Italy pressed the EU on Wednesday to devise robust steps to stop the deadly tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, including considering military intervention against smugglers and boosting U.N. refugee offices in countries bordering Libya.
“We know where the smugglers keep their boats, where they gather,” said Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti. “The plans for military intervention are there.”
Logically, if European nations employ their advanced military might to seek out and blow up a bunch of unseaworthy smuggler dinghies, that will fix everything. It’s not as though the smugglers would be able to replace those rickety pieces of junk in about ten minutes, and it’s certainly not as though hundreds of thousands of people will still be willing to pay those smugglers to get them the hell out of Libya, Sudan, Nigeria, etc., right? What’s that you say, Nigerian refugee?
In the latest arrivals of migrants, an Italian naval vessel docked in the Sicilian port of Augusta with 446 people who had been rescued off the southern coast of the Italian mainland. The navy said 59 were children.
“We prefer to die trying (to migrate) than stay back there and die,” said Emmanual, a Nigerian migrant who recently arrived in Sicily. “Stay at home and get shot dead or maybe burnt to death, I just prefer to die while trying or survive.”
Huh, go figure. Well, what if the Europeans took after Australia, which deals with its migrant problem by either detaining and repatriating migrants or by literally towing boats back to where they came from (or putting would-be migrants in inflatable rafts if the boats they’re on are too shoddy to make the return trip)? Well, there is just the one tiny problem with that idea:
Paul Barrett, a former secretary of Australia’s defence department, said turning back asylum-seeker vessels to Libya was far different from turning them back to Indonesia.
“One immediate difference is that when we turn back boats to Indonesia, objectionable as that policy is, we know the Indonesians aren’t going to shoot them when they come back,” he said.
“If they’ve fled Iraq or Afghanistan they’ve got no rights in Indonesia, so they need to move on to a country where they can retain the benefit of the Refugee convention.
“Whereas if you turn around boats that are fleeing from Libya and send them straight back to Libya you’re injecting them straight back into the danger where they’ve fled.”
Yeah, turns out its a wee bit…oh, let’s say “morally dubious,” to pick up people who are literally fleeing a war zone and plop them right back in the middle of that war zone. So morally dubious, in fact, that doing so is against international law. The principle is called non-refoulement, and nations that have signed any of the various treaties on the status of refugees that have been adopted since World War II are obliged not to repatriate refugees if doing so would threaten their lives. It doesn’t take but about 2 minutes worth of Googling to see that forcing people who are fleeing Libya to return to Libya in its present state of affairs would clearly threaten their lives.
I realize that times are tough all over, but they’re a hell of a lot tougher in some places than they are in others. Bombs aren’t going to stop people trying to cross the Mediterranean because they’re at high risk of dying if they stay where they are. Forcing those people back into a war zone is morally and legally indefensible. The international community, Europe included, is going to have to find a way to cope with this stream of refugees unless and until a solution is found to the conflicts they’re trying to escape.