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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Réfugiés : L’Union Européenne au Banc des Acussés

by Emilien Urbach

Refugees : EU to the dock

Translated Friday 25 October 2019, by Eoin Downey

European Union leaders continue to flout the rights of asylum seekers, despite criticism from the United Nations and NGOs. Certain solicitors feel that the situation in the Mediterranean, where hundreds of migrants have died since January, resembling a ‘crime against humanity’.

Are the migration policies of EU member states at the point where they deserve a new Nuremberg Trial? For many years Leoluca Orlando, the Mayor of Palermo, has been calling for more. In early June, a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, accepted the complaint from two solicitors who accused the EU of ‘crimes against humanity’.Omar Shatz, a member of the Global Action Network and Juan Branco, former assistant to the first prosecutor of the ICC, referred to the policies as ‘attempting to stop the flow of migrants towards Europe at all costs, including the murder of thousands of civilians’. Shatz and Branco are saying that European leaders must be held accountable for having ‘orchestrated, either directly or indirectly, the arrest and incarceration of 40,000 people who had fled the hell which Libya had become for them’.

It is unlikely that this approach will lead to a criminal trial. On this specific International Refugee Day, it is taking on a particular dimension. Adopted by the European Parliament on December 11th 2018, a legislative proposal established that since 2000, 90% of those granted international protection within the EU arrived via ...irregular routes. At the same time nearly 30,000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean trying to enter Europe. The logical conclusion to these two figures is that under the pretext of fighting against illegal immigration, the European leaders are in reality closing the door to millions of asylum seekers who would be entitled to claim refugee status. In closing their borders, EU countries steer the asylum seekers towards potentially fatal routes. Refugees are essentially handed back to tortuous militias in Libya, who are funded and formed by these country’s desire to drive these pretend invaders into the desert and into international waters.

’This Could Soon be a Sea of Blood’

Following the resumption of fighting in Tripoli, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Médecins sans frontières and other NGOs are calling for the maximum number of refugees to be the subjects of a humanitarian evacuation from Libya. In a press release dated 12th June, SOS Méditerranée regretted that, ‘for every person evacuated or returned this year, Libyan coastguards sent twice as many back to Libya.’The French non-profit added that following the closure of Italian ports last summer and the controlling of search and rescue zones by Libyan port authorities off the coast of Africa, ‘1151 men, women and children have died, (drowned), and more than 10,000 others have been sent back to Libya.’

And yet, faced with this calamitous track record, European leaders are standing firm. They wont even bat an eyelid at the alarm sounded by the UNHCR spokesperson on Sunday 9th June. ‘If we do not intervene soon, there will be a sea of blood’, he declared regarding the absence of a rescue boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. Leaders of seven Mediterranean E.U member countries met in Malta on 14th June and responded in a statement requesting that no boats in the Mediterranean ‘hinder the interventions of the Libyan coast guard’.The 41 asylum seekers stuck on the ship of the German charity Sea-Watch, are without a solution almost one week after the closure of this new shameful benchmark. None of the seven countries are willing to open their ports to the ship.

The right to cross borders without a visa

‘This is a humanitarian duty which is being laid out before Europe and France’, said Jean-Claude Gayssot, the President of Port de Sète. Gayssot added that ‘the right to asylum falls integrally within human rights’, which must even, ‘be increased to tackle the ecological and economic crises which we are heading towards’. Last summer, the former communist minister had already proposed welcoming the SOS Méditerranée’s ship Aquarius to Italy, a country caught in the grip of a populist and xenophobic alliance, that refused to let the ship dock for the first time. A former European deputy of the Front Left (Front de Gauche) and elected vice-president of the Human Rights League, Marie-Christine Vergiat said, ‘last March, they went to collect the military boats from operation Sophia because they participated in rescues. I have no more words to express the inhumanity of these migration policies. We must find a way to stop them’. As the accusations accumulate, being angry is not enough.

Amnesty International recalls, for its part, that asylum status is presided over by international law, particularly the 1951 convention. This forbids states from sending a person to a country where they could be exposed to a serious violation of their human rights. It also declares the right for this person to cross a border without a visa or a passport in order to seek asylum. ‘Without the respect of these fundamental principals, the refugees cannot be protected and yet, today in the world, (these principals) are not respected by states’, wrote the charity on its internet page dedicated to 20th June, International Refugee Day. In the absence of a condemnation before the ICC, this reminder for European leaders seems much needed.


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