European leaders are manufacturing a "migration...
At the start of 2019 it took European governments nearly three weeks to decide what to do with 49 people - including children – rescued at sea. They left them stranded and tossed about in the waves for 19 days. This is not the first time this has happened, and it is unlikely to be the last.
Those 49 had been rescued in December after fleeing Libya, but the ships were denied permission to dock in any European port on the Mediterranean. With reports of children becoming sick and one man jumping overboard in a futile attempt to reach the shore, international outrage grew. Even the Pope issued a “heartfelt appeal to European leaders to show concrete solidarity for these people.” After much political grandstanding, the ships were eventually allowed to dock.
Under international law, people rescued at sea must be taken to a nearby place of safety, namely a country where they will be treated humanely and offered a genuine opportunity to seek asylum.
Until recently, that meant anyone rescued in the central Mediterranean en route from Libya, was taken to Europe, as returning them to Libya would expose them to the threat of arbitrary detention and potentially, torture.
This presented European governments with a dilemma: they were keen to block migration across the central Mediterranean, as they don’t want people coming to Europe, but they couldn’t return people to Libya without breaching the law. So, they invented a work-around: they started supporting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people at sea and return them to Libya.
The result has been a Catch 22 situation where those rescued cannot be taken to Libya, because it is unlawful and inhumane, or to Europe, because European governments are refusing disembarkation there.
As part of the same strategy to reduce the number of disembarkations in Europe, countries have increasingly withdrawn patrols. NGOs that have stepped in to fill the gap have not only found themselves regularly refused a port to dock, particularly in Italy and Malta, but they have also been prevented from conducting their life-saving activities through unfounded criminal investigations and bureaucratic obstacles.
Before risking their lives to cross the sea, refugees and migrants are frequently kidnapped by gangs and forced into "modern slavery". Others are detained in labour camps or forced into prostitution until they can pay their way out. And according to Independent, Libya's coastal cities are making up to €325m (£272m) in revenue each year from people smuggling.
The need to reform the European asylum rules - the so-called ‘Dublin system’ - has been recognized by many. Despite the EU Parliament’s attempt to introduce reforms, no changes have been made due to opposition from a few countries. European leaders must urgently act to fix a system which deters states from assisting refugees and migrants in peril at sea, said Amnesty International in an analysis published on January 18.
“While Europe is unified in trying to pass the buck to third countries for problems of its own making, it is still divided when it comes to reaching solutions. We need to cut through the rhetoric which demonises people seeking safety, and those trying to help them, purely for political purposes. More women, men and children will suffer unless and until European governments agree on a swift and predictable disembarkation policy in line with international law, and a fair system to share responsibility among EU countries. ” Said EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos.
“European leaders can no longer turn their backs on people stranded at sea and continue distorting the debate on migration for their own political gain. They must urgently agree on a swift and predictable disembarkation policy in line with international law and on a fair system to share responsibility for asylum-seekers among EU countries.” said Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International’s Migration Researcher.
“Climate change and migration are clear examples of complex challenges that States can only overcome through human rights-based action.” Said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Presentation of the Annual Appeal.