European Policy Leads to Migrant Drownings inside the Mediterranean

This specific was just before midnight when Fabian Heinz lost his faith in Europe. The Alan Kurdi, a ship belonging to Sea Eye, a German sea-rescue organization, was bobbing up in addition to also down between Lampedusa, in Italy, in addition to also Malta. Heinz, a 29-year-old photographer through Würzburg, remembers holding watch on deck of which evening.

He looked up through his post to the dozens of refugees of which he in addition to also some other rescuers had saved through the sea near the Libyan coast. They were sleeping as well as they could, lying crisscrossed on the overfilled deck, wet through the spray of the waves. The Alan Kurdi had been sailing on the Mediterranean For just two days at This specific point, yet no country wanted to let the ship dock. Malta had forbidden the crew through producing land. Italy’s Indoor Minister Matteo Salvini had suggested the boat go to Hamburg. Supplies on board were running low, in addition to also there could soon be medical emergencies.

“I was prepared for all of of which,” says Heinz. yet in of which moment, he felt incredibly lonely. “I had the feeling of which nobody cared whether we just drifted out here. This specific kind of thing shouldn’t be happening here in Europe.” When Malta’s coast guard ultimately brought the migrants on board days later, two women had already collapsed. Even without refugees, the crew of the Alan Kurdi wasn’t allowed on land. The helpers had to head south. Thirteen days after saving 64 people, they were allowed to disembark — in Tunis.

For refugees, Europe is actually increasingly becoming a fortress without a gate. Even volunteer maritime rescuers are today being criminalized. Ports are closed to them. Ships are confiscated. Helpers are put on trial. Lifeline captain Claus-Peter Reisch was just sentenced to pay 10,000 euros by a Maltese court because his ship hadn’t been properly registered. The Italian Public Prosecutor’s Office is actually accusing 10 volunteers through the vessel Iuventa of illegal immigration. The crew could face up to 20 years in prison.

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With their blockade policy, the Europeans have decimated the flotilla of private maritime rescuers, which at one point included as many as 12 ships. today, on many days, not one particular rescue ship can be found patrolling the waters between Europe in addition to also North Africa.

The EU completely ceased maritime rescues inside the fall. This specific merely monitors the sea through the air in addition to also cooperates with the Libyan coast guard, which has expanded its search zone since 2017. The Libyan ships capture refugees near their own coast in addition to also bring them back to the country, which is actually inside the midst of a civil war. They place them in camps, where many are tortured, raped or, in some cases, forced to become soldiers.

The EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantees protection to people who are fleeing through war or political persecution. yet the EU member states have, in practical terms, eliminated This specific. They have sealed their borders, expelled refugee helpers in addition to also erected fences. They pay autocrats like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to prevent migrants through continuing their journey.


Fortress Europe has many architects: Italian Indoor Minister Matteo Salvini (left) using binoculars next to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban through a watch tower along the fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border.


Balazs Szecsodi/ AFP

Fortress Europe has many architects: Italian Indoor Minister Matteo Salvini (left) using binoculars next to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban through a watch tower along the fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border.

The result being of which, even inside the warmer months between May in addition to also October, few refugees today make This specific to Europe. This specific year, only 24,000 migrants have succeeded in crossing the Mediterranean to the EU so far. The number hasn’t been of which low in years.

More Dangerous than Ever

The long journey to Europe is actually more dangerous than ever. A study by the Italian think tank Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), based on Indoor Ministry figures, shows of which one in eight refugees who set out through Libya for Italy inside the first four months of 2019 died. The International Organization for Migration found of which one in 17 refugees on the route perished, up through one death out of every 43 in 2016. On June 3, a group of human rights lawyers lodged a complaint against the EU at the International Criminal Court inside the Hague. This specific argues of which, through its policies, the European Union is actually responsible for “the deaths by drowning of thousands of migrants.”

When several hundred refugees drowned in a shipwreck near Lampedusa in 2013, This specific still triggered outrage among European leaders in addition to also prompted the EU to invest in rescue programs. yet today the EU member states are willing to accept the disasters as collateral damage. Many Europeans are outraged about the wall U.S. President Donald Trump wants to build at the border to Mexico, even as they are sealing themselves off through immigration in ways of which are even more brutal than what the Americans are doing. On Thursday in addition to also Friday of This specific week, EU leaders will meet at a summit in Brussels where they will determine their policy agenda through 2024. This specific is actually unlikely of which the EU is actually going to undertake any kind of fundamental course correction. In terms of EU asylum policy, the desire to keep migrants far away — no matter how — has been the imperative for some time today.

