Saving lives at sea, disembarkation at safe ports must continue, Council of Europe says

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe has clearly stated that despite the unprecedented challenges which European countries are facing due to the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives at sea must continue.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović stated that rescue operations and disembarking survivors in a safe port must continue.

The Commissioner called on the Council of Europe member states to promptly respond to any call of distress at sea, deploy the necessary rescue capacity in a timely manner and effectively co-operate to identify a place of safety where survivors can be disembarked, taking all necessary measures to protect the health of all involved.

Both Malta and Italy have taken unprecedented measures due to the coronavirus outbreak which have led to the closure of ports to NGO vessels carrying rescued asylum seekers, and to the discontinuation of activities to coordinate rescue operations and disembarkation of those in distress.

“This has further aggravated existing gaps in SAR operations in the Central Mediterranean.”

On Wednesday five asylum seekers were reported dead by the International Organisation of Migration after a boat of 51 survivors which was adrift in the Maltese search and rescue region was brought back to Libya. Another seven migrants are believed to be missing.

Another boat carrying 47 people which was adrift in the region under Maltese responsibility were rescued by a humanitarian vessel operated by a Spanish NGO.

The Human Rights Commissioner referred to the recommendation put forward in June 2019 which highlighted that the reduction of state-led search and rescue operations, combined with countries’ withdrawal from their rescue responsibilities and the adoption of restrictive measures affecting private vessels saving persons in distress at sea, have resulted in a lack of adequate rescue capacity and of effective coordination in the Central Mediterranean.

While acknowledging that receiving and assisting those rescued at sea and at the same time protecting public health was a huge challenge and that both Malta and Italy faced hardship, the Commissioner called on all the Council of Europe member states including flag states to provide effective support and assistance in finding quick solutions.

“European solidarity and concrete action to share responsibility and protect human rights is now more than ever of the essence.”

The Commissioner said that coastal states should not be left to tackle this alone and that measures include temporary ones should be found.

“The COVID-19 crisis cannot justify knowingly abandoning people to drown, leaving rescued migrants stranded at sea for days, or seeing them effectively returned to Libya where they are exposed to grave human rights violations.”

“In this trying period, we are reminded the hard way of the value of human life and the necessity to preserve the right to life, including of those who, adrift at sea, are far from the public eye”, concluded the Commissioner.

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