European parliament has power to save migrants

European parliament has power to save migrants
3 min read
22 Apr, 2015
Comment: The death of migrants in the Mediterranean is not an accident, it is the result of a policy the European Parliament could change, says Teresa Mayr.
Italy's Mare Nostrum operation reportedly saved 100,000 lives [Dan Kitwood]

The deaths of 700 in seas off Libya last week was the largest single loss of life so far in the unfolding Mediterranean migrant crisis. Unfortunately, EU policy will ensure those deaths will not be the last.

Just a few days earlier, 400 people drowned in another sinking. In February, at least another 300 people died, also off the Libyan coast, when they were trying to reach Europe. Such events are followed by a short public outcry, and then silence, at least in northern Europe.

The International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 22,000 people have died in the Mediterranean in the last 15 years.

After the latest catastrophe, the European Commission said it was deeply disturbed by such tragic developments - an affront considering the EU did not want to take part in Italy's Mare Nostrum mission. Instead the EU replaced it with Triton, a border protection operation run by Frontex, the EUs External Border Agency.

It is said that Mare Nostrum, established by Italy in October 2013, saved the lives of more than 100,000 refugees. But it cost Italy too much to operate and was shut down. Triton on the other hand, is less well equipped and has a lower budget. It also carries a different mandate: border control.

"The EU as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act," the EC's statement went on, but then why was this obligation to act not already enforced?

People have for a long time lost their lives when trying to cross the Mediterranean. The International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 22,000 have died in the last 15 years.

The Mediterranean has turned into a graveyard for people fleeing wars and economic hardship. There was time and chance to stop the deaths, but the EU chose to turn a blind eye.

The EU dodges responsibility

The commission's statement continues that the issue has to be tackled at its roots. Its plans to build migration detention centres in North African countries is a refusal to take responsibility and push it onto countries with even fewer resources than its member states.

Human Rights Watch has already criticised a lack of political will to help alleviate Italy's unfair share of responsibility.

Human Rights Watch has already criticised a lack of political will to help alleviate Italy's unfair share of responsibility. In the light of the current tragedy it also seems like a waste of valuable time in which people's lives could be saved by stepping up rescue operations.


The Austrian MEP, Michel Reimon, said on Facebook that his parliament had a right to veto EU budgets. Mare Nostrum would take almost nothing from the EU's colossal spending power, he added, and called on fellow MEPS the blocking of all budgets which do not include a rescue operation in the Mediterranean.

"376 MEPs are able to enforce this," he said. However, whether there will be a positive change in EU policies regarding refugees remains questionable.

To make a real change it would not only need a rescue operation, but also another legal way for migrants and refugees to get into the EU.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.