“Fortress Europe” has many architects, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, left-wing Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras in addition to also former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who all implemented policies aimed at keeping migrants out. yet none is actually pursuing them as decisively as Matteo Salvini. Italy’s right-wing populist Indoor minister has ensured of which his country ceases maritime rescues. He has also disparaged foreign helpers, claiming they are collaborating with the human traffickers in addition to also harassing them with investigations until many give up in addition to also retreat. He eventually had Italian ports bar maritime rescuers. Anyone today seeking to rescue refugees must first find a country willing to take them in.

Through his policy of sealing Italy off, Salvini has managed something of which, until a few years ago, not even Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party would certainly have dared suggest: The Europeans are allowing migrants to drown inside the Mediterranean.

For the migrants who do make This specific to Italy, This specific doesn’t take long until they are destitute again. The government coalition comprised of Salvini’s right-wing populist Lega Nord in addition to also the M5S protest party passed a law This specific autumn, the so-called Salvini Decree, of which could render the status of one more 130,000 immigrants illegal by the end of 2020. Salvini recently eliminated the “humanitarian protection” which allowed many asylum applicants to work legally, at least temporarily. This specific has already created a situation in which thousands of men in addition to also women are today sleeping on the streets. Their numbers are only likely to grow.

Mamadou Kondé, a 26-year-old shepherd through Senegal, has been sleeping on a park bench in Rome since February. He feeds himself with food distributed by volunteers. On one afternoon in May, of which meant left-over pizza rolls. Kondé isn’t his real name. He’s afraid of being quoted in addition to also photographed using his real name. “We don’t know what is actually still coming our way,” he says.

As a refugee with humanitarian protection status, Kondé had been housed at a first-stage reception center in Rome until This specific past fall. The Salvini Decree resulted in his expulsion through the center. He no longer knows where to go today. “Without an apartment, I have no right to stay,” Kondé says, summarizing his dilemma, “without a right to stay, no job. Without a job, no apartment.” He says he’d like to return to Senegal, yet doesn’t have enough money, in addition to also of which his passport got stolen.

Salvini describes his law as a “present to the Italians.” yet Marìka Surace, a lawyer with the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties in addition to also Rights (CILD), a network of Italian NGOs, argues of which the Salvini Decree is actually leading to neglect in addition to also violence. “This specific has destroyed the old system without replacing This specific using a fresh one,” she says. Many mayors are refusing to implement the decree out of fear of social unrest. The UN views This specific as a violation of international law.

Blockaded Routes

The EU, for its part, has failed to create the kind of system for fairly distributing refugees among the member states of which German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly called for. Instead, a competition has emerged in Europe of which sees countries trying to outdo each some other in undermining asylum standards to keep the migrants out. In Eastern Europe, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been pursuing the same deterrence policies recently introduced by Salvini in Italy for years today — with at least the same severity.

The border between Hungary in addition to also Serbia has been sealed for some time today. Refugees coming through the south run up against a bulwark made of two fences, barbed wire in addition to also thermal imaging cameras of which is actually monitored around the clock by police officers.

The Orbán government has decided to allow only two refugees into the country each day, a mockery of European asylum law. The migrants are sent to a hearing with border guards who decide, in an expedited proceeding, who incorporates a chance of getting asylum. Those who aren’t sent back to a Balkan state after their first assessment, spend the duration of their asylum proceedings in one of two reception camps of which are euphemistically called “transit zones,” although they’re definitely just jails.

Under EU law, rejected asylum applicants hold the legal right to appeal of which decision, yet Orbán has also effectively lifted of which procedure. The Hungarian authorities often harass rejected asylum applicants by withholding food. in addition to also NGOs of which work to assert the rights of migrants in Hungary are slapped using a special tax. “Orbán’s policies are entirely centered on the repulsion of refugees, no matter how much danger they are in,” says Hungarian human rights activist Márta Pardavi.

The prime minister has made the fight against migration the focus of his governance. This specific hasn’t hurt him either. His Fidesz party is actually still a member of the European People’s Party — the grouping of conservatives inside the European Parliament of which also includes Merkel’s Christian Democrats — even if its membership is actually currently suspended until further notice due to its attacks on European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.


A bag containing the body of a migrant who died off the Libyan coast is actually seen in Qarabulli town, located east of the Libyan capital Tripoli.


Ayman al-Sahili/ REUTERS

A bag containing the body of a migrant who died off the Libyan coast is actually seen in Qarabulli town, located east of the Libyan capital Tripoli.

