EU policymakers blamed for refugee deaths in Mediterranean

Written by Julie Levy-Abegnoli on 16 April 2015 in News

Since the beginning of 2015, nearly 900 people have died trying to enter into Europe through the Mediterranean.

In the space of one week, nearly 6000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean, and 400 are feared dead off the coast of Libya. According to the international organisation for migration, around 900 migrants have died since the beginning of the year.

As anti-immigration rhetoric has been gaining popularity around Europe, MEPs have spoken out against the EU's idleness in the face of these tragedies.

Cécile Kyenge, parliament's rapporteur on migration, said, "we are hearing more and more about the crisis and the fact that migration is increasing - is the arrival of 250,000 migrants to a continent of half a billion people really a crisis?"

The Socialist deputy highlighted that "a union of 28 states and half a billion people must have the capacity to cope with the current situation".

She pointed out that "Mare Nostrum, Italy's sea patrolling operation carried out by a single member state, saved 150,000 people in one year. Paradoxically, the EU joint operation meant to take over Mare Nostrum, Triton, is not having anywhere near the same level of success".

For Greens/EFA group spokesperson on migration Judith Sargentini, these latest events are "truly shocking". She added, "while there will be no shortage of European politicians expressing their horror, the reality is that Europe is also responsible for these deaths by turning a blind eye to the precarious journeys engaged on by desperate refugees".

"While there will be no shortage of European politicians expressing their horror, the reality is that Europe is also responsible for these deaths by turning a blind eye to the precarious journeys engaged on by desperate refugees" - Judith Sargentini

In her view, "replacing the Mare Nostrum programme with [Triton] was a mistake which is leading to more tragic losses of life, as was predicted". Instead, the Dutch MEP has called for "a European sea rescue programme for refugees".

She also believes that, "if we want to combat human trafficking and smuggling effectively, the answer is not reducing rescue operations but providing for safe and legal access for refugees to Europe".

EPP group chair Manfred Weber tweeted that the "difficult situation of refugees will remain an issue for Europe for years - we need comprehensive strategies and decisions".

Meanwhile, EPP deputy Therese Comodini Cachia underlined that "words are not enough – action is needed from the EU, member states and from third countries".

MEPs' comments were echoed by European parliament president Martin Schulz, who said, "the response to the repetitiveness and magnitude of these tragedies cannot be apathy, but it must be an urgent and comprehensive solution to this calamity".

He added, "the migration and refugee question in the Mediterranean is not just an issue for individual countries, it is one the EU must treat as its own. The Mediterranean is Europe's frontier and to this day it is the deadliest border in the world. We must show solidarity and resolve in tackling this common challenge".

Human rights campaigners Amnesty International have condemned "European governments' ongoing negligence towards the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean", claiming their attitude "has contributed to a more than 50-fold increase in migrant refugee deaths since the beginning of 2015".

Gauri Van Gulik, deputy Europe and central Asia programme director at Amnesty International, said, "Europe has scaled back search and rescue capacity based on the flawed argument that such operations were acting as a 'pull factor', attracting more migrants. But the reality in the Mediterranean is exposing that fallacy, since the numbers of desperate people seeking to make it to Europe are only going up".

For now, no concrete EU measures have been announced.


About the author

Julie Levy-Abegnoli is a journalist and editorial assistant for the Parliament Magazine

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