ROME (5 December 2014) – Following his recent visit to Italy, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. François Crépeau, has called for a “global humanitarian response” to the increasing number of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
“More people are arriving at Europe’s borders because they rather risk their own death at sea or that of their children than to stay in their own country or in countries of transit. This gives an idea of the level of desperation. . . . This requires a new and concerted strategic approach by European States and international community.”
In 2012, the Special Rapporteur undertook a one-year comprehensive study to examine the rights of migrants in the Euro-Mediterranean region, focusing in particular on the management of the external borders of the European Union. Starting with a visit to the EU authorities in Brussels, Mr. Crépeau also visited Turkey, Tunisia, Greece and Italy. His country reports can be found online.
In this follow-up visit, Mr. Crépeau, who praised Italy’s “extraordinary efforts” through its Mare Nostrum operation, which in 2014 saved the lives of over 150,000 people who attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
The Special Rapporteur noted that migrants and asylum seekers are fleeing conflict, violence and poor governance in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
“No matter which way we look at it, the situation comes down to one thing: migrants are human beings and, just like the rest of us, they too have rights. They too have the right to live and thrive.”
The Mare Nostrum operation is coming to an end because of lack of funds and support from other countries in Europe. It will be replaced by EU Frontex operation Triton, which will be limited to defending Italy’s maritime border. As a result, rights groups are concerned that there will be more unnecessary deaths at sea, and that states will continue to criminalize irregular entry and resort to the detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers.
Mr. Crépeau noted that Italy’s policy and programme response to migration continues to have human rights protection gaps. Italy must still make progress in a number of areas: refrain from pushbacks; ensure that adequate individual assessments are carried out upon arrival at the Italian reception centres, in order to identify particular vulnerabilities and support needs; as well as continue to reduce unnecessary detention, in particular through the adoption of alternatives to detention.
Mr. Crépeau also urged Italy to provide increased protection to vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied minors through improved best interest of the child determination procedures, and facilitate access to justice, by simplifying judicial procedures and providing low-cost quality legal representation to migrants for all the procedures they need to go through.
“One thing we have learnt since the tragedy of Lampedusa a year ago, is that repressive policies fail to deter irregular migration because hope is always stronger,” he noted. “Sealing international borders is impossible, and migrants will continue arriving despite all efforts to stop them, at a terrible cost in lives and suffering.”
A follow-up country mission report and a thematic report on EU border management will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur in June 2015.
Thematic Report: Detention of migrants in an irregular situation