The isolationist policies pursued by Orbán in addition to also Salvini have caused a noticeable decrease in migration numbers, yet This specific has not entirely erased them. They may even perpetuate migration. To secure the borders, the Europeans are providing indirect support to militias in Libya in addition to also Sudan of which are themselves involved in human trafficking in addition to also are contributing to their countries’ collapse. In Egypt, they continue to back a brutal regime of which is actually muzzling the country of 98 million inhabitants, in addition to also, according to experts, endangering its long-term stability. The result being of which many migrants are taking fresh in addition to also often more dangerous routes.

The Spanish Solution

At the southern tip of Europe, Manuel Barroso is actually standing in his command center. The port of Almería, a coastal city inside the Andalusia region of southern Spain, stretches out below him. Outside the windows, blue sky meets blue sea. Barroso allows his hands to glide over the map on the table inside the center of the room, when an alarm pulls the head of the maritime rescue out of his thoughts. Forty-seven people are reportedly on the Alboran Sea in a boat traveling through Morocco to Spain. Barroso whirls around, giving instructions.

Since the routes through the Balkans in addition to also Italy to Northern Europe have largely been blocked, Spain has become one of the main destinations for refugees. Last year, close to 60,000 people attempted to make the crossing through Morocco, more than ever before.

Spain had long provided an impressive example of how well a country can monitor the area between North Africa in addition to also Europe. Pedro Sanchez’ Socialist government repeatedly allowed private maritime rescue ships to dock at its ports. When Salvini turned away his first ship carrying migrants, the Aquarius, Sanchez opened the port of Valencia to This specific. Initially, his government acted as the antithesis of Italy under Salvini.

…yet even the Socialists are struggling to maintain their liberal refugee policy. As long as the EU doesn’t agree on a joint asylum system, the countries on the Mediterranean will largely be left to their own devices.

Since early This specific year, the maxim in Spain has been to save people, yet not so many. The Spanish daily El País recently reported of which illegal immigration via the Mediterranean is actually to be reduced by half This specific year. Like some other EU countries, Spain is actually increasingly reliant on third countries to do its dirty work for This specific on migration. Spain’s King Felipe VI in addition to also his Indoor minister traveled to Morocco in mid-February to get the Moroccan coast guard to act more vigorously in deterring refugees. The EU has pledged the country 148 million euros for the purpose, of which 30 million has already been paid. The outcome being of which Moroccan officials claim the country has already caught in addition to also returned 30,000 refugees.

inside the port of Almería, the results of This specific shift are already visible. When the alarm goes off inside the tower, Spain first sends just an airplane to determine where the refugees are located. Spica, a rescue ship, remains inside the port for the time being.

Ismael Furió stands next to the ship in addition to also complains about the situation. The captain is actually a member of the left-wing CGT union in addition to also is actually responsible for the maritime rescue workers there. He’d like to help himself, yet he isn’t allowed to. “This specific’s the fresh strategy,” he says. “Procrastinating in addition to also then waiting for the Moroccan coast guard to find the boat in addition to also bring This specific back.” The decisions inside the newly installed command center are today being made by Félix Blázquez, a general inside the Guardia Civil, the Spanish military police. Military police officers were also stationed on board several ships. Many maritime rescuers are critical of the decision, because they consider the refugees to be castaways, not immigrants — in addition to also they don’t view themselves as border guards.

These measures show the degree to which even Spain has today shifted toward deterrence. In December, the far-right Vox party garnered almost 11 percent of votes in regional elections in Andalusia in addition to also a similar share during the national parliamentary election in April.

Since then, the rescuers have been under constant attack. So far, 166 people have died inside the Mediterranean This specific year inside the waters between Spain in addition to also Morocco. Union member Furió worries of which number could rise significantly inside the summer. “If the Moroccans were to fail to rescue just one in four ships, thousands could drown,” he says. in addition to also he points out of which the Moroccan coast guard doesn’t always report rescues faithfully.

Miguel Zea, Barroso’s predecessor inside the Almería control center, has similar concerns. He was replaced by the current minister in February, a change of which came at Zea’s request. some other rescuers say Zea said he didn’t want to continue under these conditions — otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to look at himself inside the mirror inside the mornings.

European politicians claim the refugee crisis has passed. Helpers like Barroso, however, can see each day of which This specific isn’t true. For today, the crisis has moved to the periphery of the Continent in addition to also beyond. yet as long as the EU member states don’t succeed in creating a fair asylum system or set up dignified reception camps outside the EU, the crisis could return to the heart of the Continent at any time.

European Policy Leads to Migrant Drownings inside the Mediterranean

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