GENEVA – The new U.N. human rights chief on Monday announced plans to send teams to Italy and Austria to examine migrants' treatment, drawing a quick retort from Vienna.
Both countries' governments take a hard line on migration, and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that "prioritizing the return of migrants from Europe, without ensuring that key international human rights obligations are upheld, cannot be considered a protection response."
Bachelet said her office expects to dispatch a team to Austria to "assess recent developments in this area." She added that "we also intend to send staff to Italy, to assess the reported sharp increase in acts of violence and racism against migrants, persons of African descent and Roma."
She didn't say when either team would travel, or give other details in a written statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council, posted on her office's website , in which she also called on the European Union to set up a dedicated search and rescue operation for people crossing the Mediterranean Sea. She didn't mention sending teams to Austria and Italy in shorter oral remarks to the council in Geneva.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he welcomes Bachelet's announcement as offering an "opportunity to rectify prejudices and deliberate false information about Austria," the Austria Press Agency reported.
Kurz said in a statement that "living conditions for migrants" in Austria are among the best in the world and added that Austria had taken in some of the highest numbers of migrants per capita in Europe.
"We hope that, after this examination, the U.N. will again have time and resources to dedicate to those countries where torture and the death penalty are on the agenda and the freedom of opinion, the press, assembly and religion are trampled on," Kurz said.
The conservative leader added that the check was ordered by a "former socialist politician and member of the Socialist International." Bachelet served two terms as Chile's president, the last of which ended earlier this year.