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Migrants’ rights: Commissioner Hammarberg publishes two letters to Italy and Malta

Strasbourg, 10/12/2009 – The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, published today two letters he sent last August to the Minister of Interior of Italy, Roberto Maroni, and to the Minister for Justice and Home Affairs, of Malta Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici.

The Commissioner's letters refer to that month's incident involving a boat which set off from Libya with more than 70 people on board, mainly Eritreans. The boat was adrift in the Mediterranean Sea for twenty days, apparently without any help from several passing vessels. There were only five survivors.

"I publish these letters in order to reopen the discussion on the need to fully align migration practices with human rights standards. This serious incident should be effectively investigated" said the Commissioner. "Four of the five survivors have been granted refugee status in Italy and one is waiting for the decision on her application. This is good news. However, there is still an urgent need to take all necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies. Regrettably, the authorities have not replied so far."

In his letters, the Commissioner also underlined that the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appeared to have been neglected. He therefore recommended that both countries concerned engage in a constructive cooperation to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles.

"The protection of the human rights of migrants needs urgent attention" said the Commissioner. "Every European country should act in a spirit of solidarity towards other countries, discharge its responsibilities under international law and effectively protect migrants, whose fundamental rights are at serious risk."

Read the Letter to Italy
Read the Letter to Malta