“European countries are failing to protect refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean. Backsliding in the protection of the lives and rights of refugees and migrants is worsening and causing thousands of avoidable deaths each year”, said today Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while releasing a report entitled “A distress call for human rights. The widening gap in migrant protection in the Mediterranean”.
The report takes stock of member states’ implementation of the Commissioner’s 2019 Recommendation on rescuing migrants at sea and provides a set of actionable measures to be urgently taken by European states to ensure a human rights compliant approach to sea crossings. It covers developments from July 2019 until December 2020 in five key areas: effective search and rescue; timely and safe disembarkation of rescued persons; co-operation with non-governmental organisations; co-operation with third countries; and safe and legal routes; and focuses mainly on developments on the Central Mediterranean route. However, many of the required actions set out in this document are applicable to all other major migration routes in the Mediterranean region and on the Atlantic route from West Africa to Spain.
This report stresses that, despite some limited progress, the human rights situation in the Mediterranean remains deplorable. Shipwrecks continue to be worryingly recurrent, with more than 2,400 registered deaths in the period under consideration, a number which may well under-represent the real tally of deadly incidents. The growing disengagement of states’ naval capacity from the Mediterranean and the hindrance of NGOs’ rescue activities, as well as decisions to delay disembarkation and failure to assign a safe port, have undermined the integrity of the search and rescue system. Co-operation activities with third countries have been enhanced despite the undeniable evidence of serious human rights violations, and without the implementation of human rights safeguards including transparency and accountability principles. “On the Central Mediterranean route specifically, many developments appearing to be aimed at ‘clearing the field’ for interceptions by the Libyan Coast Guard have become institutionalised, leading to almost 20,000 recorded returns to serious human rights violations in Libya”, wrote the Commissioner. The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to the adoption of more restrictive measures, which have a direct negative impact on the human rights of migrants.
In order to halt the widening of the gap in the protection of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean and reverse the situation, the Commissioner renews her call on Council of Europe member states to implement swiftly her recommendations to ensure the preservation of human life and the protection of the human rights of people in distress at sea. In particular, she recommends guaranteeing the presence of adequate and sufficient state-led search and rescue capacity at sea; ensuring safe and prompt disembarkation of those rescued; allowing NGOs involved in search and rescue activities or human rights monitoring to carry out their work; ending pushbacks and other actions that expose refugees and migrants to return to serious human rights violations; and expanding safe and legal routes.
“It is high time for European countries to put an end to this shameful tragedy and to adopt human rights compliant migration policies. Member states must no longer delay taking action to save lives. It is a matter of life or death – and of the credibility of European countries’ commitment to human rights,” concluded the Commissioner.