20 August 2018. PenzaNews. More than 1,500 refugees have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in the first seven months of 2018, with more than 850 lives lost in June and July alone, says the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The growing discontent with migration policy appears in the countries of the EU. Trying to protect the rights of refugees, citizens attend rallies and accuse authorities of the death of people. One of the active organizers of such protests is Seebrücke movement. It operates mainly in Germany and calls for action and support activities in solidarity with refugees.
“Our goals are safe passage and havens for all refugees, the decriminalisation of sea rescue and freedom of movement for everyone no matter where you come from. Our solidary colour is orange as in the life vests of the victims of distress in sea. In the last weeks we mobilised more than 70.000 people in over 100 cities in Germany and some other European countries,” Maura Rafelt, PR specialist from Seebrücke in Cologne, told PenzaNews.
Meanwhile, Hanna Krebs, Press Relations Manager from SOS Mediterranee, expressed the view that since June, European governments have been making it increasingly difficult for humanitarian rescue organisations to operate in the Mediterranean.
“For the second time, the Aquarius, a rescue ship chartered by SOS Mediterranee and operated in partnership with Doctors without Borders, was left without a port of safety for days with dozens of survivors on board. […] The countries are closing their ports for the disembarkation of the rescued people. This has directly led to a growing number of deaths in the Mediterranean,” she explained.
At the same time, Hanna Krebs expressed gratitude to representatives of the European public for numerous acts of solidarity.
“This shows that there is a strong civil society movement by people who feel like they need to speak out against the scandalous lack of rescue assets in the Mediterranean. The deaths are happening at Europe's doorsteps, and providing sufficient rescue assets is a responsibility of the EU,” SOS Mediterranee Manager said.
In her opinion, this problem requires a comprehensive European solution.
“EU member States must take their responsibility and put the rescue at sea on top of their political agenda. It also has to stop criminalising humanitarian organisations who rescue lives where governments choose to look away, and the EU has to let the rescued people disembark at the nearest port of safety in accordance with maritime regulations,” Hanna Krebs said.
In turn, Michael Geary, Global Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, noted that the current EU migration policy framework was not designed to accommodate the greatest movement of people since the Second World War, which is taking place now.
“Instead of this being a uniquely European problem to solve, the UN should play a far greater role in pushing for the equal distribution of migrants affected by these conflicts. The UN’s silence on this issue has been deafening,” the analyst said.
The solidarity effort should apply globally, not just to EU states, he believes.
“This migrant situation is harrowing and I fully applaud those civil society groups who are advocating for greater support mechanisms for those migrants who arrive in Europe. It is very difficult to allocate blame in this situation because it is not clear where to start: at the corrupt and oppressive regimes in some parts of the Middle East and Africa or at those who sought regime change without any post-regime plan for those countries like Libya, Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan,” Michael Geary explained his position.
He also stressed that the refugees are not guilty of this because it is a human instinct to seek protection and safety.
“The conflicts in these countries were not singularly caused by Europe or the European Union; yet, it is Europe that has faced the greatest migrant challenge. Far more support should be provided by those NATO countries, like the US and Canada, that were responsible for many of these post-regime issues. Those countries should have taken in more refugees rather than leave the burden on Europe simply because of its geographical proximity to the affected region,” the American expert said.
“With the relative decline in the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, far more effort should be focused on medium to long-term solutions rather than on ad-hoc short-term fixes the result of which only serves to inflame populist tensions,” Michael Geary added.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Kristensen Berth, Member of Folketing for the Danish People’s Party, Vice-Chairman of the European Affairs Committee in the national Parliament, stated that in comparison with the last year the situation around the migration problem “is improved slightly.”
“It is not due to the European Union but due to the Austrians who made a good deal with Macedonia and due to the fact that the Italian government is now turning away NGO ships, [transporting illegal migrants],” the politician said.
He also drew attention to the existing misunderstanding between large and small countries of the European Union on the issue of refugees.
“We still lack a coherent policy of refusing to accept asylum applications from immigrants coming to our shores. Unfortunately, France, Germany and Spain still have an absolutely naïve position towards the challenge of the invasion from the south. It is problematic that these big countries are not able to face the challenge that we have,” Kenneth Kristensen Berth explained.
