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[Elizabeth Shackelford] Ignoring migrants won‘t fix problemsBy Korea Herald
Published : July 7, 2023 - 05:30
For five days, “Breaking News” alerts hit my phone repeatedly with updates on the search for a missing submersible. The search for the five-passenger vessel began only days after an overloaded migrant vessel capsized carrying some 750 desperate people bound for Greece.
The migrants aboard came from Pakistan, Egypt, Syria and Palestine, all funneled through Libya in a desperate attempt to reach Europe. Only 104 survivors have been found, making it one of the deadliest sinkings ever in the Mediterranean Sea. But this tragedy was one of many.
Perhaps it is because these events are so common that my phone didn’t light up with a play-by-play of efforts to save them. Thousands of migrants die in the Mediterranean Sea each year. While migrants die all around the world, including 1,400 last year in the Americas, the Mediterranean route is by far the deadliest.
It’s hard not to see the gross disparity in the response to five privileged men missing at sea, compared with the treatment of thousands of the least privileged on earth.
US and Canadian Coast Guard vessels and military aircraft were deployed for days at great expense searching for signs of the tourist submersible. In contrast, the migrant boat’s distress calls were answered by a Greek Coast Guard vessel that offered little assistance and might even have caused the disaster in an effort to tow the boat out of Greek waters.
The Greek government denies this allegation, but dozens of cases have been brought against Greece in recent years for the deadly and illegal practice of pushing migrants back to sea to avoid taking legal responsibility for refugees.
The European Union might scold the Greek government for its failure to act in accord with international and European law, but it has hardly demonstrated more humanity. Instead of funding rescues, it funds migrants’ capture and imprisonment.
The EU committed about $38 billion to prevent migrants from arriving on its shores for the period of 2021 to 2027. This includes funding Libya’s coastal security administration. The EU’s border agency, Frontex, provides aerial surveillance to assist Libyan authorities with interceptions.
The EU also supports detention centers in Libya, where these migrants are taken. With no functional central government in Libya, these profitable facilities are run by militias with minimal oversight.
The migrants are tortured, starved and exploited as those running the facilities force them to raise money to pay ransom. Sally Hayden’s remarkable book “My Fourth Time, We Drowned” details not only these conditions but how EU policies and support knowingly facilitate this ongoing crime against humanity for thousands. Earlier this year, a United Nations-backed investigation accused the EU of abetting these human rights abuses.
Most detainees never even register with the UN High Commission on Refugees, which is their only path to securing transfer to another country.
No due process, no information, only a handful of toilets for hundreds of people, minimal (if any) medical care, barely enough food to survive, and no hope for a way out.
It is hard to miss the irony that the inhumane treatment of these migrants is funded and legitimized by the same European countries they have risked everything to reach, precisely because they seek the freedoms, values and dignity that Europe purports to represent.
Europe’s aggressive approach to border management was driven by a migrant crisis that peaked in 2015. These policies and practices appear to have succeeded at their primary goal of reducing the number of migrants reaching European shores, but at what cost?
The effort has repeatedly violated European commitments to human rights under both international and EU law. While European countries are not obligated to admit migrants who don’t have valid claims to asylum, many have strong legal claims based on their country of origin alone. Even those without these claims deserve basic humane treatment.
Europe has empowered corrupt and criminal elements in Libya and elsewhere, feeding into a modern-day slave trade where migrants are bought and sold. It has not brought Libya closer to being a functional and secure state, nor has it addressed the underlying causes driving so many people to risk death or worse along this route. This means the problem for Europe might be suppressed, but it isn’t being resolved.
A policy of keeping migrants away from European shores at any cost has also cost Europe its credibility as a purveyor of peace, freedom and human rights. That might not matter much to many of the continent’s security and economy minded leaders, but it should to anyone who doesn’t want their tax dollars to fund this abuse.
The reality is that migration will only increase as the march of climate change makes conflicts more likely and more parts of the world unlivable. Europe’s avoidance strategy will only suffice for so long. If not for the sake of humanity, then for the sake of both security and reputation, Europe must find another way to address migration.
Elizabeth Shackelford is a senior fellow on US foreign policy with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She wrote this for the Chicago Tribune. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)
Articles by Korea Herald
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