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Human rights defenders reported that Malta had asked commercial ships to push boats with migrants adrift back out to sea.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Friday warned that the coronavirus pandemic should not serve as an argument to prevent humanitarian rescue operations in the Mediterranean or the landing of drifting immigrants.
"We are deeply concerned about reports of the lack of assistance and the rejection of boats with migrants in the Mediterranean, which remains one of the world's deadliest migration routes," the OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville said.
Between January and March, the departures of boats with migrants from the Libyan coast have multiplied by four compared to the same period last year. In that period, however, discriminatory actions have intensified.
The OHCHR received reports that Malta asked commercial ships to push boats with migrants and refugees adrift back out to sea.
UNmigration: Since 2014, over 20,000 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean.
— SDG Nigeria Knowledge Hub �� (@sdgnigeria)
May 7, 2020
The vulnerability of immigrants is heightened because humanitarian ships, which used to rescue them and look for a landing port, are immobilized due to administrative procedures that prevent them from carrying out their mission.
Although Malta authorized the disembarkation of some migrants on Thursday, there are still three humanitarian vessels hoping they will be allowed to disembark in an European port.
Colville also noted that there are reports of distress calls to maritime rescue coordination centers that have not received a response or have been ignored.
"This certainly calls into question the countries’ commitments regarding their duty to save lives," he stressed.