Europe ‘turns blind eye’ to refugees’ plight
BEFORE a meeting of EU ministers in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, yesterday to discuss refugee policies, Amnesty International has accused Europe of ignoring the dangers faced by refugees seeking to cross the Mediterranean.
“The soaring death toll in the central Mediterranean and the horrific abuses faced by thousands of refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centres are clearly linked to failing EU policies,” said Amnesty International.
A new report by Amnesty noted that by ceding the lion’s share of responsibility for search and rescue to NGOs and by increasing co-operation with the Libyan coastguard, European governments were failing to prevent drownings and turning a blind eye to abuses, including torture and rape.
“Rather than acting to save lives and offer protection, European ministers meeting here are shamelessly prioritising reckless deals with Libya in a desperate bid to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Italy,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe director.
“European states have progressively turned their backs on a search and rescue strategy that was reducing mortality at sea.
“The approach now is one that has seen thousands drown and left desperate men, women and children trapped in Libya, exposed to horrific abuses,” Dalhuisen said.
Measures implemented by EU leaders to strengthen search and rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean in April 2015 dramatically decreased deaths at sea.
But this priority, which saw several countries provide more rescue boats closer to Libyan territorial waters, was short-lived.
Instead, EU governments shifted their focus to disrupting smugglers and preventing departures of boats from Libya.
Subsequently, the proportion of refugees who died crossing the sea rose from 0.89% in the second half of 2015 to 2.7% this year.
Changes to smugglers’ practices and an increasing use of unseaworthy boats with a complete lack of safety equipment on board have made the sea crossing even more unsafe.
But despite a spike in deaths – more than 2 000 since January – the EU is failing to deploy an adequately resourced and dedicated humanitarian operation near Libyan territorial waters, said Amnesty.
Instead, it is focusing on strengthening the abilities of the Libyan coastguard to better prevent departures and perform interceptions.
If the second half of this year continues as the first, 2017 looks set to become “the deadliest year for the world’s deadliest migration route”.
Refugees sleep on the deck of the Golfo Azzurro vessel after being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast. PICTURE: AP