The Summit of Shame

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Thursday’s EU Heads of Government Summit was a summit of shame. Through its conclusions, the European Council showed once more that, collectively, it lacks the moral spine to address the xenophobic fringes of European society.

The special summit ended up being just a collection of half-baked measures.  The EU heads of government have ignored the calls of the  political groups of the EU parliament which called for a more coherent EU migration policy, and for fixed quotas of asylum-seekers to be taken in by each and every EU member country.

Despite the available financial resources being increased, only a limited mandate has been given to the Triton operation for the saving of lives in the Mediterranean. No possibility of applying for humanitarian visas directly in the troubled countries in the African continent has been made possible and, with all its vaunted cry of responsibility-sharing, there is only the establishment of a voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU of people qualifying for protection.

These half-baked decisions will not solve the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean: they will only make it worse.

The number of immigrants waiting along the Libyan coast are said to be close to one million. They are there in the hope of building a new future. They know  they are risking their lives but, most probably, they will still try – they have been  at the wrong end of the stick for many years.

They are escaping from war, violence and endless poverty and they have a right to be helped and rescued. Triton is not fit for this purpose, not only because of its limited resources but also because it is primarily aimed at protecting borders and not at rescuing people.

The illusion that stopping Mare Nostrum would discourage these dangerous trips has been proved false: migrants and asylum-seekers have continued flocking to Europe at an increased rate and this situation will not change in the  coming weeks and months. The member states of the EU have to acknowledge that priority needs to be given to saving lives and giving refuge to people, not making ‘fortress Europe’ even more impenetrable, because this has been shown to be tragically impossible.

There is no way around it: all EU member states must accept a greater share of refugees and facilitate legal access to the EU. Instead of sealing borders, procedures and safe corridors must be set up to this effect and it is therefore urgent to establish a properly financed, European wide Mare Nostrum to enhance the search for and rescue of people drifting in the Mediterranean Sea.

The EU heads of government do not have the moral spine to stand up to Europe’s xenophobic fringes. They do not have the political will to implement a policy of solidarity across the EU.  I can therefore only conclude that this week’s  EU Summit can be considered a summit of shame, as it has prioritised the security of borders over  the safety of human beings.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 26 April 2015

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