More than 1,700 people have believed to have died so far this year, crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, and other north African countries, to Europe. Many are fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria.
Yet as European interior minsters met for crisis talks last week, they still talked about Mediterranean rescue missions being a “pull factor” for migrants.
The gruesome logic here is one journalist put it, “drowning migrants to save migrants”.
The current death toll is 50 times higher than the same point in 2014, when the more extensive search and rescue mission Mare Nostrum was still operational. Cancelling that operation has not meant fewer boats. It has meant more people dying.
There has been mounting pressure to extend current limited search and rescue missions. 50 former European prime ministers, foreign ministers and business leaders signed a letter to EU leaders. Despite this the EU leaders agreed only:
• 5,000 resettlement places across Europe,
• a rapid-return programme for migrants,
• an effort to identify, capture and destroy boats that may be used by smugglers
• working with governments in “transit countries” to prevent migrants reaching the Mediterranean coast,
• doubling funding to Operation Triton and Operation Poseidon, which patrol up to 30 miles off European coasts but do only limited search and rescue.
The head of Frontex, the EU’s border-control agency has said that “saving migrants’ lives should not be the priority for his maritime patrols.” He put very plainly what EU ministers are trying to avoid saying with their hand-wringing about preventing trafficking.
Former Tory foreign secretary William Hague has warned against relaxing immigration controls in response to the numbers drowning. But it is the tight immigration laws in UK and throughout Europe that are forcing migrants to pay thousands of dollars to be smuggled across the Mediterranean in dangerous boats.
Such immigration controls include fining airlines which allow passengers to to reach the UK without the correct documentation, or if they are not “deserving of asylum”. Airlines have been made the judge of who may “deserve asylum”. Inevitably they largely refuse travel to those without full paperwork.
Immigration controls do not mean that fewer people need to flee war or poverty. Immigration controls force people to risk their lives getting to Europe.
Open the borders!