NGOs condemn EU's complicity in growing migrant tragedies at sea

ANGELOS BERBERAKIS
ISTANBUL
Published 02.02.2019 00:25

A myriad of self-described "organizations, networks and platforms," among which are nongovernment organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and SOS Mediterranee, have addressed an open letter to EU governments in which they point out the worsening humanitarian situation in the Mediterranean Sea regarding illegal migration.

The U.N. has reported that last year alone 2,275 people died or went missing while crossing the Mediterranean, while an estimated 139,300 made it across.

While the exact numbers are disputed, about 5,300 have died since 2017.

Citing international humanitarian agreements regarding immigrants and refugees, the letter further called for the end of a program that transfers rejected asylum applicants back to Libya, saying that it is a war-torn nation that has repeatedly violated the right of immigrants by detaining them. In fact, it has been reported that some immigrants were sold off to slavery in some lawless parts of the North African country, which collapsed into civil war after the ouster and death of former President Muammar Gaddafi who had warned that Libya is a "wall" against mass African immigration into the European continent.

Some countries, most notably Italy, have restricted port access to self-described rescue ships, citing multiple violations of maritime law on their behalf, including the direct ferrying of illegal immigrants from the coasts of North Africa to Italy, and allegedly coordinating efforts with human traffickers.

While the relevant nongovernmental organizations deny any and all allegations of wrongdoing, Rome has not backed down from its decision. In fact, Italy has pledged to deport the over half a million immigrants currently in the country illegally, much to the dislike of the NGOs.

Italian Deputy-PM Matteo Salvini, said last summer that Sicily cannot be "the refugee camp of Europe."

Indeed, some refugee camps in entry-countries have been unable to upkeep good humanitarian standards for illegal immigrants and refugees alike. The most recent case that sparked international outrage was the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, which had become so over-burdened it had turned to a public health hazard due to excessive amounts of human waste. Due to the number of arrivals, as well as Greece's ongoing financial crisis, the camp hosted more than double its allocated capacity.

While illegal immigration has been a problem in Europe for several decades, it wasn't until 2015 when Germany's Angela Merkel effectively opened the continents borders up on the grounds of aiding Syrian war refugees in-need.

Since then, millions have made it to the continent, and unsurprisingly most of them were not Syrians but rather aspiring economic immigrants from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The subsequent chaos that was caused in 2015, 2016 and beyond in receiving countries, such as Greece and Italy, and host countries as well, such as France and Germany, has changed European public opinion on the matter quite drastically, prompting some governments, such as Rome, to take measured against the uncontrolled flow of immigrants pouring across the Mediterranean in flimsy dinghies.

Bilateral agreements between Rome and Tripoli have stemmed the flow, with an estimated 700,000 immigrants currently detained in Libya, according to the African Union.

Interestingly, inter-African mass illegal immigration is nearly as unpopular in countries, such as Kenya and South Africa, as it is in France and Italy.

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