During the month of May private sea rescue organizations rescued more than 600 people in the Mediterranean, all risking their lives in hope for a better one. The organization Sea-Watch rescued more than 450 people, SOS Méditerranée’s ship Ocean Viking another 236, who were brought ashore in the Sicilian town of Augusta. The fact that more than half of these survivors were unaccompanied minors dramatically emphasizes how the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean is a crisis of human rights as well as children’s rights. Due to a lack of alternatives, people are continuously forced to take dangerous escape routes across the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time the existing rescue capacities are completely insufficient. Human beings keep drowning because help keeps coming too late, or sometimes not at all.
A new report published by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on sea rescue and the protection of migrants in the Mediterranean calls out yet again the “lethal disregard” we are witnessing. It sheds light on the failures to assist migrants in distress and deaths at sea, dangerous rescue and interception practices, pushbacks at sea, the targeting of humanitarian organisations and human rights defenders as well as delays in safe disembarkation and inadequate reception conditions. Michelle Bachelet’s opening statement to the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council is as relevant to the topic of sea rescue today as it was in 2019: ” I am concerned by this lethal disregard for desperate people. I salute the organizations and human rights activists who continue to work to defend the rights of migrants in these difficult circumstances.”
In the report the UN human rights office calls on the European Union and its member states to finally offer sufficient support for civilian sea rescue and urges for a solidarity with EU coastal states as well as a halt to forced returns to Libya. The report also captures survivor’s voices, like this quintessential quote by a Sudanese man on his journey from Sudan via Libya to Europe: “It’s all the same: suffering after suffering.” (OHCHR interview)
Officially, more than 1,200 people died last year trying to get to Europe via the Mediterranean. But experts assume that the number of unreported cases is high.