The scene of hundreds of corpses drifting in the Mediterranean is just starting to stir the conscience of European Union authorities. But despite vague promises of aid, ministers remain adrift in an ethical crisis, still unwilling to open “Fortress Europe” to some of the world’s most desperate people.
Even in the wake of the devastating migrant boat wreck on April 19, at an emergency summit in Brussels, the head of the EU border enforcement agency Frontex rebuffed proposals to expand search-and-rescue operations, saying such measures were outside the agency’s “mandate.” But EU ministers did pledge to triple funding for Mediterranean maritime operations and supply “naval assets” and helicopters for enforcement.
Humanitarian advocates, however, call these measures shamefully inadequate. They demand a systemic approach that not only helps prevent death at the border but also offers more legal pathways to migrate from the Africa region, especially as the refugee crisis intensifies in the Middle East and Africa’s growing conflict zones.
“European migration policies are part of the problem,” says Iverna McGarran, director of programs at Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. She points to the escalation and militarization of enforcement at both land and sea borders, in order to deter, rather than channel migration. But a realistic solution would involve both “extending the scope of search-and-rescue operations and [ensuring] adequate assets and resources,” across a significantly expanded operation area, along with “a more global reform of European migration policies and practice.”
A more comprehensive response would expand family reunification and humanitarian admissions and allow free travel among the 28 member states, which is currently restricted. And in the long run, an EU-wide resettlement program is vital, lest authorities continue to warehouse migrants indefinitely in the current ragged network of squalid, prison-like detention camps.