The Irish Times view on Mediterranean migration: ‘No Europe for you today’

Since 2014, more than 21,000 people have lost their lives at sea or gone missing on their way to the EU

Spanish Guardia Civil members next to the covered body of a deceased migrant at the beach of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta last week. File photograph: Antonio Sempere/AFP/Getty

Spanish Guardia Civil members next to the covered body of a deceased migrant at the beach of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta last week. File photograph: Antonio Sempere/AFP/Getty

 

Moussa was taunted by the Maltese border guards as he and 80 migrants were disembarked: “There is no Europe for you today”. At least he was alive. The Ivorian’s boat had been spotted by European helicopters and intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, but 632 people have drowned on the central Mediterranean route so far this year. And since 2014, more than 21,000 people have lost their lives at sea or gone missing on their way to the EU.

His plight and that of thousands of others tempted by the perilous Mediterranean crossing is the subject of a hard-hitting report from the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. Entitled “Lethal Disregard”, it castigates Libya and EU states for their disregard of migrants and their rights.

Many pushbacks are happening in militarised border zones away from prying eyes

“In the Mediterranean,” commissioner Michelle Bachelet appeals, “I urge more determined and effective action by the EU, and by its member states, to deploy search and rescue operations and to 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 people rescued at sea” reflecting “the international commitments and solidarity of all EU member states”.

The report follows another from a group of 10 NGOs which alleges that some 2,162 migrants have been subject this year to illegal “pushbacks” by EU states across their borders, denying them the right to have their claim for protection considered. This is almost certainly an under-estimation as many pushbacks are happening in militarised border zones away from prying eyes.

We are not in 2015, when more than a million came to seek sanctuary in the EU. But the flows are continuing, albeit at a lower level. Spain, now the main route to Europe, had 42,000 arrivals last year and earlier this month some 8,000 swam and sailed from Morocco to Spain’s north African enclave of Ceuta, unhindered by Moroccan border guards. Lampedusa off the Italian coast saw an influx of 2,000 last month. Its appeal for EU solidarity in coping with the numbers was bluntly rejected by Austria, among others.

The appeal to European solidarity must be heard – for a comprehensive and collective approach not just to the safeguarding of those at sea, but to their generous treatment once they land. Unless there is a break in the prolonged deadlock that has stymied efforts to agree a common stance – the latest in the form of a “Pact on Migration” proposed by the Commission last September – before an inevitable revival of a massive flood of migrants, the union will see another preventable humanitarian disaster on its doorstep. And with it, the return of internal political upheaval as the populist right again capitalises on the fears of those most directly affected.

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