A European rights watchdog said on Tuesday that the European Union is breaking international law with its treatment of refugees and must do more sea rescues in the Mediterranean.
The Council of Europe said EU member states were “too focused on preventing refugees and migrants from reaching European shores” and have adopted restrictive policies with “too little on the humanitarian and human rights aspects”.
EU countries adopted tighter border controls on the back of the 2015 migration wave from the Middle East and Africa.
Policies such as providing aid to Libya and Turkey to help deter would-be migrants were also put in place.
The bloc is set to continue its approach in its new ‘Strategic Agenda for 2019-2024’ and will endorse stringent border controls at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, according to Reuters.
“A number of states have adopted laws, policies and practices contrary to their legal obligations to ensure effective search and rescue operations, swift and safe disembarkation and treatment of rescued people, as well as the prevention of torture, inhumane or degrading treatment”, said Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner.
“Whilst states have the right to control their borders and ensure security, they also have the duty to effectively protect the rights enshrined in maritime, human rights and refugee laws”.
The watchdog called for policies preventing human rights violations while co-operating with third countries and for states to work more effectively with charities and NGOs.
Oxfam and 49 other major charitable organisations accused EU governments of being complicit for the deaths of more than 5,300 people crossing Libya for Italy.
In an open letter published in February, they warned that thousands of people are still at risk from sexual abuse, slavery and other human rights abuses by Libyan coast guards and in Libyan detention camps.
An EU-backed deal between Libya and Italy two years ago saw the exchange of Italian funding and support for Libya’s coastguards in return for Libya preventing people from crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Italy’s populist government, led by Matteo Salvini’s far-right League Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, have prevented migrant rescue boats from landing this year.
Salvini allowed 10 of 53 migrants stranded on a Sea-Watch 3 rescue ship to disembark on Saturday, but went ahead with plans to ban such boats from Italian territorial waters.
According to Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, illegal migration into the bloc is at its lowest in six years.
Tunisia replaced Libya as the main departure point for migrants heading towards Italy and other EU countries located near the centre of the Mediterranean Sea.