EU’s deadly mi­grant cri­sis

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - Ead­ers of the

LEuropean Union are do­ing some­thing this week they should have done months ago: They’re map­ping a strat­egy to counter a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis at sea — a steady flow of rick­ety boats car­ry­ing thou­sands of mostly African and Mid­dle Eastern refugees across the Mediter­ranean to Europe. So far this year, more than 1,725 peo­ple have per­ished, in­clud­ing as many as 850 in a sin­gle in­ci­dent over the week­end, many of whom smug­glers had locked in a hold be­fore the ship cap­sized.

This is not a new cri­sis. The Migration Pol­icy In­sti­tute es­ti­mates that 20,000 mi­grants died cross­ing the Mediter­ranean from 1998 to 2014, mak­ing it the dead­li­est mi­grant sea route in the world. Migration ex­perts and hu­man rights ad­vo­cates have been warn­ing that this year’s toll could be even higher than last year’s 3,279 deaths be­cause of con­tin­u­ing in­sta­bil­ity in Syria, Su­dan and other coun­tries in the Mid­dle East and Africa. The prob­lem is mag­ni­fied dramatically be­cause hu­man traf­fick­ers work with im­punity in Libya, and be­cause of scaled-back Euro­pean res­cue pa­trols.

Then there’s the fact that anti-im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ments and be­lea­guered bud­gets have made Euro­pean coun­tries dis­in­clined to take in any more refugees than ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, and the be­lief that res­cu­ing mi­grants at sea just en­cour­ages more to make the trip. The lat­ter is clearly not the case, though. In Novem­ber, Italy shut down its year­long Mare Nostrum project, in which navy ships and air­craft pa­trolling within a few miles of the Libyan coast res­cued about 150,000 peo­ple. The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Migration es­ti­mates that the flow of mi­grants this year is about the same as at this point last year, but that the ab­sence of the Ital­ian res­cue pro­gram has led to a thir­ty­fold in­crease in deaths.

A 10-point plan an­nounced Mon­day by Euro­pean Union for­eign and in­te­rior min­is­ters sug­gests Europe might fi­nally be mov­ing be­yond pol­i­tics and pur­su­ing a mul­ti­pronged ap­proach to con­fronting the cri­sis. The plan, which the Euro­pean Union lead­er­ship is to take up Thurs­day, calls for more ag­gres­sive ef­forts to in­ter­cept mi­grant boats closer to Libya, dis­rupt smug­gling op­er­a­tions and stream­line refugee ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cesses, among other steps. Crit­ics say the pro­posal falls short be­cause it reprises pre­vi­ous strate­gies to con­front the cri­sis of the mo­ment with­out ad­dress­ing root causes such as in­ad­e­quate Euro­pean asy­lum and refugee pro­grams or the per­sis­tent in­sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East and sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

Sta­bi­liz­ing coun­tries in eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary tur­moil, though, is an enor­mous task that takes not only vast re­sources and a lot of luck but also time, which is one thing des­per­ate peo­ple on rafts and rick­ety boats don’t have much of. Whether th­ese steps will save lives is, of course, hard to pre­dict. But it’s promis­ing at least that the Euro­pean na­tions may fi­nally be ris­ing to a chal­lenge they knew was com­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.