Thoughts On Saving Lives at Sea
I am hoping that it has not escaped people's attention that to be able to access a safe location in Europe asylum seekers often have to cross the sea. I have heard the arguments that asylum seekers shouldn't be illegally entering Europe as if this is gives a justification for thousands upon thousands of people to risk their lives with no acknowledgement that there are no safe and legal routes for anyone to access Europe.
The matter of non-European countries is one for another blog post, as statistically these countries do host far more asylum seekers than other European countries, and lets not forget there is currently evidence to document the experience of asylum seekers in places such as Libya including slavery, imprisonment and torture. Instead, this post will focus upon the issues surrounding the challenges of saving asylum seekers at sea.
Did you know that the International Organisation For Migration (IOM) reported in March 2020 that 110,669 people entered Europe via the sea in 2019. This is actually a slight decline from the year of 2018. Sadly, the exact number of people who have died making this journey is completely unknown. Whilst, there are estimates of at least 19,164 deaths since 2014. Just to put this figure into context, the 2011 census identified that Newmarket in Suffolk had a population of 20,384 people. So since 2014, nearly the whole population of Newmarket have died crossing the Mediterranean sea. Shocking isn't it.
Currently, there is no official mechanism in which those making migration journeys (for whatever reason) across the world, so we can never really identify the full death toll. However, IOM are completing the Missing Migrants Project in which they make best efforts to try to record this figure across the global migration routes. Currently, the figure for 2019 for world wide migration routes are 3,368, however, they identify there are further data that is likely to be reported. Missing Migrants' research indicates that 1 in 33 people will die trying to cross the Central Mediterranean. That makes 3%, how scary is that. Given those figures that suggests that actually 3,320 people could have died. To give that some context, that is double the amount of people that live in the village I do!!!
So given the facts and figures, I would imagine you are thinking that there is a desperate need for support and help in this area - surely it is all hands on desk to provide safety to those making this journey and I would agree. But sadly, as you probably guessed this is not the case. There are NGO's who are offering support (although due to COVID-19 this is sadly having to be reduced) however, due to the current position by several European countries actively prevent, penalise and criminalise them!!
Maritime law dictates that ships should stop and offer assistance to all boats that are in distress, however, what has actually occurred is the NGO lifeboats who have rescued asylum seekers who are stranded in the sea are being prevented from being allowed to dock. In addition, crew members are arrested, boats are seized or de-flagged. The argument for this taking place is that these ships are viewed as smuggling migrants to Europe and by rescuing they are encouraging. I would urge you to read the experiences of Sarah Mardini and Brendan Woodhouse which are readily available.
Europe is instead relying upon the efforts of the coastguard service provided by European countries. Excellent you may think, but given how many fatalities there are surely you would think they would welcome the additional support from NGO's!!! Is it also a good time to point out that the EU has provided significant financial support to Libya to develop and fund their coastguard service (need I remind you of the torture and slavery links that I highlighted above).
So, what is actually happening? Without a doubt some asylum seekers are making it to Europe across the Mediterranean sea. Some are achieving this on their own and some are also being rescued and bought onto European land. However, these are also increased reports (although these have always been present) of 'push backs' taking place. This entails, boats being 'pushed back' to non-European waters, boats of people being 'rescued' by the Libyan coast guard and taken back to Libya (even if there were other countries coastguard available to rescue) and even asylum seekers reaching Europe via land through Turkey being detained close to the border and then being taken back to Turkey without being able to claim asylum. I don't need to tell you, push backs are illegal and are not allowing people their right to claim asylum.
There is a lot of information here but if you want to know more, the resource guide post provides lots of links which are useful to read.