Doctors Without Borders director: Europe vilifying NGOs amid migrant crisis
Sam Taylor commended Leo Varadkar’s offer to welcome 25 people from the rescue ship Lifeline but also criticised the Taoiseach.
The director of Doctors Without Borders has accused Europe of “vilifying” NGOs operating rescue ships in the Mediterranean rather than tackling the migrant crisis.
Sam Taylor was speaking on Thursday after what he described as the deadliest seven-day period of the crisis this year, during which 200 people lost their lives.
Giving evidence to the Irish Government’s committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence, Mr Taylor commended Leo Varadkar’s offer to welcome 25 people from the rescue ship Lifeline but also criticised the Taoiseach.
“It is a truly humanitarian gesture and sends a positive message out to a Europe in dire need of such acts of solidarity and compassion right now,” he said.
Mr Taylor also criticised Mr Varadkar for his “more unhelpful comments” that “some (NGOs) are not up to much good in the Mediterranean”.
“These were unfair comments, NGOs engaged in search and rescue have saved tens of thousands of lives in the last three years,” he said.
“In Europe it is now becoming popular to seek scapegoats rather acknowledge Europe’s own failure to respond to migration in a way that is in keeping with Europe’s stated values of solidarity and humanity.
“NGOs have provided the only dedicated search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean as European policies support efforts by the Libyan coastguard to intercept and return people to Libya.”
A number of rescue ships run by various NGOs remained docked at European ports, unable to sail seas because of legal restrictions.
“We appear in front of the committee today following what was the deadliest seven day period so far this year when 200 people have lost their lives, 170 of them since last Friday when European leaders agreed to blame search and rescue NGOs and obstruct their work,” Mr Taylor told the committee.
Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, humanitarian affairs advisor to Doctors Without Borders, also gave evidence to the committee.
Ms Hadj-Sahraoui warned “people are dying in numbers we have never seen before”.
“Today there are no NGOs doing search and rescue at sea, all of us, the four remaining, are either banned, not allowed to operate or facing criminal prosecution,” she said.
“The European response to addressing the high number of drownings in the Mediterranean Sea is to seal off the coast of Libya and contain refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in a country where they are exposed to extreme and widespread violence and exploitation.”
She said one in 10 migrants who attempt to cross the Mediterranean is now at risk of drowning, whereas it used to be one in 60.
“People are dying in numbers we have never seen before,” she added.
Committee chair Brendan Smith (Fianna Fail) shared concerns raised by Ms Hadj-Sahraoui of “facts no longer mattering” when its comes to migration.
“That has to be a huge concern for all of us who value truth and who value democracy,” he said.
“There is a coarsening unfortunately of public debate, not just about this crisis, but about general politics on a day-to-day basis.”
The number of migrants arriving in Europe has dropped significantly from over a million in 2015 to around 56,000 so far this year.
European leaders were divided at last week’s meeting of the European Council on how to tackle the migration.
After marathon talks which dominated the summit, it was agreed to set up secure centres for migrants in EU states to process asylum claims.