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Türk sounds alarm at escalating migrant crisis in Central Mediterranean

13 April 2023

A boat in distress is pictured in the Central Mediterranean Sea. April 10, 2023. Giacomo Zorzi/Sea-Watch/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (13 April 2023) - UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk expressed alarm on Thursday at the precarious situation of asylum-seekers and migrants attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean, and called for concerted efforts to ensure their swift rescue, and dignified, effective and thorough processing at a safe location.

Since 2014 over 26,000 people have died or gone missing crossing the Mediterranean, including over 20,000 along the Central Mediterranean route which is considered among the deadliest migration routes in the world.

“We are seeing a steep increase in the number of desperate people putting their lives at grave risk,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “We cannot afford to dither, and to become embroiled in yet another debate about who is responsible. Human lives are at stake.” 

Türk urged States to open up more regular migration channels, enhance responsibility-sharing, ensure arrangements for the safe and timely disembarkation of all people rescued at sea, and independent monitoring and oversight of migration-related policies and practices.

The High Commissioner applauded the efforts of the Italian coastguard who have rescued some 2,000 people since Friday. An estimated 400 people reportedly remain at sea, waiting for help. At least four people died and more than 20 others remain missing after two migrant boats sank off Tunisia on Saturday.

Italy reports some 31,300 migrants have arrived there so far in 2023, up from around 7,900 in the same period last year. Rescuers say most migrants have departed from Libya and Tunisia, and originally come from Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Bangladesh, Tunisia and Pakistan.

“Now is the time for solidarity with Italy and enhanced cooperation to safeguard the protection of the human rights of all people on the move,” Türk said, calling on the EU Member States to coordinate on migration governance.

Italy decided on Tuesday to impose a State of Emergency to manage the situation.  “Any new policies under the State of Emergency need to be in line with Italy’s human rights obligations,” Türk said.

“Human rights protections, such as the right to life and the prohibition of refoulement, cannot be derogated from even during such times.

“Experience teaches us that adopting a tougher line on curbing irregular migration will not prevent departures, but rather result in more human suffering and deaths at sea. Instead, it would be far better for countries to provide safe and regular pathways for migration and prevent unnecessary deaths.”

The High Commissioner implored the Italian Government to abandon its tough new law adopted earlier this year which restricts civilian search and rescue operations, and to refrain from criminalizing those involved in the provision of life-saving assistance. 


For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva
Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / [email protected] or
Jeremy Laurence +41 22 917 9383 / [email protected] or

In Nairobi
Seif Magango - +254 788 343 897 / [email protected]

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