States must prioritize migrants’ human rights, UN independent experts reiterate

Italian coastguards help a group of boat people found floating in a crowded craft near Lampedusa Island.UNHCR/A.Di Loreto

7 October 2013 – As crews off the Italian island of Lampedusa continue to recover bodies from last week’s migrant boat disaster, United Nations independent experts today reiterated calls on Member States to urgently adopt a new approach to migration that places the rights of migrants at the forefront.

“This tragedy is just one in a long line of migration-related deaths at borders, be it in deserts, in mountainous regions, as well as at sea, not only in the Mediterranean but around the world,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, following a recent visit to Italy.

He warned that if countries continue to criminalize irregular migration, without adopting new legal channels for migration which would create possibilities for asylum seekers and migrants to securely and regularly reach safe destinations, “the number of migrants risking their lives on dangerously overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels over perilous sea routes can only increase.”

Mr. Crépeau, who completed a year-long study of external border management, had called on European Union member States to prioritize a new human rights framework in the development of their migration policies.

According to reports, more than 300 migrants aboard the overcrowded ship were killed when a fire caused a panic that led to the ship capsizing. Most of the victims are Somalis and Eritreans, including women and children.

The UN Independent Expert on Somalia, Shamsul Bari, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, echoed the call.

“This tragic incident shows the level of desperation of the people living in areas of Somalia which are still stricken by insecurity and the lack of enjoyment of basic economic, social and cultural rights,” Mr. Bari said.

“I urge Somali authorities to address the root causes of the smuggling and trafficking in persons in Somalia, with the collaboration of the international community and the UN,” he added.

In neighbouring Eritrea, the “alarming” human rights situation is triggering a constant stream of refugees to neighbouring countries and far beyond, Ms. Keetharuth said, including a large number of unaccompanied children, some as young as seven or eight years old.

“I call on the international community to keep monitoring the human rights situation in Eritrea and to protect and support those fleeing the country, in particular the increasing numbers of unaccompanied children,” she restated.

The experts extended their thoughts to the families of the deceased, and those who survived the incident.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.


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