Today, as the reactions to the deaths of more than 1100 migrants in two separate incidents continue, we are reading the enthusiastic headlines referring to the EU Joint Foreign and Home Affairs Council meeting and reporting the good news. It seems the EU is finally acting to bring an end to this crisis.
One detail about the council meeting is repeated in many of the news reports: “[EU] Ministers held a minute's silence before proceedings got under way”.
Ten years too late, but surely this must be a sign that enough migrants have dies and the European leaders are taking this crisis seriously.
The more cautious headlines read as, “Mediterranean migrant crisis: EU sets out measures” – The BBC; Migrant crisis: EU may double size of Mediterranean operation” – The Irish Times; “Reinforcing EU border control operations part of plan to deal with migration crisis” – RTE.
The Guardian started the day with the Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown’s super original (!) solution to the crisis: “Destroy migrant smugglers' boats before they leave port”. He claims “there is a case for using Special Forces to destroy migrant vessels before they leave port”.
The Sun newspaper and its neo-naziesk columnist Katie Hopkins are silent today. Given that there is nothing to be gained - politically or commercially - from attacking the white-western EU ministers, The Sun must have decided to shut up for a day.
It seems, so far, all that the British institution are contributing to resolving the Mediterranean crisis are the racist views of a columnist; the opinions of a sell-by-date long gone Lord; a ‘huge’ team of 5 non-rescue, interrogation and finger printing officers and the waffles of the pro-immigration control, vote chasing Labour Party.
As reported by the European Union, “[On 20 April 2015] at a joint meeting of Foreign and Interior Ministers, chaired by High Representative / Vice-President Federica Mogherini and held in Luxembourg, Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Avramopoulos presented a 10 point plan of the immediate actions to be taken in response to the crisis situation in the Mediterranean. The plan received the full backing of Foreign and Interior Ministers.”
The meeting published a “10-point action plan” to be presented to the EU Governments on Thursday 23rd April.
At the meeting the German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said “Search and rescue alone is not a silver bullet. If you just organise search and rescue, criminals who get the refugees on board will send more boats”.
This is the same argument put forward by the British government in late 2014 that led to the ending of Mare Nostrum search and rescue missions. A direct consequence of this was the ten-fold increase of deaths in the first 3 months of 2015, despite the migrant numbers staying the same when compared to the same period in 2014.
Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi compared the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean to the African slave trade of centuries ago by saying “when we say we are in the presence of slavery we are not using the word just for effect”.
I guess the Italian prime minister couldn’t figure out some of the most significant differences between these two cases.
For the migrants the crossings of the Mediterranean into Europe means very basic safety and an escape from death and torture. For the slaves this crossing meant slavery, torture and death.
The slaves were kidnaped by the Europeans. The African people didn’t have a reason to go while the migrants today have very real and urgent reasons to flee and cross the sea into Europe. One can argue that his government is also responsible for some of these reasons.
The kidnaped slaves had no choice. The migrants today choose to go to Europe. Their choice is between misery-hunger-torture-death and hope for a better life.
If one has to compare the slave trade and the current migrant crisis one should say that the similarity is in the European rulers’ hypocrisy, back then and today, not between the slaves and the migrants.
The paid captains of slave ships and the traffickers of the migrant boats may be alike but so are the beneficiaries and masters of the slave trade and the western ruling classes and their ‘national’ interests that helped the creation of the terrible conditions in countries where these migrants come from.
At the meeting the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said that “the 10-point package set out at talks in Luxembourg was a strong reaction from the EU to the tragedies" and "shows a new sense of urgency and political will". "We are developing a truly European sense of solidarity in fighting human trafficking - finally so"
Before this self-congratulatory statement is applauded we need to look into the details of the proposed 10-point plan.
This must be said upfront: Considering the proposals, the hopes that the EU will start doing the right things are rapidly fading away.
The EU 10-Poin Plan:
Reinforce the Joint Operations in the Mediterranean, namely Triton and Poseidon, by increasing the financial resources and the number of assets. We will also extend their operational area, allowing us to intervene further, within the mandate of Frontex;
Frontex and Poseidon are military task forces designed to prevent migrants entering Europe. They are not rescue and assistance operations but border patrol, surveillance and intelligence gathering missions. The focus of these missions is not humanitarian but to enforce the EU border ‘security’. Increasing financial resources to these military operations has nothing to do with bettering the safety of the passage or the lives of migrants arriving to Europe.
A systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers. The positive results obtained with the Atalanta operation should inspire us to similar operations against smugglers in the Mediterranean;
EUROPOL, FRONTEX, EASO and EUROJUST will meet regularly and work closely to gather information on smugglers modus operandi, to trace their funds and to assist in their investigation;
This is where our hopes fade away. These two initiatives are clearly designed to not to focus on the conditions of the migrants and the reasons why they are crossing the sea but on the means they use. How many boats can the EU destroy, 10, 100, 1000, 10000? For how long will these operations continue? Till there are no boats left in the Mediterranean? How much money will be spent on destroying all these vessels?
The answer comes from a migrant.
“Even if there was a government decision to drown the migrant boats, there will still be people going by boat because the individual considers himself dead already,” says Abu Jana, who will make for Europe in the coming weeks. “I don’t think that even if they decided to bomb migrant boats it would change peoples’ decision to go.”
Given the core economic model the European governments advance, the ‘competitive market economy’, this plan will only increase the fees the human traffickers are charging and force the migrant into a lot more desperate options. This will only cause the deaths of many more migrants. It will strengthen the hands of - may be a lesser number, but still operating - human traffickers. They will take many more risks by taking more dangerous routes and options.
Establish a new return programme for rapid return of irregular migrants coordinated by Frontex from frontline Member States;
This is referring to the Readmission Agreement the EU is in the process of signing with bordering non-EU countries. The objective of this agreement is to create a ‘legal’ and ‘easy’ procedure for deporting back the migrants to the last country they departed from before entering the EU. The plain English name for this is ‘deportation’. This initiative condemns migrants into further misery and enables the EU governments to wash their hands off their responsibilities. The miseries of migrants do not become smaller just because they are far away…
Engagement with countries surrounding Libya through a joined effort between the Commission and the EEAS; initiatives in Niger have to be stepped up.
The EEAS (European External Action Service) is the arms and legs of EU’s foreign policy. Because the EU doesn’t know who to engage with in Libya, a country that was destroyed back in 2011, they are hoping to talk to the transit and origin countries. One of the options currently considered is the setting up detention centres in 3rd party countries to prevent migrants to reach their port of departure, such as Libya. Again, this has nothing to do with the wellbeing and the rights of migrants to seek refuge. This option is considered to keep the ‘problem’ outside of the EU borders. How is this going to eliminate the reasons in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria and other countries that force the migrants to flee?
European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to deploy teams in Italy and Greece for joint processing of asylum applications;
Member States to ensure fingerprinting of all migrants;
Consider options for an emergency relocation mechanism;
A EU wide voluntary pilot project on resettlement, offering a number of places to persons in need of protection;
Fool us one, shame on you. Fool us twice and shame on us.
After declaring to further shut down the borders, hoping to destroy the migrant ships and planning to setup detention centres, pretending to run initiatives to help the lucky migrants that can - despite all obstacles - reach Europe is a false promise. In the absence of a genuine ‘open borders’ policy such initiatives are just decorative actions to deflect from the reality of the issues the migrants are facing. Fingerprint as many migrants as you like, store their names in databases for your annual reports. Unless these migrants are given the protection they need, none of these initiative are plausible.
Deploy Immigration Liaison Officers (ILO) in key third countries, to gather intelligence on migratory flows and strengthen the role of the EU Delegations.
What intelligent exactly are these ‘deployed’ EU troops going to collect? That there is a bombing campaign in Yemen and civilians are dying?
That Libya is one of the worst places in North Africa?
That the conditions in Gaza are still like hell until it gets worse with the next bombing?
That the people in EU friendly countries such as Qatar, Bahrain are still oppressed?
That Iraq and Afghanistan are still not holiday destinations?
That tens of millions of people in Nigeria still earn 1 Dollar a day?
That the conditions of millions of refugees in camps are getting worse by the day?
The best thing the EU can do is to UN-DEPLOY its aggressive interests in the region, UN-DEPLOY the weapons that oppressive regimes purchased in EU arms trade fairs, UN-DEPLOY its support to apartheid Israil, UN-DEPLOY its ambassador to head-chopping Saudis…
It is time for the EU to UN-DEPLOY some things not to further DEPLOY more of the same.
And another migrant says: “Our country is a total dictatorship. They can put us in prison for unlimited years. If we go back we will die”
The EU has to make a choice: Death or life for the migrants.
The migrants have already made that choice.