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The horrific shipwreck off of Cutro, southern Italy, claimed the lives of 85 people while at least 17 are still missing since it took place on 26 February.
The tragedy came as a stark reminder of how the Mediterranean remains the deadliest known migration route in the world.
Over 26,000 people have gone missing in the Mediterranean since 2014, according to data collected by the International Organisation for Migration.
The coffins of the people who died in the shipwreck symbolise the image of Europe’s failing migration policy.
Preventable tragedies and the flood of political hypocrisy
Recent revelations in the media suggest that this tragedy could have been prevented.
In a senseless game, Italian authorities and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, keep dodging their responsibility for the lack of search and rescue.
According to Frontex, Italian authorities disregarded its warnings, based on reconnaissance signals and “thermal response” from the boat, that indicated the ship was carrying a large number of people.
Italian authorities did not classify Frontex’s communication as an “emergency” and mobilised a “law enforcement operation” instead of a search and rescue one.
To make matters worse, while search and rescue and disembarkation activities are currently not covered by a common EU legal framework, search and rescue operations carried out by NGOs are being heavily criminalised by Member States.
At the beginning of February, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament sent a letter to the Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, expressing strong concerns about the additional restrictive rules applied to civilian search and rescue vessels introduced by the Italian far-right government.
Not even a month has gone by, and the bodies of men, women and children are washing up on Italian shores.
Whenever such tragedies occur, the flood of political hypocrisy is hard to digest.
This is not what ‘acting together’ should be about
In a letter that the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sent in response to the Italian Prime Minister, she wrote, “migration it is a challenge that we struggle to meet and that requires fundamental and global solutions. These can only be achieved by acting together.”
Von der Leyen was “deeply saddened by the terrible shipwreck” on her social media, yet she seized the moment to push her migration proposals: the Pact on Migration & Asylum and on the Action Plan on the Central Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, her political group, the European People’s Party (EPP) and many EU member states are redoubling their efforts to bolster “Fortress Europe,” calling for EU funds to build walls and fences at the union’s borders and leading a crusade against NGOs, criminalising their life-saving work.
This is not what we mean by “acting together.”
We have to say it loud and clear: the Mediterranean is becoming Europe’s graveyard, not by chance or by unfortunate circumstance.
It is the result of deliberate political choices pursued at any cost, including people’s lives.
A question of basic rights and human dignity
When it comes to migration policy, the EU’s only concern is to prevent people on the move from reaching safety in Europe.
Be it by striking deals with third countries with dubious human rights records to prevent departures, covering up illegal pushbacks, or driving forward a migration policy which systematically undermines fundamental rights, in particular, the right to asylum.
To seek safety from conflict or oppression and search for a better life for you and your family is normal.
But as long as we do not have uncomplicated, safe and legal pathways into the EU, people will have no other choice than to embark on boats, putting their lives in the hands of smugglers and begin one of the most dangerous journeys in the world.
People have the right to asylum. This is a question of basic rights and human dignity.
It is high time for EU leaders to stop the political games at the cost of countless lives and act: a humane EU migration policy ensuring safe and legal routes so people can come to Europe with dignity and without risking their lives.
We can’t let humanity drown.
Cornelia Ernst (Die Linke, Germany) and Pietro Bartolo (Partido Democratico, Italy) are Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Both serve as members of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).
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