The European Union, through its migrant policy, is in part to blame for the deaths of migrants travelling across the central Mediterranean route, the United Nations (UN) said in a report on Wednesday.
What is happening to migrants on this route is the result of a failed system of migration governance, one that “fails to place the human rights of migrants at the centre of it,” according to a 37-page report entitled “Lethal Disregard”, from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“This isn’t a tragic anomaly, but rather a consequence of concrete policy decisions and practices by the Libyan authorities, 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 report stated.
“The real tragedy of the damage and death along the central Mediterranean route is that so much of it is preventable,” it added.
Thousands of refugees and migrants, of whom many are fleeing countries in Africa, risk their lives to travel to Europe via the Libyan route each year, often on small dinghy boats with too many people on board.
From January 2019 to December 2020, at least 2,239 migrants have died attempting to cross the central Mediterranean Sea, crossing primarily from Libya to either Italy or Malta.
On Wednesday, the day the report was published, photographs emerged highlighting the impact of this border policy crisis, showing the bodies of babies and young children washed up on a beach in Libya.
The report highlighted that in recent months, several member states have taken extra measures to criminalise, impede or halt the work of humanitarian rescue vessels and search planes, which have had “deadly consequences for adults and children seeking safety.”
The unanswered distress calls, cutting back on official search and rescue operations, the obstruction of humanitarian rescue efforts by individual governments, and so-called “pushback” of migrants to Libya, where migrant vessels have been returned from international waters to Libya, further contributed to the high death toll witnessed on this route, it found.
Commenting on the report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the EU and its member states, as well as Libyan authorities for urgent reforms of search and rescue policies and practices to ensure compliance with international law.