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After drowning of more than 50 refugees, UN condemns EU policy towards migrants in the Mediterranean

After drowning of more than 50 refugees, UN condemns EU policy towards migrants in the Mediterranean

More than 50 refugees drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe last week. This massive drowning is the latest such disaster to occur this year, directly caused by the anti-migrant policies of the European Union (EU).

In another demonstration of the illegality of European refugee policy, the United Nations Human Rights Commission issued a report on Wednesday in which it considers the European Union to be jointly responsible for the hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, even thousands of deaths in previous years, which could have been avoided.

After drowning of more than 50 refugees, UN condemns EU policy towards migrants in the Mediterranean
A woman holds a three-month-old baby as migrants and refugees of different African nationalities wait for help on an overcrowded inflatable boat, while aid workers from Spanish NGO Open Arms approach them. (AP Photo / Bruno Thevenin)

The most recent disaster took place on Monday, May 17. A boat that would have carried 90 people from Libya sank off the southern coast of Tunisia, near the city of Sfax, the next day. Only 33 of the passengers survived, rescued by workers from a nearby oil rig, who saw the boat sink and alerted authorities. The survivors were all from Bengal. The other 57 passengers were never found.

This tragedy is the fifth such incident to have occurred off the Tunisian coast in the past two months. Seventeen other people drowned earlier this month. The deadliest drowning of the year occurred on April 21, when more than 130 people reportedly drowned after their boat sank off the coast of Libya.

According to the United Nations, 685 people have drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of the year. Over the past seven years, that number has exceeded 20,000. Yet even these appalling numbers are probably grossly underestimated, failing to take into account the countless number of people who have perished without a trace.

These deaths are the intended result of the policies of the European Union and its member states, which have turned the sea separating Africa from Europe into a vast cemetery to deter refugees from exercising their legal and democratic right to claim asylum on the mainland.

This was recognized in a report published Wednesday by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), entitled "Deadly neglect: Rescue and protection of migrants in the Central Mediterranean" (Lethal disregard: Search and rescue and the protection of migrants in the central Mediterranean Sea).

He notes that a significant and continuous increase in the fatality rate in boat crossings over the past four years. In 2017, when 119,310 migrants reached Europe, the death rate was already almost 2 percent, or one in 51 people trying to make the trip. In 2018, it was one in 35 people. In 2019, it reached one in 21 people.

“At least since August 2017,” the report says, “the EU and its Member States have gradually reduced their maritime capabilities in the central Mediterranean. They transferred responsibility for search and rescue operations in international waters to the »Libyan border force.

In March 2020, the former EU operation SOPHIA in the Mediterranean "was replaced by Operation IRINI ... However, IRINI ships do not have a specific search and rescue mandate". In addition, its “more eastern operational area also avoids placing EU maritime assets in the central Mediterranean area where most migrants seek to cross…”

In other words, the EU has ceased its rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, NGO rescue vessels were stripped of their navigation rights under unfounded pretexts and were denied the flags under which they could sail by EU member states, in order to prevent them from proceeding. to rescues.

“Humanitarian SAR ships and planes operating in the central Mediterranean continue to be prevented from monitoring, searching for, assisting and rescuing migrants in distress,” the report said.

“At various times during the reporting period, this led to periods when no humanitarian SAR NGOs were present at sea in the central Mediterranean, resulting in tragic and preventable loss of life.” Since 2018 alone, "national authorities in EU member states have initiated around 50 administrative and criminal proceedings against crew members or vessels, including the seizure of vessels."

Meanwhile, the EU is providing funds and live intelligence on refugee boats to the Libyan Coast Guard which are used by the EU to capture refugees and return them to Libya, in blatant violation of international law.

“Once in Libya, they become vulnerable to unlawful killings, slavery and forced labor, torture and ill-treatment, gender-based violence, arbitrary detention, extortion and other violations. and human rights abuses by state and non-state actors. This has been confirmed by an overwhelming amount of evidence and reports, including previous public statements and OHCHR reports. ”

This is just the latest report that documents the EU's illegal and murderous refugee policy. Like all other reports of this type, governments and the EU will ignore it and it will be mentioned briefly, if at all, by the international media, which will quickly move on.

Just this week, these same governments and publications were seized with moral outrage when Belarus forced a landing on a RyanAir plane carrying an opposition journalist and kidnapped him. European powers have suspended all flights to Belarus, blocked investments in the country and issued a series of provocative militarist threats against Russia, Belarus' ally.

As the WSWS noted, these actions have nothing to do with the defense of democracy and the “rule of law”, but are motivated by the geopolitical interests of the major European imperialist powers.

One has only to imagine what would happen if hundreds of refugees drowned each month off the coasts of Russia or China, with documented evidence that this was the intended outcome of their policies. These drownings would be the subject of chronicles on the front page. As it stands, the European media and political establishment deem that the drownings of refugees in the Mediterranean do not deserve to be covered.

The EU's anti-migrant policies aim to deflect outward social tensions produced by the enormous levels of social inequality and poverty on the continent. They are also one of the mechanisms through which the EU strengthens and promotes far-right policies. The defense of the rights of all individuals to live and work in the country of their choice, with all the rights of citizenship, including the guarantee of safe passage, is a basic task of the European working class.

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