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Malta summit: Protect rights of migrants, Zeid urges EU

BRUSSELS (3 February 2017) – The continuing efforts of the European Union to save the lives of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea are to be applauded, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Friday, as he reiterated the importance of abiding by the principle of not sending people back to countries where they may face torture, persecution or threats to their life.

“I urge EU leaders to ensure that respect for non-refoulement, a cornerstone of international human rights and refugee law, and protection of all human rights underpin their discussions and decisions in Malta,” said Zeid, speaking as an informal summit of EU heads of state and government was getting under way in Malta, where issues for discussion include managing migration in the Central Mediterranean through increasing cooperation with Libya and neighbouring countries*.

“The EU, along with the Italian Coast Guard and non-governmental organisations, has played an important role in trying to save people at the mercy of traffickers and smugglers, who often send them off in unsafe boats,” Zeid said.

The High Commissioner noted EU proposals to strengthen the capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard, including providing training in search and rescue operations, and to move forward on migration agreements with countries in the region, but he stressed the importance of due diligence policies being in place.

“I call on the EU to establish a robust follow-up monitoring and support mechanism following the completion of the training to help the Coast Guard and other authorities protect the rights of those who have been rescued. The EU should evaluate its training and support programme to ensure the Coast Guard has a stringent vetting procedure and a comprehensive human rights component,” said Zeid.

The UN Human Rights Office, in a recent joint report** with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), detailed the horrific abuses and violations and appalling conditions faced by migrants as they cross Libya to try to embark on a sea journey to Europe.

“The scale of suffering, including arbitrary detention, torture, unlawful killings and sexual abuse, highlights how Libya cannot, by any measure, be considered a safe country to return people to,” the High Commissioner noted.

Given the abuses and violations suffered by migrants in Libya, Zeid welcomed EU proposals to work to improve the shocking conditions in immigrant detention centres in Libya documented in the joint report, while reiterating the call to end arbitrary detention of migrants.

In this regard, Zeid also welcomed the sentiments expressed by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini in remarks on Wednesday in advance of the summit on the humanitarian duty not only to save lives, but also to protect the lives of those who are migrating.


In Geneva: Elizabeth Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 /

*Over 181,000 people were detected on the Central European route in 2016, with the vast majority arriving in Italy. More than 4,500 drowned during the attempted crossing.

**Read the UN Human Rights Office and UNSMIL report

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