UN committee says. Meet the woman who helped make the historic decision to undermine a country for upholding the right to life at sea

Dr Yussef Wahid and his wife Manal Wahid cook dinner in Duisburg refugee camp in Germany as they tell me about the 10 years of limbo they endured after surviving a life-killing shipwreck to their four little daughters. This isn’t where they thought they were when they decided to take a small boat from Libya and cross the Mediterranean Sea. A road which sees thousands of people die while fleeing their country of origin, often because of war, genocide, political and religious persecution.

No one intervened after we called from the sea. They did not rescue us so that fewer people arrive in Europe, so other migrants are too afraid to come, ”he said.

“We were meant to be a lesson for other refugees not to come to Europe. There is no other reason for this, ”said Dr Wahid.

He and his wife Manal were on a boat with their 4 young children which contained more than 400 migrants who capsized in 2013. Leaving 200 dead because neither Italy nor Malta intervened after repeated phone calls from migrants at sea. Another example of a humanitarian disaster that has intensified the recalcitrant debate in Europe on the management of boat crossings between countries. A phenomenon that has left thousands of migrants dead at sea and in political limbo due to slow and often ineffective bureaucracy and regulations.

Dr Wahid and his family are from Syria and, according to a document produced by Amnesty International in 2019, Syria has been listed as the main country of origin for refugees. The Wahids are Kurdish-Syrians, the largest ethnic minority in Syria, and due to severe discrimination and policies of persecution against the Kurds, the Wahids like many others have been forced to leave the country due to discrimination. from Syria to the ethnic minority. Then Wahid’s mother called him for

he was in Russia to finish his medical studies saying that Interpol was looking for him. “I was wanted by Interpol because I was an activist who spoke to people so as not to be afraid of their Kurdish identity and that was a problem,” Wahid explains.

In order to ease tensions within Syria and allow the Kurds to work, “the Kurdish party asked the Libyan government for authorization that Kurdish militants who had specific training, who could no longer work in Syria or in Russia, be authorized by Libya to work in hospitals there. . ”

In 2011, when the Gaddafi regime ended with his death due to the Libyan revolution, a movement started even there. “People started to protest and the pot started to boil there too. We created a committee there to end the inequality. We Kurds also wanted our freedoms there. When we had our committee meetings, after one or two meetings, Islamist extremists infiltrated, they wanted to move the group in another direction, but I withdrew from that group because it was not the ideal in which I believed ”, explains Wahid.

“When we left this committee, we learned that these Islamist extremists were members of the Islamic State. Some of my colleagues were murdered, beheaded, others disappeared and I was threatened either to leave Libya or to be killed. ISIS believes that the Kurds are not Muslim believers, and this is because the Kurds were often converted and for ISIS not true Muslim believers and therefore can never be fundamentalists ”, explains Wahid.

Dr Wahid explains that there were around 40 other doctors with their families who decided to flee to the sea: “When we left Libya by sea, the Libyans shot at our boat, near Italy, the boat started to sink. 268 people died on this ship, including our 4 daughters. Dr Wahid is moved, his wife sobbing as she remembers what happened in 2013 that changed their lives forever.

Last year, in an unprecedented decision, the UN Human Rights Committee blamed a specific country, in this case Italy, for allowing 200 migrants to die at sea for failing to not to have impressed the obligation of a State on a search and rescue intervention at sea. Italy was found to be at fault because the country’s rescue operation “failed to respond promptly” to distress calls after the vessel was shot down “by a Berber-flagged boat in international waters”, approximately 70 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. , said the committee of 18 experts.

Hélène Tigroudja is one of the members of the UNHCR Executive Board who helped take the historic decision to identify Italy’s failure to protect “the right to life” at sea.

“The decision of the Human Rights Committee is important because it is the first decision taken at the international level. It is therefore the first time that a human rights organization has applied the right to life at sea and carried out precise due diligence on a State’s obligation on a search and rescue area ”, explains Tigroudja. .

The two states involved in the drowning of more than 200 migrants in 2013 took 7 years and involved Italy and Malta. “It took 7 years for the victims and the families of those who died. 7 years to arrive and arrive at this decision. 7 years because before the request reaches the Human Rights Committee, applicants must exhaust domestic remedies. But the domestic remedies did not work at all, ”explains Tigroudja. “This decision is an important step in eligibility,” and in accountability, she said.

But all the facts are still not understood. “It is not clear what happened in 2013 and why the Italian authorities did not act quickly. Victims and families want the truth and the facts to shed light.

Italian human rights lawyer Andrea Saccucci, who represents some of the surviving families in a single appeal for Malta and Italy on behalf of the survivors of the shipwreck, said that “Italy usually intervenes, but this times she delayed the rescue. . ”

“These decisions aim to improve the situation by making it clear that states cannot avoid their responsibility by simply alleging that something has happened beyond their borders. The meaning of this decision is to avoid any loophole in terms of human rights, ”explains Saccucci.

The neglect of refugees and the dehumanization of people fleeing their homes for a chance at a righteous life are certainly not new and are among the reasons why this unprecedented decision by UNHCR is important, “the problem and death in sea ​​have for many years been dramatic for asylum seekers. So it is very important now to have this decision. But from a legal point of view, there are no satisfactory conclusions. It was a while important to tell countries, even when people are at sea, that they have rights and human rights, not just when they arrive on land, but even at sea, they have the right to life, ”said Tigrudja.

“If necessary and relevant, the Italian state has an obligation to try people for the deaths of refugees. ”

Dr Yusef Wahid and his wife Manal Wahid are now refugees in Duisburg, Germany, where they live in a refugee camp in “poor conditions”, they say. They are completely dependent on the state and are unable to work as they did in their home countries, Syria and Russia, where Dr Wahid studied epidemiology. Despite their education and abilities, they lived in limbo for years.

About Wesley V. Finley

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