Europe ‘turns blind eye’ to refugees’ plight

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - ANA

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

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