Over three incidents in the Mediterranean in recent days over 1300 migrants have died attempting to enter EU space. These events are a tragic reflection of policy failure as the EU and its member states have scaled back search and rescue operations, as outlined in a detailed blog posting by EU and Human Rights Law Professor Steve Peers on EU Law Analysis.
Sadly the tenor of responses thus far have been to focus on the criminality of smugglers rather than the humanitarian needs of those dying off the shores of Libya, reflecting a general prioritisation of retributive (rather than restorative) justice in the operation of international law. In contrast to this focus on perpetrators, it is worth following the press releases of the online mapping platform Watch the Med, a group that uses social media and communication technologies to highlight the plight of migrants attempting the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.
In a more general sense the unfolding crises in the Mediterranean force us to consider what maritime border policing is for, how fundamental questions of security are framed and whose rights are valued. The idea of “going after the traffickers”, as UK Prime Minister David Cameron suggested, masks the broader structural reason why trafficking is required (the absence of legal routes for passage of vulnerable people exiting the chaos in Libya, where 90% of migrant journeys currently originate), the absence of responsible monitoring of maritime borders and the punitive responses to those who go to the aid of stricken migrant vessels.
Alex Jeffrey, April 2015