European countries must urgently change their migration policies that endanger refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean, the Council of Europe said on Tuesday.
“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 Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who has released a report on 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.
The report 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.
Many of the required actions set out in the document are applicable to all other major migration routes in the Mediterranean region and on the Atlantic route from West Africa to Spain.
The 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, according to the document.
The growing disengagement of states’ naval capacity from the Mediterranean and the increasing obstruction of NGO rescue activities, together with decisions to delay disembarkation and the failure to assign safe ports, have undermined the integrity of the search and rescue system, the Commissioner said.
Cooperation activities with third countries, including Libya, have been stepped up despite the undeniable evidence of serious human rights violations, and without applying human rights safeguards or transparency and accountability principles.
“On the Central Mediterranean route specifically, many developments appear to be aimed, implicitly or explicitly, at ‘clearing the field’ for interceptions
by the Libyan Coast Guard, leading… to more than 20,000 returns to Libya in 2019 and 2020, exposing individuals to serious human rights violations,” she said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also led to the adoption of more restrictive measures, having a direct impact on refugees’ and migrants’ human rights.
In order to halt the widening gap in the protection of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean and reverse the situation, the Commissioner renewed her call to the Council of Europe member states to implement her recommendations and ensure the preservation of human life and the protection of human rights of people in distress at sea.
In particular, she recommended 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,” said the Commissioner.