A right to life conveniently forgotten by EU states

A right to life conveniently forgotten by EU states
4 min read
28 May, 2015
Comment: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been abandoned by European countries who watch as thousands drown in the Mediterranean, says Kirolos Nathan.
These migrants are the lucky ones. They were rescued by the Italian navy [Getty]
A nimby is someone who might suppport a cause, as long as it isn't happening near them - "not in my backyard".

This could be the rallying cry of European governments in their response to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean where 1,200 people died last month alone trying to cross to Europe from Africa.

In 1948 world leaders gathered in Paris and agreed to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article three states everyone has the right to life, liberty and security, article 13 guarantees the right to freedom of movement, while article 14 states the right to seek asylum from persecution.

The problem is governments are trying to find political solutions for this this problem, not humanitarian ones. Mohammed al-Ansary.

Since then, however, many countries have put a long list of conditions and passed laws to make it almost impossible for the 47 percent of Africans who live on less than $1.25 a day  to improve their lives.


Mohammed al-Ansary, a lawyer and legal researcher, said governments were trying to find political solutions for this this problem, not humanitarian ones.

"The state acts as the holder of sovereignty... They have the authority to control their borders but sometimes human lives are more important than state sovereignty," Ansary said.

"If those illegal immigrants put their lives at significant risk... and you intercept them and ask them to go back, it's as if you are saying to them: go die somewhere else."

Who is responsible?


In October 2001, the then British prime minister, Tony Blair, described African poverty as "a scar on the conscience of the world."

Is globalisation responsible for this? Or is it international trade policies that make it impossible for poor countries to compete in the market? Or is it the dictatorships and the bad leadership Western counties support to protect their interests? Or perhaps it is simply that the West still looks at Africa through the eyes of European colonialism.

When will the governments realise the action they must take is not "stop the boats", but rather stop what makes a man, a woman and a child think that instead of dying in poverty, they will die trying to win a better life.

The New Internationalist
once pointed out that less than one per cent of the global annual spend on weapons was enough to put every child through school.

If Western countries don't have natural barriers or wide seas for people to die in, formidable obstacles are simply created. Spain and six other European nations agreed to fund the construction of walls around the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, located in North Africa, in 1995.

Melilla's wall, completed in 1998, sealed its six-mile long border with parallel 3m-high fences topped with barbed wire.

Is globalisation responsible for this? Or international trade policies? Or is the dictatorships Western counties support to protect their interests?

Ninety miles of underground cable connect spotlights, noise and movement sensors and video cameras to a central control area. A similar system around Ceuta was completed in 2001.

In 2005, after many people died in an attempt to get into these cities, Spain and the EU took steps to prevent such incidents in the future and decided to increase the height of the walls, from 3m to 6m. This was an improvement in terms of the two cities' defences against helpless, vulnerable people, but a step backward in humanitarian terms.

The European Council's reaction was similar. It agreed on 18 May 2015 to establish an EU military operation in the Mediterranean Sea, with starting costs of $10m, to interdict those attempting the crossing to Europe.

This was supposedly to save lives, but in practical terms it appears that its main role will just be to keep them out.

Apparently those who leave their country in search of a better life, or flee in search of a safe haven, now have no right to aspire to a better life, no right to flee from oppression.

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.