UN rights chief seeks help for surge in central Med migrants

GENEVA (AP) – The U.N. human rights chief has called for an expansion in regular migration channels and search-and-rescue operations after a “steep increase” in the number of migrants and asylum-seekers making risky attempts to cross the central Mediterranean to Europe.

Volker Türk called for solidarity with Italy, which has traditionally received most of the influx, adding that the Italian coast guard had rescued some 2,000 people on the route since Friday. Italy’s right-wing government this week imposed a six-month state of emergency to deal with the situation.

“We are seeing a steep increase in the number of desperate people putting their lives at grave risk,” said Türk, who is the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, in a statement. “We cannot afford to dither, and to become embroiled in yet another debate about who is responsible.”

“Human lives are at stake,” he said, while also urging Italy’s government to scrap a law passed this year that restricts civilian search and rescue operations.

The appeal came a day after the International Organization for Migration announced the reported number of dead and missing along the central Mediterranean reached the highest level of any first quarter since 2017 in the first three months of this year.

The IOM documented 441 migrant deaths along the route during January, February and March 2023, compared with 742 in 2017 and 446 in 2015.

Also Thursday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was scaling up humanitarian assistance and protection services along the route – including psychological support, first aid, family reunification services and help with disembarkation in Italy.

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