The number of migrants attempting to make their way from Libya to Europe continues to increase, particularly since COVID-19 has limited legal paths available for them. Now the United Nations to accuse the European Union of violation of international law with regards to this situation.

UN: ‘Deeply Concerned’ Over Reports of Libyan Migrants Being Left Stranded at Sea

The United Nations has criticized European countries for what it considers a violation of international humanitarian law, based on the decision to reject refugees and other migrants in the Mediterranean. The United Nations Human Rights Office and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva have been calling for ports to be opened and humanitarian lifeboats in the Mediterranean to return.

Concerns of the United Nations about the refugee policies of the European Union countries in the Mediterranean transpired after reports emerged that refugee boats were “rejected in a coordinated manner” and calls for help at distress rescue centers are “not answered or ignored. “SOS calls were reportedly being ignored, and aid was being deliberately refused. As a result, the UN was “deeply concerned” the UN Human Rights Bureau spokesman, Rupert Colville stated.

EU Conduct — Especially in Greece and Malta — Posing a Threat to Human Life

Moreover, European conduct was posing a clear threat to human life. If these reports were confirmed, the question arises as to whether the countries concerned respect human rights, Colville concluded. In particular, the organisations condemned measures such as those in Greece or Malta, where refugee boats are pushed back into international territorial waters or even brought back to Libya, Colville stated.

At the same time, UNHRC spokesman Charlie Yaxley criticized that the blocking of the last remaining humanitarian rescue vessels Alan Kurdi and Aita Mari in Italy. These were measures that were “endangering human life” according to Yaxley.

Italy and Malta Don’t Let in Refugee Ships Since COVID-19

Italy and Malta have stopped admitting refugee rescue ships to their ports since April 9 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At least three ships with refugees on board were therefore currently waiting to be able to bring the rescued ashore, according to the UNHRC.

This week, Italy confiscated the German rescue ship Alan Kurdi because of “several irregularities” that could endanger the people on board. At the beginning of April, the Alan Kurdi took on 146 migrants off the coast of Libya before an Italian ship took over the rescue to provide increased care due to coronavirus concerns.

Libya’s Refugee Exodus

Overall, the number of migrants who flee from Libya to Europe increased rapidly in the first three months of the year compared to the previous year, with almost 4,000 new arrivals from January to March — the previous year the number was around 800 less. This was partly due to the improvement in the weather, but also the increasingly chaotic situation in Libya, Yaxley said. No refugee should be returned to Libya, as the country was “not safe”, he added.

Besides, due to the global border closures resulting from the corona crisis, more people would try to migrate through irregular refugee routes with the result that the pressure on these routes is likely to increase significantly.

Meanwhile, Director-General of the United Nations Organization for Migration (IOM), António Vitorino, warned in Geneva on Thursday not to cease legal migration due to COVID-19, which has stopped almost entirely worldwide. This will be very negative in the long term, Vitorino warned, since smugglers and traffickers were taking advantage of the refugees’ situation.

In order to assist the world’s neediest during the pandemic, United Nation’s emergency response coordinator Mark Lowcock said Thursday he estimates the total funding needed to be around $90 billion over the next twelve months. The latter would correspond to one percent of the sum that the wealthy countries had decided on as rescue packages, with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund able to make up two thirds of that figure. The remainder needed to be contributed from development aid, Lowcock urged.