How the EU is killing refugees

The figure is shocking: an estimated 800 people lost their lives when a boat carrying refugees sank off the coast of Libya. According to Heribert Prantl, the EU has the ways and the means to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean, but because it is guided by a cynical logic, it is letting them drown

By Heribert Prantl

Where the danger is, wrote Holderlin, also grows the saving power. But that isn't true in the case of the European Union in the year 2015. Here, the saving power is by no means growing; it is disappearing – because the EU is allowing it to disappear. The member states of the EU are holding back the saving power, blocking it in. There are, of course, enough ships to rescue the refugees. But the member states of the EU are not making use of them, not letting them sail.

EU politicians have the ways and the means to rescue the refugees who have escaped the hell of Syria and Libya; but they are being left to drown. Their deaths are tolerated, accepted; they are supposed to act as a deterrent to other refugees, to stop them fleeing. Europe is using dead refugees to protect itself from refugees.

No change in refugee policy

Is this the new refugee policy that Martin Schulz, president of the EU parliament, announced 18 months ago over the coffins of Lampedusa? Back then, 368 refugees died on a single day. And now an estimated 800 people have died on a single day, in the Mediterranean, on their way to Europe. There has been no change in refugee policy, and if there has, it is a change towards the inhumane. And the barbaric acts taking place in the refugee boats (a group of refugees is said to have thrown others into the sea) are no excuse for acting barbarically ourselves.

The Mare Nostrum rescue programme, launched by Italy following the Lampedusa catastrophe, has been brought to an end. The EU refused to finance it. The cost of the rescue programme would have been about the same as what is being spent on the upcoming summit of heads of state and government in Elmau. The summit will last for two days. That money could have been used to organise 365 days of rescue operations. Are these European values? This union kills; it kills through neglect, and failure to provide assistance.

Italian police (right) photograph a child after migrants arrived via boat at the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo, 19 April 2015 (photo: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi)
Italian police (right) photograph a child after migrants arrived via boat at the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo, 19 April 2015. On Thursday, 23 April, European Union leaders pledged to double the size of the EU's Mediterranean border operation Triton, tripling its budget and offering ships and aircraft to try to halt the migrant deaths

A deterrent that goes against international law

The German Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziere, is against an EU emergency sea rescue service. He says it would be playing into the hands of the people-traffickers. This is cynicism. This is an instrumentalisation of the deaths of human beings in order to combat a form of criminality that is itself the result of a bad EU policy. The plague of people-traffickers is only able to spread because Europe has battened down the hatches and is doing everything it can – including going against international law – to keep the refugees out.

Visas are required to enter Europe from all the refugees' countries of origin – even those in the grip of extreme hardship. This means that without a visa, people cannot get to Europe. But these people are not being issued visas. In short: there is no legal way for them to enter the EU. And refugees are being turned away at the borders, against all the rules of humanitarian international law.

The EU has to create legal routes of entry. The EU has to suspend its visa requirements for a certain period. The EU has to take asylum applications from people in their countries of origin. Refugees from countries that are going through hell must be accommodated in the EU. The EU is a past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. An EU that looks on as people die should have that prize taken away. A union that regards and uses the sea as its ally is a murderous union.

Heribert Prantl

© Suddeutsche Zeitung 2015

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin