 people have died this year alone, despite the fact that the total number of arrivals in Europe has decreased markedly.
“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.” EFE