Today, three survivors of a tragedy that caused the deaths of 63 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, filed a complaint at the Brussels Tribunal of First Instance against the Belgian army for failing to provide assistance to persons in distress.
The complaint, lodged with the support of a coalition of NGOs, alleges that in April 2011, as the conflict in Libya was at its height, Belgian’s military forces present in the area received distress signals from the migrants’ boat and failed to respond, violating the obligation to assist persons in danger. As a result, 72 people were left to drift at sea for 15 days, despite their calls for help being registered and direct contact with an airplane, helicopters and military vessels.
"A helicopter flew over our boat four or five times. It came really close to us. We could see the pilots. We thought it was going to come back to save us. But nobody came", said one of the survivors of the tragedy. […]
Tighter controls at the border between Greece and Turkey are forcing many people fleeing conflict to use increasingly dangerous routes. Migrants who manage to reach the EU border have been victims of push-backs and those who cross over into Greece are systematically detained on arrival, in inhuman and degrading conditions. The response of the European Union is to strengthen means of surveillance and interception. There is an urgent need to shift the focus away from criminalisation to the conditions of reception of migrants.
These are the conclusions of a fact-finding mission to Greece and Turkey, where our delegation was able to interview refugees and migrants and access several Greek detention centres. The delegation observed widespread violations of human rights at the borders, which cannot be ignored by the various bodies involved in migration control at the Greek-Turkish border.
In Greece, many victims report having been pushed back by Greek coastguards at sea or even upon reaching European soil. These victims do not find their way into statistics. The delegation was able to meet with some of these invisible people, who gave details of acts of violence perpetrated by coastguards: ill-treatment (including of pregnant women and children), theft (jewellery, money, mobile phones), confiscation of identity papers which are often thrown overboard and boats pushed back towards Turkish coasts. […]
European Union heads of state meeting in Brussels on October 24 and 25, 2013, should urgently adopt measures to improve sea rescues of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach Europe, Human Rights Watch said today. The summit should also pledge more measures to facilitate access for refugees from Syria and protect their rights as they increasingly turn to dangerous boat migration.
EU leaders agreed to discuss boat migration in the Mediterranean at the already-scheduled European Council summit after more than 360 people, mostly Eritreans and Somalis, died when their boat sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa on October 3. Just over a week later, on October 11, another boat capsized in the Sicilian channel. At least 36 bodies were recovered, and 206 Syrians and Palestinians were rescued.
"EU leaders should move beyond expressions of regret and commit to concrete actions to help prevent more deaths of migrants at sea", said Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Western Europe director at Human Rights Watch. "New proposals for increased monitoring of the Mediterranean need to focus on saving lives, not barring entry to the EU". […]
The new shipwreck of a boat coming from Libya in which at least 300 out of the 500 passengers perished or disappeared very near to the island of Lampedusa, was not caused by fate. In 2010, in the same place, two simultaneous shipwrecks resulted in close to 400 victims. In 2009, 200 people drowned in the high seas off the Sicilian coast. Only during the first six months of 2011, UNHCR estimated that 1,500 boat people had come to their deaths while they tried to reach the coasts of the island of Malta or Italy. Since the mid-1990s, the war undertaken by Europe against migrants has killed at least 20,000 people in the Mediterranean.
War ? How else could you name the deliberate establishment of border control mechanisms, in the name of the fight against irregular immigration, for the purpose of pushing back those who are driven out from their homes by misery and persecutions ? These mechanisms go under the name of Frontex, the European border agency which deploys its ships, helicopters, aeroplanes, radars, heat-seeking cameras since 2005 and will soon deploy its drones from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Greek islands to protect Europe from the “unwanted”. Or even Eurosur, a coordinated surveillance system which, since 2011, calls upon cutting edge technologies to militarise the European Union’s external borders in order to limit the number of irregular immigrants who penetrate them. How else could the collaboration that is imposed by Europe upon the migrants’ transit countries – Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco – in order for them to play the role of prison guards and dissuade them from taking the northward route, at the cost of round-ups, arrests, ill-treatment, kidnappings ? […]
As a delegation of Italian and other European leaders visits the Sicilian island of Lampedusa to honor all those who tragically lost their lives trying to reach the European coast, the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls on members of the European Union to recognize the human cost of their repressive migration policies.
"EU member states can no longer ignore the human cost of their policies", said Freya Raddi, MSF coordinator of operations. "The recent incident was the direct result of a European migration policy that criminalizes irregular immigration and insists on closing its doors to the most vulnerable".
European states should focus their efforts not on closing their borders to the most vulnerable, but on protecting them, says MSF—by mounting rescue operations at sea, as well as by improving reception conditions for newly arrived migrants. […]