‘The Political Mood Has Grown Deeply Hostile’


Earlier today.

On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Journalist Dr Gavin Jennings interviewed Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration, after a boat bound for Italy capsized off Libya on Monday.

At least 40 people went missing and are presumed dead, while the Libyan Coastguard picked up around 60 people.

Most of the people on the boat were reportedly from Sudan.

A similar incident claimed the lives of about 100 people last week.

From the interview:

Dr Gavin Jennings: “And it was the Libyan Coastguard who came to their rescue, yes?”

Leonard Doyle: “I mean this is a contentious point but yes, the Libyan Coastguard has been intercepting or rescuing, depending on your point of view, for some considerable time now and then bringing them back to Libya where their fate is not always certain. I mean some have gone into detention, some not. In this case, probably not.”

Jennings: “Were there not Italian boats who were also supposed to be available to help as well?”

Doyle: “There is a big issue with search and rescue in Europe at the moment which is what I think you’re alluding to. The European Union has declined to provide the rescue services that were there for a long time, the search and rescue, in the belief that this is an attracting force, bringing, attracting smugglers to push migrants into sea and in flimsy vessels. And we’ve seen a lot of evidence of that.

“At the same time, the European Union has been supporting the Libyan Coastguard and are trying to get them to abide by international law, to follow human rights, etc. It’s not always been the case. As you know there were 150 people killed in an airstrike over a month ago. People had returned after being rescued at sea. So it’s a complicated, difficult issue. We’re going through a very bloody war at the moment. The worst in many years. So it’s complicated.”

Jennings: “And there were two planes that were being used by NGOs to search for migrant boats in the Mediterranean that were grounded this week?”

Doyle: “The political mood is very tough in Europe at the moment when it comes to migration. Even though those crossing the Mediterranean, mostly Africans, are a tiny number of people, the political mood has grown deeply hostile and deeply populist and one of the expressions of that is a crackdown, if you will, on NGOs who are doing very, very important life-saving work, search and rescue operations, SARs its called. It’s, it’s a terrible situation.

“Lives should not be part of politics. Saving people’s lives should not be part of politics. The impression one has from political and media sources is that there’s an invasion of people, it’s tiny. The numbers are tiny, as you mentioned. 54 people survived, that’s not a lot of people.”

Jennings: “Tell us about the scale of numbers, this summer, for example. I mean have recent moves by, for example, in Italy made any difference. Are there less people now trying to cross the Mediterranean as a result?”

Doyle: “I mean it’s hard to pinpoint one country’s actions for creating an effect. But undoubtedly the work, the really good work is being done by the European Union throughout West Africa, in particular, in helping people avoid make tragic journeys is having its own impact. There’s a lot of awareness raising going on, there’s a lot of informing people along the way – of the dangers ahead. And the dangers are terrible.

“The smugglers are the first people to blame, not the policymakers at the end of the day. The policymakers may get it wrong in our opinion, but they’re not the ones who are creating the havoc. So a lot of effort has taken place into investing in the so-called, you know, upstream routes that the migrants take into informing them of the dangers ahead if they go to Libya. That they will be incarcerated, they will be abused, they’ll be tortured and all that sort of thing.

What happens on European shores I think is probably marginal at the end of the day.”


Listen back in full here

Related: EXCLUSIVE: UN probe finds Sudan staff member solicited bribes from refugees (Sally Hayden, The New Humanitarian, August 15, 2019)

Previously: Into Harm’s Way

‘Our Naval Service Is Part Of It’

Image: Al Jazeera

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5 thoughts on “‘The Political Mood Has Grown Deeply Hostile’

  1. eoin

    It’s not just the political mood, politicians are responding to their electorates.

    If Libya has been given the funding and training to stop a flow of African migrants then that’s what should happen and these charities sailing a ship into Libyan coastal waters to pick up migrants (they were officially refugees when they entered Libya, they became migrants when they exit Libya) are just aiding people smugglers.

    Sad to see last weekend the UK refusing to take a single migrant from the two ships which aren’t welcome in Italy. The UK is sitting on £12 billion of funds belonging to Libya. Ireland (Charlie Flanagan) announced it would take “some” [an unknown number] of the migrants.

  2. john

    As long as we keep accepting them in it’ll continue to be worth their while trying to make the crossing with people smugglers. You can’t have it both ways. And if we are to take in more migrant workers then we need some serious infrastructure upgrade. I’m lucky to get a standing space on the bus of a morning going in to Dublin city due to the sheer amount of foreign workers on the bus. And I find myself wondering where they all live? Don’t we have a housing crisis?

  3. Ben Redmond

    People smugglers operating in West Africa are charging high prices and promising to take punters across the Sahara to Libya and adjoining Maghrebian states. Other thuggish operators in a Libya torn in two by warlords following the Nato destruction of the Gadhafi regime are then boarding migrants onto perilous boats and promising passengers that they will be picked up by rescuers and taken to Italy. There is cynical exploitation of migrants in Africa; there is increasing skepticism about the refugee arrivals by Italian voters. Humanitarian responses by NGOs have become a casualty. Another casualty is public discussion about the problem.

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