The EU needs to face up to the huge scan­dal over the deaths of mi­grants


EU na­tions have long had the recipes for man­ag­ing mi­grant flows and shar­ing out the bur­den of il­le­gal migration but have lacked the po­lit­i­cal will for ac­tion de­spite mul­ti­ple dra­mas in the Mediter­ranean, crit­ics say.

“It’s shame­ful of Europe,” a high- rank­ing EU of­fi­cial told AFP af­ter a boat car­ry­ing more than 700 peo­ple — per­haps as many as 1,000 — cap­sized off Libya days af­ter a se­ries of sim­i­lar ac­ci­dents sparked in­ter­na­tional out­rage.

The Euro­pean Union’s 28 mem­ber states had “no more ex­cuses” to avoid ac­tion, warned the bloc’s for­eign af­fairs chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini.

Amid the anger caused by the Lampe­dusa dis­as­ter of late 2013, in which 366 peo­ple drowned off Italy while seek­ing to reach Europe’s shores, the EU fi­nessed plans to deal with the prob­lem.

The ac­tion plan out­lined at the time in­cluded im­prov­ing the legal means of migration, com­bat­ing peo­ple- smug­glers, beef­ing up the cash made avail­able to Fron­tex, the EU’s fron­tier con­trol agency, and rewrit­ing the rules on deal­ing with mi­grant and refugee ar­rivals. There has been no real fol­low- up how­ever.

“The lat­est tragedies on the Mediter­ranean show how ur­gent it is to agree a share- out of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Cecilia Malm­stroem, the EU’s for­mer migration com­mis­sioner.

But at a sum­mit on the is­sue in De­cem­ber 2013, EU lead­ers merely agreed to “pri­or­i­tize ef­forts to stop de­par­tures” and show “ap­pro­pri­ate sol­i­dar­ity” on deal­ing with new mi­grant ar­rivals.

The EU’s cur­rent mi­grant and refugee regime is set out in what is known as the Dublin II ac­cords. They re­quire that the coun­try of first ar­rival — most of­ten Italy re­cently — process mi­grants as well as asy­lum re­quests and be re­spon­si­ble for ex­pelling those whose ap­pli­ca­tions have been re­jected.

A Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pro­posal to re­view the rule in the in­ter­ests of bet­ter bur­den­shar­ing was flatly re­jected by 24 of the EU’s 28 mem­ber states.

Only Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta — on the front­line of the mi­grant tide — backed the idea.

Malm­stroem said Euro­pean politi­cians had al­lowed pop­ulist and xeno­pho­bic move­ments to dic­tate pol­icy and put the em­pha­sis on repa­tri­a­tion.

‘ Some­thing has to change’

Now, public anger and shock over the steadily mount­ing death toll at sea may force a change.

“Th­ese are peo­ple like you and me — they’re not cock­roaches,” thun­dered The Times of Lon­don, re­fer­ring to con­tro­ver­sial re­marks made by a Bri­tish news­pa­per colum­nist that “gun­ships” should be used on mi­grant boats to turn them back.

Malm­stroem’s suc­ces­sor, Greece’s Dim­itris Avramopou­los, is set to in­tro­duce a new ap­proach to the prob­lem in May.

Among his ini­tia­tives are greater fund­ing for Fron­tex’s Tri­ton opera- tion mon­i­tor­ing the Mediter­ranean, new Euro­pean pro­grams and fa­cil­i­ties to han­dle in­com­ing mi­grants, and legal and se­cu­rity rules “for peo­ple flee­ing con­flicts.”

Cen­tral to Avramopou­los’ push is his con­vic­tion that “some­thing has to change” in the logic of the Dublin II ac­cord, which leaves each coun­try to deal with its in­di­vid­ual share of the bloc’s im­mi­gra­tion prob­lem, lim­it­ing col­lec­tive mea­sures. At a March 12 meet­ing, EU in­te­rior min­is­ters looked at ways of stop­ping would-be mi­grants from leav­ing home.

Among th­ese was set­ting up cen­ters to ex­am­ine im­mi­gra­tion and asy­lum re­quests at ma­jor de­par­ture points in Africa to help stop peo­ple from set­ting out in rick­ety boats for a per­ilous jour­ney across the Mediter­ranean sea.

“The only way to truly change the re­al­ity is to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion at its roots,” a Com­mis­sion state­ment read.

Italy suspended its Mare Nostrum search-and-res­cue op­er­a­tion late last year in protest over its ris­ing cost and it was re­placed by a smaller and much more re­stricted EU-led mission called Tri­ton.

The re­cent flood of mi­grants and the grow­ing loss of life have put Tri­ton in the spot­light, with EU diplo­matic sources say­ing Mon­day there was an emerg­ing con­sen­sus that it had to get more re­sources to cope with the grow­ing prob­lem.

EU lead­ers will hold an emer­gency sum­mit on the is­sue on Thurs­day and will be un­der in­tense pres­sure to come up with con­crete pro­pos­als.

EU for­eign and in­te­rior min­is­ters meet­ing on Mon­day came up with a 10- point plan for ac­tion to be sub­mit­ted to the lead­ers at the sum­mit.

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