Europe must act to save fleeing migrants

June 8, 2011 12:00 am

, STRASBOURG, June 8 – Europe must do more to prevent the deaths of hundreds of migrants fleeing Libya in overcrowded boats, the Council of Europe\’s Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

More than 1,400 people are likely to have drowned so far this year while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, Thomas Hammarberg said.

The commissioner said European governments and institutions "have more responsibility for this crisis than they have demonstrated so far."

"The imperative principle of \’rescue at sea\’ must not only be respected for those close to a sinking ship; there is also a need to increase dramatically surveillance — from the air — along the Libyan coast and further out in order to spot any fragile vessels at sea and safely prepare a rescue," he wrote in his Human Rights Comment published online.

"In view of the ongoing military operations it would be difficult to argue that there are no resources for such reconnaissance activity."

Hammarberg added: "European governments and institutions have more responsibility for this crisis than they have demonstrated so far.

"Their silence and passivity are difficult to accept. When preventing migrants from coming has become more important than saving lives, something has gone dramatically wrong."

At least 150 people drowned when their boat capsized off the Tunisian coast last week, the commissioner said, and about 600 people lost their lives in a similar accident in May.

The victims were mostly from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, he wrote. Many of them had found themselves trapped in Libya, sometimes as the result of European agreement with Moamer Kadhafi aimed at preventing migrants from fleeing Libya.

The commissioner is an independent figure with the role of promoting human rights in the Council of Europe\’s 47 member states.


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