UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville noted that such measures were “clearly putting lives at risk” during a virtual media briefing.
“We are deeply concerned about recent reports of failure to assist and coordinated pushbacks of migrant boats in the central Mediterranean, which continues to be one of the deadliest migration routes in the world,” he said.
More than 100 000 migrants attempted the crossing last year. Some 1 200 died in doing so, according to the International Organization for Migration. The UN warned that migrants in distress In the Mediterranean Sea, are being neglected because EU countries are blocking assistance to NGOs.
More than 250 migrants have died this year during the crossing. Colville alleged that distress calls to Maritime Rescue Coordination centers “have gone unanswered or been ignored”.
“If true, this seriously calls into question the commitments of the states concerned to saving lives and respecting human rights.”
He added that the numbers of attempted crossings were experiencing a surge with departures from Libya increasing at least four-fold compared to the same period in 2019.
Such journeys were entitled to protection under international law, according to Colville. “Yet, since April 9, both Italy and Malta have declared their ports ‘unsafe’ for disembarkation due to COVID-19,” he said. Currently three vessels with migrants onboard are awaiting disembarkation.
The Libyan Coast Guard continues to turn vessels back to its shores and to detain all intercepted migrants in “horrendous conditions,” Colville said. Another UN refugee agency spokesman told Friday’s briefing that Libya cannot be considered to have a safe port for disembarkation.
Thus European conduct is posing a clear threat to human life, if these reports were confirmed, Colville concluded. He singled out Greece or Malta, where smuggler’s boats are pushed back into international territorial waters or even brought back to Libya.