By Sami Zaptia.
London, 7 June 2016:
‘’While smugglers bear direct responsibility for sending overcrowded and unseaworthy boats from the coast of Libya . . .[restrict]and elsewhere, European governments share moral and political responsibility for failing to do more to prevent these horrific deaths’’, Judith Sunderland, HRW Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia said commenting on the migrant deaths in the Mediterranean last week.
‘’Those who drowned last week were first and foremost human beings. Regardless of whether they were escaping poverty or persecution in their home countries, none of them deserved to die. No matter their nationality, they deserve rescue, humane treatment, and an assessment of their individual circumstances including any refugee protection needs’’, the Human Rights Watch Associate Director added.
Sunderland attacked the EU’s policy and treatment of these migrants/refugees. She was critical of the EU’s naval operations Frontex and Operation Sophia for focusing on prevention rather than saving lives.
‘’With an intense policy focus on preventing departures, European Union governments are not prioritizing saving lives. EU border agency Frontex and the EU’s naval mission, Operation Sophia, have ships in the central part of the Mediterranean, where most tragedies occur, but while they are involved in rescue operations, their primary mandates are border enforcement and countering smuggling. Instead, rescue operations are often left to the Italian Navy and Coast Guard, and nongovernmental organizations’’.
She was particularly critical of the idea and intention of the EU partnering with Libya. The EU, it will be recalled is very keen to strike a deal with Libya, similar to that reached with Turkey. It hopes that Libya will either hold migrants/refugees on its territory or accept those rescued off its coast in the Mediterranean.
‘’Partnering with Libya on migration control would be disastrous’’, Sunderland said. ‘’Libya is a country ravaged by conflict with multiple armed groups, where migrants and asylum seekers face torture, overcrowding, dire sanitation conditions, and lack of access to medical care in migrant detention centers”.
”Returning to or trapping people in detention centers in Libya would expose them to terrible harm, violate international and EU law, and undermine the EU’s global standing’’, the HRW representative stressed.
Sunderland felt that the EU should provide safe and legal routes into Europe and do more search and rescue operations anticipating many more deaths over summer.
‘’With slow progress on resettling refugees to the EU or providing other safe and legal routes, EU governments leave people with little choice but to risk their lives. Without greater EU, and other, assets focused on search and rescue in the central Mediterranean, hundreds more may die at sea this summer’’, concluded the HRW representative. [/restrict]