Since 21 May, over 1,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The latest drownings push the death toll for the year to more than 2,000 people and highlight the tepid response from EU member countries to loss of life during the refugee crisis.
Instead, following anti-refugee sentiments, Europe’s leaders signed a controversial deal with Turkey that has sharply reduced the migrant flow into Greece. In 2015, roughly a million people went through the Balkans towards Germany.
However, closing the route through Greece has shifted efforts to the longer, more dangerous sea route from Libya to Italy, where the majority of deaths are now occurring. European leaders’ increasing focus on restricting access and putting up legal barriers to refugees is misguided at best, or racistly indifferent to the death and suffering of those fleeing war and persecution at worst.
A guilty party in this is Austria. The government voted in favour of a law that will allow police to reject asylum seekers at the border and to stop most successful applicants from applying to be reunited with their families for three years. The legislation further exacerbates the obstacles to achieving an EU-wide solution to the refugee crisis. Worse still, as Austria shares a border with Italy, it’s a quick way of denying arrivals in Italy access to asylum elsewhere in Europe.
Those on the far right suggest other, darker measures, like letting refugees drown to deter others who’d make the same journey. They perpetuate unfounded claims that rescue missions fuel demand for the illegal trafficking of people across the Mediterranean Sea, conveniently leaving out war and persecution as the main driver of Libyans and Syrians seeking asylum.
It is blatantly ludicrous to suggest that actions such as these will do anything to stem the flow of people into Europe: one does not leave one’s home, risking death for a chance of life, unless there is no life for them at home.
Regurgitating myths about refugees being extremist terrorists, an ISIS invasion or those who wish to change the fabric of Europe into an Islamic caliphate is spitting in the face of the very people who are fleeing those same toxic ideas. It is inhuman to look them in the face and to shut the door on them, erecting fences and barbed wire, when what they need is food, water, shelter and a second chance at life.
Despite attempted crackdowns, the movement of refugees between Libya and Italy continues unabated. Similar numbers of people – 46,000 – arrived in Italy in the first five months of 2016 as during the same period last year. With summer comes a significant increase in the number of boats traffickers sent out across the Mediterranean Sea, the situation is going to get significantly worse before it gets better.