Saturday

17th Apr 2021

EUobserved

EU Commission spins half-truth on 'unsafe' refugee boats

  • The 'Aquarius' NGO boat has helped save almost 30,000 people in the Mediterranean since 2016 (Photo: Proactiva Open Arms)

The European Commission on Friday (7 December) said more people were dying at sea because smugglers are using less seaworthy boats.

"What we are seeing here is a change of the modus operandi of the smugglers who are now no longer using the same type of vessels," a Commission spokeswoman told reporters.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The spokeswoman did not say why, noting that close to 700,000 lives have been saved since 2015. In September, she had offered an almost identical explanation.

But the omission as to why points to a commission that is dealing in half truths. In fact, EU policy is in part responsible for making those boats more dangerous.

Up until last year, the EU's naval operation Sophia had seized over 500 refugee boats. Many more are likely to have since been captured.

By destroying these boats, it forces people to turn to less seaworthy and more dangerous alternatives.

Europe's regional director for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Eugenio Ambrosi, offered a similar explanation.

"When we say we want to disrupt the smuggler business model, we talk about destroying boats in Libya, we talk about destroying the boats, all this makes the smuggler richer," he told this website in October.

The commission's line of defence on Friday comes amid the ongoing shut down of NGO rescues at sea.

The most recent causality is Doctors Without Borders (MSF), whose rescue vessel Aquarius will no longer set sail.

MSF blamed "sustained attacks on search and rescue by European states" for the shut down. It was a move praised by Italy's far-right interior minister and deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini.

Asked if it felt any sympathy for MSF decision's to decommission Aquarius, the commission said it "took note" - which is diplomatic code for 'no'.

It then offered a gesture, noting NGOs had played a "commendable role in Mediterranean".

However, the commission last year supported Italian-led efforts to impose a 'code of conduct' rule that sought to complicate operations of NGO rescue boats.

The end result is that fewer people are leaving Libya to reach Italy. But those that do, are far more likely to drown.

Others will be apprehended by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to detention centres, where they risk slavery, torture, and death.

The coast guard is being trained by Sophia, which insists it has a robust vetting process in place to weed out any trouble-makers.

The vetting is said to be carried out by EU states, international law enforcement agencies and Sophia.

When EUobserver asked how many they have refused to train, a spokesperson for the EU's foreign policy branch, the EEAS, said the figures are "restricted information".

When EUobserver filed a freedom of information request for the same data from the EEAS, it said such figures are not being held.

Qassim Ayoub, spokesperson for Libya's coast guard, told this website earlier this year that people who are refused training are returned to their jobs in the Libyan Coast Guard.

"People who are refused EU training return to work. We have received no proof, or documents, that they did something wrong," he said.

He noted that the highest salary of a Libyan coast guard officer is $150 [€132] per month. To date, some 320 Libyan coastguard and navy personnel have been trained by Sophia.

Libyan militia cash in on EU's anti-smuggling strategy

More people in Libya are being inducted into slavery as people-traffickers try to monetise their investment by selling them. A senior UN refugee agency official described it as an unintended side effect of the reduction of migrant boat departures.

Analysis

EU to shore up borders, returns and migrant detentions

The European Commission wants more border controls, detentions and returns for rejected asylum seekers. The harsh tone is part of a broader anti-migrant mood. "We are treated like rats," one asylum seeker stuck on a Greek island told this website.

Opinion

The Aquarius migrant boat - and the EU policy failings

The precarious situation the Aquarius and its passengers found themselves is a consequence of EU member states' failure to manage migration in a strategic and coordinated manner, where member states beyond those receiving new arrivals are part of the solution.

Opinion

Sea Watch: Lack of EU action is criminalising solidarity

Well beyond the situation in Italy with the arrest of the Sea Watch 3 captain, the criminalisation of solidarity has spread across Europe and entrapped both NGOs and ordinary citizens, including lifeguards, fire-fighters, doctors, priests, journalists, teachers and volunteers.

Denmark threatens Syria deportations amid EU concerns

Denmark is stripping Syrians of residency rights - the first country in the EU to do so - amid threats to deport them back home. The EU did not comment directly, but warned that Syria is not safe.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Analysis

Frontex scrutiny on rights violations is a PR stunt

Greece denies any illegal pushbacks at sea. The EU takes their version of events as face value, in a system unable and unwilling to shed doubt on Greek authorities - posing accountability questions on the EU's border guard agency Frontex.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us