Suit claims EU migration policy led to thousands of Mediterranean deaths

Suit claims EU migration policy led to thousands of Mediterranean deaths

By Luke Vargas   
A boat carrying refugees and migrants drifts on the Mediterranean Sea shortly before rescue by the Italian Navy in 2014. (Courtesy: UNHRC)

A new legal complaint alleges European leaders committed 'crimes against humanity' by enacting restrictive immigration policies in 2015.

NEW YORK – A legal filing deposited at the International Criminal Court this week alleges European leaders committed “crimes against humanity” by enacting restrictive immigration policies in 2015.

That allegation claims E.U. officials knew that limiting search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean would lead to potentially thousands of avoidable deaths.

First, some background:

In late 2013, hundreds of migrants fleeing North Africa died in a shipwreck off the Italian coast, prompting Italy to start a search-and-rescue program called Operation Mare Nostrum, which ended up saving over 100,000 people.

Anna Triandafyllidou is a professor in the Global Governance Program at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

“The rhetoric used by the Italian government at the time was very strong of solidarity – saying we cannot let people drown regardless of what is their legal status.”

Italy shut down Mare Nostrum (our sea) the following year over cost concerns and the E.U. replaced it with a more limited naval deployment called Operation Triton. Academics, NGOs and E.U. officials warned that gaps in Triton’s mission would lead to further migrant deaths, but the policy remained.

The lawyers behind the latest ICC complain contend that decision led to at least 12,000 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean or in Libya, where thousands of migrants are in detention, often in grave conditions.

Triandafyllidou says regardless of how the ICC responds to the complaint, she hopes the public better understands the human cost of stricter migration policy.

“I think it is very important in the current political climate that this case is heard and is properly judged, because it will give a stronger voice to that part of European society that advocates for more solidarity, particularly towards people fleeing persecution.”

In a brief statement Monday, an E.U. spokesperson claimed that, “it is not the E.U.’s policy that is causing these tragedies, it is the cruel and dangerous business model used by traffickers and smugglers exploiting human misery and putting people’s lives at risk.”

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