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.”
One year today since I started reporting on Libyan detention centres, & almost nothing has changed. What's happening to refugees in Libya – as a direct result of EU policy – is a total scandal, & everyone should be paying attention. https://t.co/IYmeLlwhTB
— Sally Hayden (@sallyhayd) August 26, 2019
UNHCR deputy high commissioner visits Libya & calls for increased support for refugees, but doesn't mention the EU's role in returning tens of thousands of them to the country. https://t.co/QueSRKeFpK
— Sally Hayden (@sallyhayd) August 28, 2019
Listen back in full here
Previously: Into Harm’s Way
Image: Al Jazeera