Criminal negligence on a continental scale

The European Union is watching hundreds, thousands really, of refugees drown attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea rather than risk the possibility that those refugees might try to remain in the EU rather than return to the places from which they’re fleeing. This appears to be the 2015 world order, where wealthy nations get to break poorer ones and then refuse the most basic aid to the people fleeing the destruction they’ve wrought, even aid so basic as pulling them out of the water before they drown.

The story of Europe’s criminal negligence (I considered going with “depraved indifference,” but the legal definition doesn’t fit) toward migrants has generated considerable heat over the past several days, as a series of catastrophes have killed hundreds of migrants while the EU and its member states have done nothing but dither about human trafficking, migration policies, and “pull factors.” Those are important things to talk about, but meanwhile people are drowning by the hundreds and the countries most able to do something to prevent it are doing as close to nothing as they can. This weekend alone at least 700 people, and probably many more than that, died when the boat they had boarded from Libya sank off of the Libyan coast on its way to the Italian island of Lampedusa. That came after around 400 migrants from Libya died in similar circumstances last week, and before two more Libyan boats, containing another 400+ people, began to capsize today.

EU immigration officials are talking about increasing the scope of their Mediterranean patrol program, Triton, but you know what they say about talk, and anyway it never should have gotten to this point. Italy used to run point on Europe’s efforts to patrol the Mediterranean for migrant boats, and in fact they did a pretty effective job of it. But they got understandably tired of footing the bill for the entire continent’s border security, and so last year they transitioned their program over to the EU, where good ideas go to be bureaucracied to death. Triton is considerably smaller in both size and scope than the Italian effort had been, mostly because other European countries don’t see the need to spend their good money on what they perceive to be Italy’s problem, and because they’re worried about that whole “pull factor” nonsense I mentioned above. The theory, familiar to anybody who follows the immigration debate here in the US, is that if you start treating migrants as human beings, it will just encourage more migrants to try to come in until the system is overloaded. It’s a thin candy shell of policy concerns coating a rich core of xenophobia.

What makes that argument bogus, as it is here in the US, is that people don’t leave their homes and uproot their lives for the chance to be destitute in a European ghetto on account of “pull factors.” As Josh Keating points out, they do it because of “push factors,” or rather, one “push factor,” which is that it’s become impossible for them to survive at home. You know how we know that? Because thousands of people (potentially hundreds of thousands more) are still trying to get across the Mediterranean and into Europe despite knowing that the EU can’t/won’t save them if their vessel falters. Look at where most would-be European migrants are coming from:

(Via Al Jazeera)
(Via Al Jazeera)

These people aren’t coming to Europe for shits and giggles, or to cheese off of that sweet European social democratic welfare. They’re running away from violence and the breakdown of social order in places like Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, and Libya. And what makes these recent drownings so especially galling is that they primarily involve people who are fleeing the utter chaos in Libya that came about in part because the NATO (functioning more or less as the EU’s military arm) decided to jump in, guns literally blazing, to rescue Libya’s sweet, sweet crude oil struggling rebellion in 2011, before forgetting that Libya ever existed once the military operation was over. So the message is: we’ll break your country for you, but we won’t help rebuild it and we won’t even bother to fish you out of the sea if you try to flee it.

Libya’s state of anarchy not only creates thousands upon thousands of potential refugees, it also makes it impossible to curtail the activities of human traffickers, the scum who take these people’s money and then cram them onto unseaworthy vessels in exchange. EU officials have been trying real hard to blame these terrible drownings on those traffickers, and they are to blame to a point, but it doesn’t change the fact that a fully-funded EU effort to patrol the Mediterranean could likely have saved a whole lot of lives that have been lost and will be lost in the weeks and months to come.

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