Italy keeps "constructive approach" to refugee protection in pandemic: UNHCR chief

2021-04-16 14:35:48 GMT2021-04-16 22:35:48(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

ROME, April 16 (Xinhua) -- Italy has kept playing a "pivotal role" in the reception and protection of asylum seekers fleeing to Europe during the pandemic, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Friday.

His remarks came at the end of a two-day visit to the country, during which Grandi met Italian top officials, refugees and members of the civil society.

In a statement, he commended Italy for "ensuring access to asylum throughout the COVID-19 emergency."

He said the country was able to uphold rules and principles of refugee protection towards people crossing the central Mediterranean Sea, or following the so-called Balkan route, and to keep at the same time a "constructive approach to improve the balance between responsibility and solidarity underpinning the negotiation on the proposed EU Pact on Migration and Asylum."

Meanwhile, Grandi expressed fresh concerns over repatriations of rescued asylum seekers to Libya, which the chief of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it could not be considered safe.

"We have always opposed repatriations to Libya, we believe it does not offer safe ports."

Grandi added that the Italian government gave positive signals on the chance to restart evacuating the most vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers from the northern African country in order to resettle them in Italy or in other countries through "humanitarian corridors."

"This kind of evacuations has been substantially reduced during the peak of the pandemic crisis...resuming them in Libya and in other countries as well is crucial."

Some 34,154 migrants and asylum seekers reached the coasts of Italy throughout 2020, and 8,522 so far in 2021, according to the latest data from the Interior Ministry.

The figures marked a drastic drop from those at the height of the European migration crisis, for example in 2016, when over 181,000 arrivals to Italy were registered here. Enditem