Amnesty International Blasts EU over Mediterranean Migrant Deaths

Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

Amnesty International called the European Union “negligent” over the deaths of 17,000 migrants in 2015. The blame is solely placed on Italy, who ended their Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation shortly before the latest wave of migrants began fleeing Libya.

“European leaders gathering in Brussels have an historic opportunity to end a spiralling humanitarian tragedy of Titanic proportions,” announced John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. “Europe’s negligence in failing to save thousands of migrants and refugees who run into peril in the Mediterranean has been akin to firefighters refusing to save people jumping from a towering inferno. Governments’ responsibility must clearly be not only to put out the fire but to catch those who have stepped off the ledge.”

The organization slammed the EU’s Operation Triton, which replaced Mare Nostrum. The operation only patrols 30 nautical miles off Italian and Maltese coasts. EU border agency Frontex claims it is enough, since it is their job “to control the EU’s borders, not to police 2.5 million km2 of the Mediterranean.” Other types of boats now come to the aid of the migrants.

“What we’re seeing is that more and more commercial boats are called upon to intervene because the law of the sea requires them to help when something happens close to where they are,” said Philippe Hensmans of Amnesty International Belgium. “But these boats are not in any way equipped to do this. They have small crews and they don’t have the necessary tools to rescue people who are drowning.”

Amnesty then suggested the entire EU work on a “multi-country humanitarian operation.” However, it includes opening all land borders.

“What we need to see is genuine access to asylum, so opening all the land borders,” insists Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “We also need to see a dramatic increase in the number of resettlement places, the issuance of more humanitarian visas, and a more liberal approach to family reunifications.”

Despite the complaints, evidence suggests Italy went far beyond their obligations to help the migrants. In July 2014, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi demanded the EU help Italy, warning the nation’s resources were insufficient.

“It is unacceptable that a boat filled with children is allowed to sink only because it is not clear who’s responsible for it,” he exclaimed. “In these very hours, there are record numbers of women, men and children arriving on our shores, 96 per cent from Libya.”