NGOs demand humanitarian corridor, lay blame at the feet of Fortress Europe

UNHCR – New Mediterranean boat tragedy may be biggest ever, urgent action is needed now

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres expressed his shock at the latest boat capsizing on the Mediterranean, and the hundreds of lives reported to have been lost.

Only around 50 of the 700 reported to be aboard, had been rescued according to reports from the Maltese armed forces and the Italian government, which has summoned a crisis meeting.

The incident – which happened overnight – will be the largest loss of life from any incident on the Mediterranean involving refugees and migrants, following on the incident only last week in which 400 lives were lost and the Lampedusa disaster of October 2013 where almost 600 lives lost in two separate incidents.

“This disaster confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe. Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“But it also points to the need for a comprehensive European approach to address the root causes that drive so many people to this tragic end. I hope the EU will rise to the occasion, fully assuming a decisive role to prevent future such tragedies.”

The boat overturned shortly before midnight on Saturday, in Libyan waters, some 180 kilometres south of Lampedusa. Italian and Maltese naval vessels and merchant ships were among the approximately 20 vessels, along with several helicopters, engaged in the rescue operation being coordinated by the Italian authorities.

So far in 2015, more than 35,000 asylum seekers and migrants have arrived by boat in southern Europe and – if today's toll is confirmed – some 1600 have died. In 2014, around 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean, and 3,500 lives were lost.

The organisation Terre des Hommes, which is partnered with Malta’s KOPIN, said Europe had to open humanitarian corridors from departure countries.

“Terre des Hommes calls for a radical change in European Migration Policy. Europe must be a space of human rights and opportunities in line with the European values promoted by the EU in the world,” Raffaele Salinari, Chair of Terre des Hommes International Federation, said.

“The European institutions and member states need to understand that we must get out from the logic of emergency management of migration flows. It is time to show if our continent wants to be the birthplace of human rights or deny the founding principles of its constitution. The EU must focus its cooperation in Mediterranean countries by supporting local civil society and democracy with more resources. And we must invest in Europe to protect and integrate migrants, in particular children and youth. Those are the two pillars expressing a new paradigm in EU migration policy that we want to see in the upcoming new EU Agenda on Migration to be adopted by the European Commission in May,” Salinari concluded.

Ignacio Packer, secretary-general of Terre des Hommes said that by not having the courage of a serious European response to ensure protection and dignity to migrants escaping war and poverty, EU institutions were turning a blind eye and giving in to the traffickers’ monopoly of migration.

“It is not that we don’t know. Our generation will be judged for not putting human smugglers out of business and saving lives.”

Another NGO, the Watch The Med Alarm Phone, said it was the European Union that was responsible for the deaths of migrants in the last 25 years.

“Fortress Europe has caused ten thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea in the last 25 years.

“Those responsible are politicians and police forces that have created, through the Schengen Regime, the general visa-duty and the organised manhunt of refugees and migrants without visas;

“The politicians, police and military forces that have established Frontex in the past 10 years and have turned the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy since the Arab Spring into a maritime high security zone;
“The EU politicians who decided on the 27th of August 2014 in Brussels to scale down the Italian rescue operation Mare Nostrum in the Mediterranean Sea and enforced a politics of deterrence through Frontex’s Triton operation along the Italian coast!

“They carry responsibility for the thousands of deaths that have occurred in the last months in the maritime zone between Libya and Italy.
The organisation demanded a direct ferry line for refugees from Tripoli and other places in Northern Africa to Europe, and safe and legal corridors for refugees to reach a place of refuge without the need to risk their lives.