UN human rights commissioner calls for disembarkation of migrants held on ships

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expresses ‘deep concern’ over reports of failure to assist and coordinate pushbacks of migrant boats in the central Mediterranean

More than 160 rescued migrants are being kept on board two Captain Morgan vessels chartered by the Maltese government, just outside territorial waters
More than 160 rescued migrants are being kept on board two Captain Morgan vessels chartered by the Maltese government, just outside territorial waters

Rescued migrants being held on board ships outside territorial waters must be “urgently disembarked”, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

The appeal came in the wake of Malta’s decision to keep more than 160 rescued migrants on two Captain Morgan ships just outside territorial waters.

Another group of migrants rescued by the commercial vessel Marina and who were prevented from disembarking in Lampedusa, have now been given the all-clear by the Italian authorities to set foot in Sicily.

The government has insisted it will not allow migrants to disembark in Malta until an EU solution is found for the relocation of migrants. An exception on humanitarian grounds was made yesterday when 18 women and children were brought ashore.

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The UN human rights commissioner expressed its “deep concern” over reports of failure to assist and coordinate pushbacks of migrant boats in the central Mediterranean.

“Reports that Maltese authorities requested commercial ships to push boats with migrants in distress back to the high seas are of particular concern,” a UN spokesperson said.

The commissioner also criticised the actions of governments that prevented humanitarian search and rescue vessels from supporting migrants in distress, at a time when the numbers attempting to make the perilous journey from Libya to Europe has increased sharply.

The Italian authorities have sequestered the rescue ships Alan Kurdi and Aita Mari, which are currently stuck at the port in Palermo pending investigations.

“We call for restrictions on the work of these rescuers to be lifted immediately. Such measures are clearly putting lives at risk,” the UN said.

It noted that migrants escaping Libya had a diverse range of protection needs under both international human rights and refugee law, including the principle of non-refoulement. Non-refoulement protects all migrants, regardless of their migration or asylum status, from being expelled or returned to dangerous environments.

“We are also aware of claims that distress calls to relevant Maritime Rescue Coordination centres have gone unanswered or been ignored, which, if true, seriously calls into question the commitments of the states concerned to saving lives and respecting human rights,” the UN added.

Italy and Malta have seen a 400% increase in migrant arrivals since the start of the year as the war in Libya intensifies.

Both countries have declared their ports unsafe for disembarkation because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The human rights commissioner called for a moratorium on all interceptions by the Libyan coastguard and returns to Libya where migrants are placed in “arbitrary detention facilities and face horrendous conditions including torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, lack of health care and other human rights violations”.

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