"We would like to ask the Italian authorities and the international community, especially the European Union, to strengthen their efforts to prevent a repeat of this situation. States should also ensure that they are honouring their commitments under international refugee law," Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva.
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), of the estimated 500 passengers on the boat, believed to be Eritreans. The boat, which originated from Libya, caught fire half a mile from the coast. Media reports suggest there are still some 200 passengers that are unaccounted for.
Mr. Colville welcomed efforts by the Italian authorities to address the issue in line with international human rights norms and respecting the dignity of all passengers. In particular, he noted the day of mourning declared by the Government and the minute of silence held in all Italian schools on Friday.
"This is significant. It marks a very big and welcome change of attitude on the part of the Italian authorities," he said.
OHCHR also expressed concern about increasing rate of smuggling and trafficking of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean, and stressed the importance of the international community's engagement on this issue.
"[The incident] indicates the desperation of the people living in areas of Eritrea and also other countries, including Somalia, stricken by insecurity and conflict as well as the lack of enjoyment of basic economic, social and cultural rights," Mr. Colville said.
"It is critical that the international community engages further in improving the human rights situation on the ground, to address the root causes so that there is sufficient improvement that people will not feel the need to put their lives at risk by undertaking such dangerous journeys."
Mr. Colville added that the UN is ready to collaborate with national authorities on ending smuggling and trafficking of persons from Eritrea and Somalia, and offered his condolences to the families of those who drowned in the tragic incident.
--IBNS (Posted on 05-10-2013)