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We must stop the Mediterranean from becoming a deep cemetery

by Anna Triandafyllidou
Director Cultural Pluralism, Global Governance Programme

23 April 2015


The relatively high pressures of both asylum seekers and irregular migrants to cross the Mediterranean sea will continue, not only during 2015 but in the years to come. It is self-evident that the Dublin regulation - the toolkit the EU is using since 1990 to manage asylum seeking in the EU - is inadequate to address the issue and manage the flows of people fleeing violence, insecurity and poverty in Africa and Asia.

 A new strategic approach is needed to face the emergency, but more important to stop this loss of human lives. Some commentators have called for a naval blockade of Libya, arguing that this would discourage the smuggling networks and provide relief to the immediately neighbouring countries, notably Italy and Greece. But what would be the “side effect” of this tactical move? In the short run, indeed there would be a very high risk of transforming Libya into a sort of “concentration camp”. Until the word would spread that the “road” is blocked, people from sub Saharan Africa would keep arriving, or would keep being jailed and tortured by smugglers, militias or other groupings, as the cost of getting them through would rise dramatically. Definitely the carnage would not stop, if possible it would worsen!

The EU must stop hiding its head in the sand and start intensifying search and rescue operations:  “Triton” is clearly failing in facing the challenge, being under-staffed and under-financed. The idea that Mare Nostrum inadvertently acted as a pull factor is disconfirmed by the trend of increasing arrivals (and increasing deaths) that we have been witnessing in the last four months (since Mare Nostrum stopped and Triton replaced it).

The EU must nail down the support and cooperation of the Mediterranean neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey of course, as well as of countries of origin and transit in Southeast Asia, West and East Africa.  But in doing so, through development aid and other cooperation policies, it also needs to back these countries in the fight against organised crime (smuggling networks usually collide with drug trafficking and weapon dealing networks), for example by providing training and technological equipment to their border guard and helping them dismantle the local operators of the smuggling networks in transit countries (such as Turkey and Syria) who make the smuggling business so dynamic and flexible.

The Dublin system must be reformed: the first safe country principle can no longer hold; it only creates Dublin returnees and further exacerbates tensions within the EU between the “first safe countries” of arrival in the South and the “safer” countries up North that, however, still face significant asylum seeker inflows despite all the Dublin safeguards.

A system of asylum quotas must be put in place for a fairer sharing of responsibility. It would do justice both to the efforts of the “frontier” states like Italy, Malta, and Greece, but also to the northern countries that receive the highest number of asylum applications such as Sweden, Germany and France.

Ignoring the facts will not tame the flow. It will instead increase the loss of human lives in the Mediterranean, indeed by far, and sadly, the deadliest sea crossing for migration or asylum seeking worldwide.


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