Earlier this week hundreds of women, men and children lost their lives when their vessel capsized shortly after leaving Libyan waters.
Up until today there is still no precise data available with regards to exact numbers. The United Nations is mentioning 800 victims whereas the Italian authorities expect it to be closer to 900.
It was a horrific incident and many observers both at home and abroad rightly felt the need to refer to the Mediterranean as a mass grave.
The European Union was swift to respond and conveyed a joint meeting of its foreign as well as interior ministers. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, was visibly shocked when asked to comment on the tragedy. All in all, the verbal responses and wide coverage of the catastrophe were appropriate from a fellow human being’s perspective.
Yet the compliments end here.
Only two months ago had I put pen to paper to challenge the switch from Mare Nostrum to Triton (“Triton: rescuing migrants versus border management,” published on Feb. 22). I had expressed my great concerns over the fact that the previous Italian-sponsored Mare Nostrum migrant rescue operation had a monthly budgetary allowance of 9 million euros per month whilst Triton, the EU sponsored follow-up, had to make do with a third of this amount.
But money is only one issue. The next point which must be addressed quickly is whether or not rescue missions can take place in international waters or only within the limits of EU maritime boundaries.
What’s more, unless we address the subject of prevention instead of cure, nothing will change. When a sea craft leaves North African and in particular Libyan shores, it is too late. The people onboard are subjected to inhuman conditions whilst traveling and face the possibility of death at any minute.
There are two further agenda items which governments as well as nongovernmental organizations must discuss as a matter of absolute urgency.
First, as cumbersome as it may sound, the living conditions in the countries from where men, women and entire families originally hail from must be drastically improved. This includes extending individual freedoms and human rights as well as better introducing social and economic rights. May I be frank? The United Nations rightly criticizes the way migrants are treated whilst traveling and is saddened over the high number of fatalities yet ultimately all those innocent people previously lived in one UN member state or another. Does New York know? Does Geneva listen?
Second, human traffickers and their middlemen must realize that one day their bloody trade will be no more. It does not matter whether you charge $1,000, $5,000 or any amount; it is no concern whatsoever whether your ship is seaworthy or a deathtrap. You are a criminal, a criminal dealing in the human trafficking business. And in order to stop a boat from leaving port those people must be caught, prosecuted and stripped of their illegal wealth and tangible assets.
I am not putting the blame on only one nation or government but most vessels do in fact depart from a point somewhere along the Libyan coastline. And approaching whatever authorities — claim to — govern Libya will be even more challenging than only tripling Triton’s monthly budget, which I sincerely hope is going to happen.
Telling would-be migrants to stop paying human traffickers only works once there are no illegal ferrymen left!