Last Friday, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, voiced his deep concern over the deteriorating situation of refugees in the light of the most recent tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea. In a powerful speech he directly criticized the impunity of such crimes as well as the lack of concerted efforts by Egypt, North Africa and the European States to bring the “Mediterranean mass murderers“ to justice.
“All the countries in the Mediterranean must make a concerted effort to clamp down on the smugglers who are exploiting one of the most vulnerable groups on the planet and endangering their lives, virtually on a daily basis, purely for financial gain.”
He used the opportunity to also acknowledge the existence of similar difficulties for migrants in other parts of the world including the Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Caribbean.
“Far too many refugees and migrants are dying all across the world in an effort to flee conflict, systematic political oppression and human rights violations, including economic deprivation. These root causes in their countries of origin must be tackled in a concerted manner,” Zeid said.
He took up an important issue by stating that this grievance should not only be tackled by the relevant States but also by the international community.
“We also need a renewed effort to find ways to manage refugee and other migratory movements in an orderly manner that reduces the need for people to resort to unscrupulous people smugglers. The European Union, other destination States, transit countries and countries of origin must do more to address the range of factors pushing so many people into the arms of the smugglers. The focus, at every stage of the process needs to be on respect for the rights and inherent dignity of every human being.”
Sadly, there are already new testimonies on States violating the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. According to Human Rights Watch, the Bulgarian authorities have forced at least 43 asylum-seeking Syrians back over the border to Turkey in the past month. Some of the refugees, including families with small children, were beaten and robbed by authorities. Most recently, Turkey also faces the risk of violating human rights by temporarily closing some if its border crossings with Syria and Iraq in order to control the flux of predominantly Kurdish refugees, who are currently fleeing the advancing Islamic State-militants, from entering Turkey (BBC).
It is much to be hoped that the High Commissioner will continue to raise attention for refugees and asylum-seekers, as any sort of enhancement of their situation seems to remain in the distance.