UN to deploy officials for migrants’ protection in Italy, Austria

United Nation has revealed plans to dispatch teams to examine the treatment of migrants after an alarming escalation of attacks against asylum seekers. In her first major appearance as the UN high commissioner for human rights in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet said she was alarmed by and intends to deploy officials to Austria and Italy to look into the protection of migrants in those countries. Ms Bachelet said her office will assess recent developments in Austria and also go to Italy to assess the reported sharp increase in acts of violence and racism against migrants, persons of African descent and Roma. Both the governments take a hard line on migration.

While Ms Bachelet was critical of the European Union’s policies on migrants as a whole, she singled out Italy over its decision to close its sea ports, denying entry to NGO rescue ships. She said the move had serious consequences on the most vulnerable. Even though we are seeing a big drop in the numbers coming from Libya over the past 12 months, the numbers of those who died during the crossing is higher in the first six months of 2018 than it was.

The High Commissioner criticised Europe’s migration management policies, including policies on regional disembarkation platforms for refugees and search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. She made specific mention of Italy’s closure of ports to NGO rescue ships, whereas the accused countries have denied the charges. Moves that demonstrate anti- migrant policies have received wide media attention in recent weeks. In August, Italy’s new government faced criticism concerning its disembarkation policies after Salvini forced vulnerable refugees and asylum- seekers to remain on board the ship for almost a week.

In the same month, the Austrian government also received criticism from civil society organisations after tabling a bill to remove the possibility for young asylum seekers to undertake apprenticeships. Bachelet, who before joining the UN was twice president of Chile, used her first speech to denounce such rhetoric. Historically, people have always moved in search of hope and opportunities, she said. Erecting walls; deliberately projecting fear and anger on migrant communities… such policies offer no long-term solutions to anyone – only more hostility, misery, suffering and chaos. It is in the interest of every state to adopt migration policies that are grounded in reality, not in panic; which provide opportunities for safe, regular movement instead of forcing people to take lethal risks.

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine September 2018.

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