Face-save or life-save? EU triples funding for migrant boat rescues
"We want to act quickly and that means we are tripling the funds available to Triton," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said following the emergency EU leaders summit, referring to the naval border monitoring operation near the Italian coast. Triton’s annual funds will now reach €120 million ($130 million).
The move comes after an overloaded migrant boat coming from Libya sank on Sunday, killing up to 900 people. Only 28 people are believed to have survived the disaster, making it the worst on record involving migrants fleeing Africa through Libya.
The EU has been facing a growing wave of criticism for not doing enough to save the migrants fleeing to Europe. In 2014 alone, 3,400 migrants and refugees died at sea. The latest funding boost is still seen as not going far enough as it simply replenishes the financing of the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation, which Italy canceled last year.
Human rights organizations have been at the forefront, expressing their disappointment with the summit’s results. Amnesty International argued that Triton's reach needs to extend to the “high seas,” where the majority of the deaths happen.
“What we witnessed today in Brussels was a face-saving, not a life-saving, operation,” said Amnesty's Director for Europe and Central Asia John Dalhuisen.
Just a few days ago, on Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who also struggles with the issue of illegally-arriving migrants, advised Europe to follow suit and do what he did – turn back asylum-seeker boats.
Abbott is not alone. French President Francois Hollande one-upped the Australian leader two days later, proposing to seek a UN resolution that would give a green light to the EU to destroy boats that are used by traffickers to transport migrants to Europe.
"We will look at all the options for seeking out and destroying these boats... that can only be done under a UN resolution [on which] France will take the initiative with others," Hollande said after the summit.
Similar thoughts came from Britain’s Lord Ashdown shortly after the Monday meeting in Luxembourg, where the proposal to blow smuggler boats up was voiced. While saying that Europe needs a fairer system to deal with those migrants who’ve made it, Ashdown insisted that “there may also be a case for using special forces of interdiction to destroy the boats before they leave port,” according to the Telegraph.
“It is unsustainable and unacceptable to have a policy of drowning refugees when we should be attacking the smugglers.” He sees this as a help to Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and others.
Other things that have been pledged included more ships and other resources for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. UK promised to contribute a helicopter carrier HMS Bulwark, two patrol boats and three helicopters, while Germany, France and Belgium said they will contribute ships.
The wave of migrants intensified since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 in Libya, through which the majority of migrants pass with the help of criminal gangs who are sending vessels to carry migrants from Africa and the Middle East.
Europeans and even some politicians have begun speaking out and partially blaming EU politics for the deaths of migrants at sea, seeing Gaddafi’s toppling as greatly assisted by EU and US support of opposition forces.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said Prime Minister David Cameron, along with other European leaders, was partially responsible for the deaths of hundreds of migrants who drowned off the Libyan coast on Sunday due to his ‘fanaticism’ in ousting former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
“It was the European response that caused this problem in the first place. The fanaticism of [the former French president Nicolas] Sarkozy and Cameron to bomb Libya – what they have done is to destabilize Libya, to turn it into a country of much savagery and a place where for Christians the situation is virtually impossible,” Farage said following the disaster on Sunday.
Anti-war activist Mike Raddie agrees with this notion, saying that what the West is in debt to the countries it plundered, and yet isn’t willing to return the simplest favor.
“It makes me ashamed to be British, actually… We’ve destroyed these countries, we’ve destroyed their infrastructure, destroyed their children’s future and we’re doing absolutely nothing to help them,” he told RT.
“You either get on the boat and risk your life, or it’s certain death if you stay… We need to be offering these people air tickets to Europe – that’s the only safe way these people are going to have some kind of future,” Raddle said.