Is this how we want to be remembered in history?

The distinction between economic immigration and asylum seekers should be defined clearly across Europe, and we should allow a legal way for actual asylum seekers

Nine out of 10 male refugees and migrants hosted in Italy have experienced sexual violence, and it’s not a wild guess to say women’s treatment was worse
Nine out of 10 male refugees and migrants hosted in Italy have experienced sexual violence, and it’s not a wild guess to say women’s treatment was worse

Across Europe, the most scalding subject in politics is immigration. It leads the charts of people’s concerns in many countries and politicians seem divided between jumping on the anti-immigration rhetoric or simply not talking about it. Those who are jumping on the rhetoric, mostly populists, are seeing their support in the polls surge.

However, politicians should look beyond the rhetoric. I understand the European elections and all that, but the worry is that populist politicians are treating the aftermath of an election as if they’re still in election mode and actually discard the real-life policy-making aspect.

The distinction between economic immigration and asylum seekers should be defined clearly across Europe, and we should allow a legal way for actual asylum seekers. As to economic migrants, especially the ones stranded in Libya, we still have a moral responsibility to make sure there is humane treatment even if Europe has closed its doors to them. At the moment there are thousands of individuals, human beings, in detention in Libya and a report published this week by the Women’s Refugee Commission paints a picture of horror.

Historians say the concentration camp of Mauthausen was probably the worst one of the lot, because they did not focus on killing but torturing and pain. The commission’s report this week paints a remarkably similar picture, if not worse.

Sarah Chynoweth, the lead researcher on the report, said: “Profoundly cruel and brutal sexual violence and torture are perpetrated in official detention centres and clandestine prisons, during random stops and checkpoints, and in the context of forced labour and enslavement. The fact that refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean are intercepted and forced back into this violence is untenable.”

Nine out of 10 male refugees and migrants hosted in Italy have experienced sexual violence, and it’s not a wild guess to say women’s treatment was worse.

A protection officer told the commission: “It is so widespread. Everyone knows when a man says ‘I’ve gone through Libya’ it is a euphemism for rape.” Much of the sexual violence described by research participants contained elements of profound psychological torture and cruelty.
Violence against detainees is frequently perpetrated in front of others or recorded on mobile phones, compounding the humiliation and reinforcing the experience of subjugation, the researchers found. “Perpetrators send (or threaten to send) the video footage to detainees’ family members for extortion purposes,” the report says.

This is not happening in some far-flung place, but an hour’s flight away from Malta.

In the past two years, the Libyan coastguard intercepted more than 30,000 people leaving illegally towards Europe. Most of them ended up in a ‘detention centre’, which is really a sexual and physical abuse centre.

Imagine if you or your son or your daughter was in this place. Months and months of sexual abuse and torture and, when you do escape to Europe with an unearthly myriad of PTSD and trauma, instead of humanity, compassion and understanding what you find is people treating you like scum. Again.

I get it about economic migrants. I get it: we can’t bring them all over to Europe and all that. But does this mean we’re not partly responsible for the mistreatment of our fellow human beings? Would we accept it if they were Maltese, Italians, English, Spanish or American?

We all know that if Europe wanted to stop this, it could at least try with good old policy-making and diplomacy. But, instead, everyone is silenced by the polls. Then further people, such as Matteo Salvini, surge with their inflammatory rhetoric, the more rival politicians think they should shut up. And they are doing just so.

What will it take to cause outrage about all this happening on our doorstep? A Netflix Original or a Hollywood movie? What is different from the Holocaust horrors? We must get back to good old-fashioned politics – where human crises are challenged and at least there is an effort to face them and address them, by grown-ups.

In the meantime, as we sit comfortably in our houses, we are grateful 600 miles of sea separate us from the screams and bellows of pain.

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