Saturday 20 January 2018

Death toll of migrants in Med 'linked to EU deals with Libya'

Migrants wait to be rescued by ‘Save the Children’ NGO crew in the Mediterranean sea off Libya coast. Photo: Reuters
Migrants wait to be rescued by ‘Save the Children’ NGO crew in the Mediterranean sea off Libya coast. Photo: Reuters

Dean Gray

Amnesty International has blamed "failing EU policies" for the soaring death toll among refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean.

In a report, it said "cynical deals" with Libya had consigned thousands to the risk of drowning, rape and torture.

It said the EU was turning a blind eye to abuses in Libyan detention centres and was mostly leaving it up to sea rescue charities to save migrants.

More than 2,000 people had died in 2017 trying to get to Europe, it said.

The EU has so far made no public comments on Amnesty's report.

It comes as interior ministers from the 28-member bloc are meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, to discuss the migrant crisis.

They will review a $92m (€80m) action plan unveiled by the European Commission to deal with the issue.

The commission proposes to use more than 50pc of the funds to boost the Libyan coastguard's capacity to stop traffickers launching boatloads of migrants out to sea to be rescued. The rest is to help Italy feed, house and process the migrants who get there.

Italian ports have continued to see a large number of migrants arrive in the past year, putting stress on the country's asylum system.

Earlier this month, officials suggested closing Italy's ports to foreign rescue ships - something which is legally difficult, but indicative of the strain the country is under. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees added his voice to calls for more assistance for the Mediterranean nation from the international community.

"What is happening in front of our eyes in Italy is an unfolding tragedy," Filippo Grandi said at the time.

"This cannot be an Italian problem alone."

Italy's problem is partly attributed to the instability in nearby Libya, which is largely controlled by a multitude of armed militias, loyal to rival government factions.

The country has been embroiled in widespread conflict since the downfall of Col Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In the power vacuum, people smugglers operating from the country's north coast are putting African refugees to sea in the hope of reaching Italy, often on flimsy rafts which cannot make the entire journey.

Instead, humanitarian vessels are having to rescue them from the water and deliver the migrants to the nearest port - an Italian one.

"Rather than acting to save lives and offer protection, European ministers ... are shamelessly prioritising reckless deals with Libya in a desperate bid to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Italy," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's Europe director.

Irish Independent

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