“No one forces these immigrants to go aboard ships from Africa. It can never be the responsibility of other countries to see to it that these people are picked up,” Member of Folketing stressed.
At the same time Ulla Jelpke, member of German Parliament and domestic affairs spokesperson for the Die Linke party, drew attention to the fact that refugees in the EU are in a very vulnerable situation.
“An increasing number of them is forced to live in isolated camps under inhuman conditions, without the right to work, access to independent legal counseling, schooling or proper healthcare. The militarisation of the EU’s external borders is progressing, and the EU does not shrink from cruelty – i.e. its collaboration with civil war militias as the so called Libyan coastguard – to keep shelter seeking people out of Europe. This is accompanied by a racist discourse on so called bogus asylum seekers who allegedly exploit the German state,” Bundestag deputy said.
Sea rescue is an obligation under international law, she said.
“The fact that leading politicians today openly question this obligation is a sign of moral destitution in the EU. I am glad to see that many people go out to the streets against this increasing brutalisation of European refugee policy. We finally need safe and legal routes for refugees to end the dying at the external borders [of the EU],” Ulla Jelpke added.
In turn, Bill Frelick, Refugee Rights Program Director at Human Rights Watch, also noted that the EU is still struggling to agree on a fair EU-wide management of responsibility for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants.
“In the absence of a cooperative and rights-sensitive approach, member states wind up trying to shift responsibility to other member states while the EU collectively seems intent on deflecting responsibility to transit countries outside the EU that often have far less capacity to process asylum claims, and in some cases are themselves already hosting far larger numbers of refugees,” Bill Frelick explained.
According to him, EU member states squabbling among themselves about where rescued people can land and threatening NGO rescuers is leading to more deaths at sea.
“Instead of discouraging rescue by NGOs, commercial vessels, and even military ships, EU member states and institutions should ensure that rescued people can be taken to safe ports where their protection needs can be met,” stressed Refugee Rights Program Director at Human Rights Watch.
Meanwhile, Anton Friesen, Member of the foreign affairs committee and the committee on humanitarian assistance and human rights of the German Parliament, drew attention to the different status of migrants who arrived in the EU countries.
“Only about one percent of the asylum seekers who came to Germany in the last years have got asylum. They are real refugees. But many other migrants for example from Syria have only temporary protection status. In my opinion the war in Syria is over. Many regions and cities in Syria are secure. That means migrants from Syria have to go back to their country immediately. And there is a large group of migrants – almost 700,000 – in Germany which has no right to be in our country. Their asylum application was rejected. These illegal migrants have to be deported by the German State at once,” the German politician said.
At the same time, in his opinion, there is no so-called refugee crisis in the EU as a whole.
“We have only a problem with illegal migrants. Therefore we have to protect our borders and deport the most of the migrants back to their home countries. This is the only migration policy that matters,” Anton Friesen stressed.
Moreover, from his point of view, actions in solidarity with refugees dying in the Mediterranean, are “basically not necessary” because “there is a broad agreement in our society: people who are in danger have to be rescued.”
“There is no question about that. After the rescue the migrants have to be brought back to North Africa, where they started their illegal journey. But the protesters want to bring these people to Europe. There I have to disagree with them. This would be no rescue anymore, but unhealthy migration from mainly young, uneducated men. We have to think about our people first,” Bundestag deputy said.
According to him, responsibility for these migrants should be borne not only by the European Union, but also by the governments of the countries from which they come from.
“Why there is no debate in African countries about the suffering in the Mediterranean Sea? Their people are dying there, not ours! And of course, first of all, all people are responsible for themselves. If they make the bad decision to come to Europe illegally, they have to bear the consequences,” Anton Friesen said.
“I hope that the African people understand that Europe can't solve their problems by taking millions of migrants from the black continent. Per year the world population is increasing about 80 million – that is almost the population of Germany. Africa is the fastest growing continent. A mass migration from Africa and the Near East would destroy the European peoples, our culture, our identity and our way of life,” the German politician concluded.