NGOs in Italy criticize European states over migrant deaths at sea – report

NGOs in Italy criticize European states over migrant deaths at sea – report

Several NGOs in Italy have denounced European countries for their alleged role in migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, emphasizing the responsibility states bear in preventing further tragedies at sea, reported InfoMigrants website.

Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Italy have condemned Europe’s response to the migration crisis, calling for immediate action to increase search and rescue operations, ensuring the safety of those attempting these dangerous crossings. The NGOs argue that governments must prioritize saving lives over restrictive border control policies.

They have urged European nations to adopt a more compassionate and humanitarian approach in dealing with irregular migration instead, stressing the importance of addressing the root causes of migration, such as poverty, conflict, and lack of opportunities.

They added that the loss of life during irregular migration attempts in the Mediterranean is a tragic reminder of the urgent need for a coordinated international response, urging governments and international organizations to work together to develop comprehensive strategies that prioritize the safety and well-being of individuals seeking refuge or a better life.

First-entry countries including Italy, Malta, Greece and Cyprus have also repeatedly criticized the failure of other European states to help create a safer migration framework across the bloc, above all by relocating a proportionate number of migrants from countries of first arrival to elsewhere across the EU, which directly would lead to fewer deaths at sea.

Italy’s state of emergency

Their criticism is directed against measures like the state of emergency declare by Italy’s center-right government in April, which includes measures that aim to both accelerate reception procedures and expulsions from the country.

In recent years, there has been a notable rise in the number of young people and minors making sea crossings, compounded with a lack of available accommodation.

Lisa Bjelogrlich from the charity Save the Children told Euronews: “From 2018 onwards, the amount of available accommodation has decreased. The reception system for minors currently fails to meet their needs and has been depleted of resources.”

A total of 45,510 migrants have arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year, according to figures published by the Italian government on May 15.

Death in the Mediterranean

Data from the IOM’s Missing Migrants Projectmeanwhile estimates the number of missing migrants in the Central Mediterranean as currently standing at 959.

For example, in February 2023, a migrant boat which had set off from Turkey, suffered shipwreck, resulting in the loss of lives of 90 migrants, including 28 children. This happened after it had issued a distress call off the coast of Calabria, which apparently went unanswered.

In response to this tragedy, the Italian government passed the so-called Cutro Decree, vowing to clamp down on traffickers as well as further tightening rules on migration and asylum, instead of introducing measures aimed directly at ensuring that more lives can be saved at sea.

Other measures taken by the Italian government have also been instrumental in the further restriction and criminalization of activities at sea of private rescue organizations to carry out life saving operations — while also being largely ineffective in preventing small boat crossings.

Slow response to SOS signals

Chiara Denaro, a spokesperson for Alarm Phone (an international network that collects distress calls from migrant boats), told Euronews that upon suffering shipwreck, “people remain at sea for many hours, even days” after the network has sent out an SOS signal, waiting to be rescued — or to die.

She highlighted in particular that “(t)he Maltese authorities are very reluctant to launch rescue operations and to take over the coordination of operations.”

“The war on sea rescue NGOs, and the abandoning of rescue operations in the Mediterranean has become increasingly evident with the [Italian] center-right government,” Giusi Ncolini, the former mayor of Lampedusa, told Euronews.

“And it is increasingly clear that, in order not to prevent them from arriving, they prefer to let them die.”

Libya: worse than death

But even those who are rescued can still suffer a fate that is, in some cases, even worse than death: Migrants who are intercepted by Libya’s coast guard are brought back to Libya, where they usually are placed in squalid detention centers run by the government.

In the last five years, the Libyan Cost Guard has intercepted about 100,000 people at sea, taking passengers back to Libya where they have to live under conditions that have been condemned as severe human rights violations by both NGOs and the UN. They can face torture, extortion, abuse, rape, slavery and murder in these detention centers, which have been described as “lawless” places.

Since 2015, however the European Union has given more than $450 million to Libya’s Coast Guard and has also provided assistance to its naval operations, to prevent sea crossings from taking place.

Italy meanwhile has been providing further support to Libya in the form of funding, means and training to Libya’s coast guard since 2017.

Germany, however, has halted its support to the Libyan Coast Guard over concerns about the treatment of migrants there.

Changes to regular migration amid labor shortage

While irregular migration and sea crossings remain a cannon fodder for right-wing political rhetoric in Italy and elsewhere across the European Union, there have been some promising recent developments in relation to regular migration, with a widespread labor shortage posing a significant risk to European economies.

The UK government has recently announced theissuance of at least 45,000 visas for seasonal farmworkers in 2024. This stark contrast in approach compared to the UK’s attitude towards irregular migrants raises concerns about the differential treatment of migrants depending on their status and the need for a more comprehensive and equitable approach to migration policies.

Several EU countries, including Italy, Greece and Germany are also experiencing a similar labor shortage. This is particularly evident in the skilled crafts sector, metal and electrical industries, healthcare, technology and mathematics, where nearly 40,000 trainees are needed in Germany alone.

The scarcity of skilled labor arguably adds another dimension to the irregular migration issue, highlighting the potential benefits of a more inclusive approach to migration policies.