Thursday 22 February 2018

Splintered lives that never made it to Promised Land

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

Sometimes the agenda for EU Summits can be complicated and frankly dull, with the eventual outcomes equally couched in the impenetrable Esperanto beloved of bureaucrats.

But not yesterday. There was one single topic for discussion among the 28 leaders who arrived into Brussels for the hastily-called meeting - how to deal with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean.

There could be no fudge or foostering this time. Even as the leaders disembarked from their jets in the European capital, 220 more migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya by the Italian Coast Guard.

Shocked by the tragedy of over 900 drowned souls after one boat sank last Sunday, and chastened by trenchant criticism from the US President, the Secretary General of the UN and a host of humanitarian agencies, the EU brass sprang into action with an alacrity usually only deployed when European banks are in peril.

"First and foremost now, we have to save lives and take the right measures to do so," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said as she arrived at the meeting. And the Taoiseach (arriving alarmingly late, but then he did cram four different engagements into his morning in Dublin before he left) announced that his government were sending an Irish naval vessel to help out. He was careful to emphasise that it would be taking part in a humanitarian search-and-rescue only. "Depending on the caveats and the legal requirements here in respect of search and rescue for humanitarian functions, we are prepared to allocate a fully-crewed and equipped naval vessel," he revealed on his way into the summit.

For the humanitarian crisis may be the single topic on the agenda, but of course it's also a complex problem. For there are many other elements to be thrashed out, such as how many refugees should be resettled. The plan hammered together earlier in the week settled on a meagre 5,000 - about half the number of refugees which arrive every week in Europe. The meeting heard an impassioned speech from Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament, who urged broader action than simply throwing ships and money at the deadly dilemma. "The lack of a truly European asylum and migration policy is now turning the Mediterranean into a graveyard," he said. While the increase in resources was widely welcomed, it seemed that the leaders were shying away from Italy's urging to expedite military action against the smugglers, explaining it would take months to assemble a plan.

Nor were they rushing to overhaul migration policies despite President Tusk, the head of the European Commission, urging the gathering of heads of state to "sacrifice some national interests for the common good" by taking part in a pan-European resettlement scheme. The Taoiseach made a quick getaway from the meeting - he was on the evening Aer Lingus flight home. President Higgins out-ranks him and thus the jet was dispatched for duty in Turkey, where Michael D is on a week-long official visit.

But it transpired the plight of the migrants wasn't the only EU business of the day. During the afternoon, word trickled out that Ms Merkel had squeezed in a bilateral meeting with Greek PM Alexis Tspiras and the two made some progress on Greece's bailout. By early evening while the Summit was still in progress, many of the Brussels brass and the media were heading to Latvia for an EU economic summit today where the possibility of a Greek debt default is top of the agenda.

But none of the flight paths will take them over the troubled waters of the Med where the flotsam and jetsam of humanity, a flotilla of splintered lives wrecked by war, oppression and poverty, bob in the dark and pray for leadership, compassion and a welcome from the powerful in the Promised Land of Europe.

Irish Independent

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