Lampedusa boat tragedy: UN expert restates call on EU states to prioritise migrants’ human rights

NEW YORK / GENEVA (7 October 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, today reiterated his call on all European Union member states to urgently adopt a new approach to migration that places the rights of migrants at the forefront.

“Last week’s tragic events off the coast of Italy, which has already claimed the lives of over 100 migrants, highlights the human tragedy that migration can entail,” Mr. Crépeau said after a crucial discussion on international migration and development, convened by the UN General Assembly in New York.

Only 150 of the 500 migrants aboard the overcrowded ship are reported to have survived the perilous trip across the Mediterranean when the vessel sank after a fire broke out. The victims, which include a number of women and children, are believed to be mostly Eritreans and Somalis.

“Unfortunately, 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,” the expert noted.

“If countries continue to criminalise irregular migration, without adopting new legal channels for migration, especially for low-skilled migrants, thus limiting the 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,” he warned.

In his recent visit to Italy in 2012, which was carried out in the context of a year-long study on the external border management of the EU and its impact on the human rights of migrants*, the Special Rapporteur urged all EU member states to prioritise a new human rights framework in the development of their migration policies. “This tragedy reminds us of the importance of that recommendation,” he said.

Mr. Crépeau’s call was echoed by the UN Independent Expert on Somalia, Shamsul Bari, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth.

“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.”

“The alarming human rights situation in Eritrea is triggering a constant stream of refugees to neighbouring countries and far beyond. People continue to flee despite the extreme dangers along escape routes,” Ms. Keetharuth said. “Among them, there is a large number of unaccompanied children, some as young as seven or eight years old, revealing the scale of despair they are facing at home.”

“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 UN human rights experts welcomed the commendable efforts of the Italian rescue operations in attending to the disaster to the best of their capabilities. “Our thoughts are with the families of those deceased, and with those who have managed to survive this most traumatic experience,” they said. “Efforts must be made to swiftly identify those aboard, including those who perished, and alert their families as to their status and whereabouts.”

“I also acknowledge the important gesture of the minute of silence in Italian schools across the country, as not only a significant sign of respect to those who died, but also as an important way to sensitise the public about the extreme risks to their own lives migrants are willing to take in their journeys to safer shores,” Special Rapporteur Crépeau added.

François Crépeau (Canada) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in June 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three years. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Crépeau is also Full Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, in Montréal, where he holds the Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law. Learn more, log on to:

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