“No Europe for you today”
Moussa was taunted by the Maltese border guards as he and 80 migrants had disembarked: “There is no Europe for you today”. At least he was alive. The Ivorian boat had been spotted by European helicopters and intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, but 632 people have drowned on the route to the central Mediterranean so far this year. And since 2014, more than 21,000 people have lost their lives at sea or disappeared en route to the EU.
His fate and that of thousands of others tempted by the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean are the subject of a powerful report by the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights. Entitled “Lethal Disregard”, it castigates Libya and EU states for their contempt for migrants and their rights.
Numerous pushbacks occur in militarized border areas away from prying eyes
“In the Mediterranean,” says Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, “I urge more determined and effective action by the EU and its Member States to deploy search and rescue operations and support the rescue work of NGOs.” She also calls on the union to adopt a common human rights-based arrangement for “the timely disembarkation of all those rescued at sea”, reflecting “the international commitments and solidarity of all member states of the EU ”.
The report follows another by a group of 10 NGOs which allege that some 2,162 migrants have been subjected this year to illegal “refoulements” by EU states across their borders, denying them the right to see their request for protection examined. This is almost certainly an underestimate as many pushbacks occur in militarized border areas, away from prying eyes.
We are not in 2015, when more than a million people came to seek refuge in the EU. But the flows continue, albeit at a lower level. Spain, now the main route to Europe, welcomed 42,000 arrivals last year and earlier this month some 8,000 swam and sailed from Morocco to the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta , without being hampered by the Moroccan border guards. Lampedusa, off the coast of Italy, recorded an influx of 2,000 last month. His call for EU solidarity in the face of the numbers was categorically rejected by Austria, among others.
The call for European solidarity must be heard – for a comprehensive and collective approach not only to saving people at sea, but to their generous treatment once they land. Unless there is a break in the prolonged deadlock that has hampered efforts to agree on a common position – the latest in the form of a ‘migration pact’ proposed by the Commission last September – before an inevitable resumption of a massive influx of migrants, the union will see another preventable humanitarian disaster at its doorstep. And with it, the return of internal political upheavals as the populist right once again capitalizes on the fears of those most directly affected.