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Security of European shores for the price of human lives

While EU member states and EU institutions are divided, can not elaborate any effective solutions to face the humanitarian crisis and are unable to eliminate tragic consequences of desperate journeys and protect human lives, the international community witnesses multiply deaths and tragic accidents on various migration routs to the EU.

Although it is difficult to estimate the real situation along sea and land routs, data collected by the IOM Missing Migration Project and recent reports in the media show how advanced is the problem nowadays. Silence of the European institutions on hostile politics of coastal and border states gives a permission for inhuman treatment and negation of equality in terms of access to human rights and decent living conditions. 

In August there were few more tragic deaths noticed by the media. First was a history of a teenage boy, drowned while attempting to cross the English Channel, which is the main route for migrants to enter the United Kingdom form the EU and become an essential issue for the UK and France bilateral negotiations concerning post-BREXIT migration and asylum policy. 

The other tragic accident took place 17th August in the Mediterranean -  45 people including five children died among 80 on board a vessel whose engine exploded off the coast of Zwara (Libya). vessel’s engine exploded off the coast of Zwara (Libya). The passengers on the boat were mostly from Senegal, Mali, Chad and Ghana.

A tragic shipwreck off the coast of Libya is just one of the examples of dozen other recent fatalities. According to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project 497 deaths of migrants have been already recorded in the Mediterranean in 2020.

Figures on migrant fatalities confirm that the desperation caused by wars and conflicts, economic or climate crises, poor living conditions and inability to improve health or education is much higher then the awareness of the threat and motivate people to start journeys in rubber dinghies. From the other side, focus on security issues and desire to “protect” borders defines the EU and members states  approach to migration policy.  Tightening of controls and investing in maintenance of patrol boats or installation of radar, movement detection systems appears in EU and national strategic documents, bilateral and multilateral agreements within the block and neighbourhood countries. One of such examples were recent negotiations of Italian and Tunisian authorities, as Italy confirmed the readiness to support Tunisia also “through more effective forms of collaboration in surveillance activities regarding traffickers' boats departing from the African coast” . There other example  gives Austria, as the authorities implemented the plan to test drones with live-tracking and heat-sensing cameras to monitor borders to Hungary and Slovenia. 

But it is not only the problem of secularisation of the “border management” processes, that implicate and put people on the move into threat. For years the EU sneaks out from the responsibility for coordination search and rescue operations redirecting it on the shoulders of NGOs but simultaneously increasing restrictions on their work. For example, national authorities in Italy and Malta limited freedom of movement for private rescue ships. From the begging of the year, the health crisis cause by the COVID-19 outbreak was also used for political purposes as a pretext to close ports and suspend rescue operations, putting under the question human rights and maritime laws.

Although the question how to face the humanitarian crisis and ensure the safety and dignity of migrants is demanding for the EU and member states leaders, one is clear -  the narration based on the dichotomous division on “threat of migrants invasion” and “national security” is no longer acceptable. All solutions to boost border monitoring and invigilation make dangerous journeys deadlier  as soon as give a space for smugglers or traffickers and enhance irregular crossing. 

Kseniya Homel 
NIEM’s National Advocacy Officer
The European and Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs

UN urges rethink after 45 migrants drown off Libya [20.08.2020]. 

Coronavirus crisis hampering Mediterranean migrant rescues [17.04.2020]. 

IOM, UNHCR call for urgent action after 45 die in largest recorded shipwreck off Libya coast in 2020 [19.08.2020].

Missing Migrants [21.08.2020]. 

Migration after BREXIT. How will the future British migration policy affect asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants?

Germany leads the work on the reform the Common European Asylum System,

Austria: Drones to monitor borders for migrants [20.08.2020].