Meanwhile, lawyers take Frontex to court for the first time in the agency’s history over its alleged role in pushbacks
THE United Nations’ top human rights official called on the European Union today to urgently reform its search-and-rescue practices in the central Mediterranean, just days after the bodies of drowned refugee children washed up on a beach in Libya.
The lack of human rights protection for migrants at sea “is not a tragic anomaly,” says a new report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “but rather a consequence of concrete policy decisions and practices” by the EU and Libyan authorities.
The report also reiterated the UN position that people rescued or intercepted in the central Mediterranean should not be returned to Libya and that EU member states should reinstate their search-and-rescue operations and support the work of humanitarian NGOs.
“The real tragedy is that so much of the suffering and death along the central Mediterranean route is preventable,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said at the launch of the report.
“Every year, people drown because help comes too late or never comes at all. Those who are rescued are sometimes forced to wait for days or weeks to be safely disembarked or, as has increasingly been the case, are returned to Libya, which, as has been stressed on countless occasions, is not a safe harbour due to the cycle of violence.
“We can all agree that no-one should feel compelled to risk their lives or those of their families on unseaworthy boats in search of safety and dignity. But the answer cannot be simply preventing departures from Libya or making the journeys more desperate and dangerous.
“Until there are sufficient safe, accessible and regular migration channels, people will continue to try to cross the central Mediterranean, no matter what the dangers or consequences.”
On Monday, the founder of a Spanish refugee rescue charity shared images of the corpses of two infants and a woman washed up on the beach in the Libyan town of Zuwara.
“I am still in shock from the horror of the situation, young children and women who only had dreams and ambitions to live,” Oscar Camps of refugee rescue NGO Open Arms wrote on social media above the photos, which were taken by a contact in Libya.
“They have been abandoned for more than three days on a beach in Zuwara, Libya. Nobody cares about them.”
At the EU Court of Justice, lawyers filed a case on Tuesday against the European Border and Coastguard Agency (Frontex) for its alleged involvement in forcing refugees back across the Aegean Sea.
The lawsuit, initiated by Front-Lex, the Progress Lawyers Network and Greek Helsinki Monitor on behalf of a woman and a minor, is the first time Frontex has been taken to court over human rights violations since it was founded 17 years ago.
Front-Lex lawyers Omer Shatz and Iftach Cohen said in a statement: “We watched videos showing the worst crimes that humanity has imagined and outlawed.
“We watched the director of Frontex, [Fabrice] Leggeri, telling the EU Parliament and commission that what we see in these videos is actually not happening. But 10,000 victims attest: these crimes are being committed, on a daily basis, on EU territory, by an EU agency.
“The EU court is responsible for protecting EU fundamental rights law. To date, the court has never reviewed the conduct of Frontex, nor provided remedy for its countless victims.
“We trust the court to hear the victims, to see what everyone sees, to hold EU border agency to account and to restore the rule of law over EU lands and seas.”