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NGOs are doing what the EU is unwilling to do

Short-sighted policies designed to bolster the EU leaders’ electoral chances only benefit human traffickers

MV Lifeline
Malta and Italy are impeding NGOs from saving lives at sea - Photo: Mission Lifeline / Hermine Poschmann

We live in an upside down world. Take Malta, where trees make way for cars and where the global rich can purchase citizenship while people who have lived in Malta for ages and are seeking citizenship are the mercy of a minister.

Take the US, where thousands of migrant children are taken away from their parents. Or take Europe, where politicians would rather have people die at sea or be tortured in Libya than lose elections.

On Sunday morning, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s weekly address to the faithful epitomised the inverted world we are living in. He boasted that Malta did what the EU was unable to do in reaching an agreement with nine countries to “carry part of the burden” and distribute among themselves 234 people rescued at sea by an NGO.

He went on to attack NGOs who are saving lives at sea and insisted that they would not be allowed to enter Maltese ports.

If anything, it is NGOs who are doing what Europe is unwilling to do. They are saving people and creating the nearest thing to a safe passage to Europe.

People who embark on the perilous journeys to Europe are fully aware of the risks they are undertaking, and they do so because they are motivated by desperation.

Many flee war, oppression and torture. Others flee poverty, persecution and human rights violations. All want a safer and better life but EU leaders are denying them this.

We often refer to these people as a number, but each and everyone of them have a story to tell. And often it is a story of intolerable suffering.

In the past week, EU leaders gathered in Brussels for the umpteenth time to discuss yet another ‘migration crisis’ which should have been solved in the much vaunted Valletta Summit on Migration in 2015. Previous summits failed to improve the situation and the latest marathon talks are destined to fail once again.

All they could come up with were more policies of deterrence. All we got was closed ports and another futile attempt to push reception centres south of the EU’s borders.

These short-sighted policies designed to bolster the EU leaders’ electoral chances only benefit human traffickers.

The only way Europe can prevent a worsening crisis is to push the smugglers out of business by providing a safe and legal passage towards Europe.

This, together with coherent asylum procedures and assistance at entry points and an efficient mechanism for the relocation of people throughout Europe, is the only way the EU can manage and control the influx of asylum seekers and refugees which inevitably foster social and economic upheaval.

Muscat also made it clear that Europe will only offer protection to people fleeing war and economic migrants will be sent back to Libya where migrants are treated like slaves.

In this upside world we are living in, its perfectly acceptable to move from one country to another for economic reasons as long as you are a European citizen. Anyone coming from the outside has fewer rights and is nothing but a burden. The hypocrisy of Fortress Europe could not be more blatant, and may I add sadistic.

By 2050, the population of Africa is expected to double to 2.5 billion and the number of people who will attempt to reach Europe will inevitably grow. In the years to come people will not only be forced to flee war-torn regions but climate change will be a major driving force in displacing people. People in Africa and other parts of the world will have no choice but to move if their home countries are hit by food and water shortages and devastating climatic conditions.

Creating safe and legal passages alone is not enough. Europe must  also contribute to improve living conditions in Africa and Asia. But in the urgency of now the EU can put human life above electoral exigencies.

Some 13,000 people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean over the last three years and many more have died and suffered torture and abuse in Libya and other countries across the route to Europe.

EU leaders must acknowledge that deterrence policies have not worked and if they really want to put an end to the death and suffering of thousands they must put aside national self-interest and infantile posturing.

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