GENEVA - U.N. agencies are warning migrants and refugees crossing the central Mediterranean Sea risk losing their lives if European nations continue to prevent search and rescue vessels from saving those in distress.
The U.N. human rights office expresses alarm at recent reports of rescue boats failing to assist migrants in trouble on the central Mediterranean Sea, considered to be one of the deadliest migration routes in the world.
The agency deplores the coordinated pushback of migrant boats by nations and by hard-nosed policies by some European countries intent on preventing private humanitarian search and rescue vessels from supporting migrants in distress.
Human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, says these life-threatening actions are occurring at a time when an increasing number of migrants are making the perilous journey from Libya to Europe.
“We call for restrictions on the work of these rescuers to be lifted immediately," he said. "Such measures are clearly putting lives at risk. In the first three months of this year, there has already been a four-fold increase in departures from Libya compared to the same period in 2019.”
Colville says his agency is concerned about the many refugees and migrants who are being returned to Libya after they are rescued at sea.
“The Libyan Coast Guard is continuing to turn vessels back towards its own shores, and place the intercepted migrants in arbitrary detention facilities where they face horrendous conditions, as we have often spoken of in the past, including torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, lack of health care and other human rights violations,” he said.
Colville says the overcrowded conditions under which migrants are kept expose them to the threat of coronavirus infections.
U.N. agencies are calling for the release of all refugees and migrants in Libyan detention facilities. They advocate a return to the age-old tradition of rescue at sea, which was enshrined into law in the last century.