UNHCR Calls on EU to Improve Rescue at Sea Measures; NATO Should Also Actively Participate in Rescue at Sea in Regard to All Overcrowded Boats

UNHCR issued a statement on Friday, 8 April, calling “on the European Union to urgently put into place more reliable and effective mechanisms for rescue-at-sea” in the aftermath of last week’s disaster that saw “[m]ore than 220 Somali, Eritrean and Ivorian refugees drowned early on Wednesday morning when their boat capsized some 39 nautical miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. This is the worst such incident in the Mediterranean in recent years.  ‘It is hard to comprehend that at a time when tens of thousands are fleeing the Libyan conflict and pouring across the land borders into Tunisia and Egypt where they enjoy safety and receive shelter and aid, the protection of people fleeing via Libya’s maritime border does not appear to have the same priority’ said Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller.” “‘We also appeal to shipmasters to continue to render assistance to those in distress at sea. Any overcrowded boat leaving Libya these days should be considered to be in distress’ [, said Feller.]”

While NATO was not mentioned in the UNHCR statement, the call for improved measures to save the lives of migrants who flee North Africa by boat should also be heard and considered by the NATO Maritime Command Naples which is conducting the maritime embargo of Libya known as Operation Unified Protector.   NATO has a significant naval force patrolling the area through which migrant boats leaving Libya are passing and this force should be actively engaged in protecting fleeing civilians.  (Click here for earlier post regarding NATO’s maritime embargo.)

While UN Security Council Resolution 1973 does not speak directly to this issue, it does call for the protection of civilians.  Relevant portions from Security Council Resolution 1973:

  • “Expressing [the Security Council’s] determination to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian populated areas and the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance and the safety of humanitarian personnel, [***];
  • Reiterating [the Security Council’s] concern at the plight of refugees and foreign workers forced to flee the violence in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, welcoming the response of neighbouring States, in particular Tunisia and Egypt, to address the needs of those refugees and foreign workers, and calling on the international community to support those efforts, [***];
  • Protection of civilians – 4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,… [***].”

As with UNHCR’s call to EU states, NATO ships should also render assistance to any migrant boat detected by NATO forces – any overcrowded boat leaving Libya should be considered to be in distress.

Click here for UNHCR statement.

Click here for article.

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Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

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