Ahead of a meeting of European Union (EU) ministers in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, on Thursday to discuss refugee policies, Amnesty International has accused Europe of “turning a blind eye” to refugees in the Mediterranean.
“The soaring death toll in the central Mediterranean and the horrific abuses faced by thousands of refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centres are clearly linked to failing EU policies,” said Amnesty International in a report published on Thursday.
Amnesty’s report: “A perfect storm: The failure of European policies in the Central Mediterranean” found that by ceding the lion’s share of responsibility for search and rescue to NGOs and by increasing cooperation with the Libyan coastguard, European governments were failing to prevent drownings and turning a blind eye to abuses, including torture and rape.
Referring to the Tallinn meeting, Amnesty stated that “rather than acting to save lives and offer protection, European Ministers meeting today are shamelessly prioritising reckless deals with Libya in a desperate bid to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Italy,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
“European states have progressively turned their backs on a search and rescue strategy that was reducing mortality at sea in favour of one that has seen thousands drown and left desperate men, women and children trapped in Libya, exposed to horrific abuses.”
Measures implemented by EU leaders to strengthen search and rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean in April 2015 dramatically decreased deaths at sea.
But this priority, which saw several countries provide more rescue boats closer to Libyan territorial waters, was short-lived.
Instead, EU governments have shifted their focus to disrupting smugglers and preventing departures of boats from Libya: a failing strategy that has led to ever more dangerous crossings and a threefold increase in the death-rate, from 0.89% in the second half of 2015 to 2.7% in 2017.
Changes to smugglers’ practices and an increasing use of unseaworthy boats with a complete lack of safety equipment on board have made the sea crossing even more unsafe.
But despite a spike in deaths – more than 2 000 since January – the EU is failing to deploy an adequately resourced and dedicated humanitarian operation near Libyan territorial waters.
Instead it is focusing on strengthening the abilities of the Libyan coastguard to better prevent departures and perform interceptions, explained Amnesty.
If the second half of this year continues as the first and urgent action is not taken, 2017 looks set to become the deadliest year for the deadliest migration route in the world.