Accessibility links

Breaking News

Amnesty Slams ‘Shameful’ EU Policy as Migrant Boats Barred From Ports

People march under rain during a demonstration in support of migrant people seeking to enter Europe, in Brussels, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.

Human rights group Amnesty International has described as ‘shameful’ the decision by several European states to block NGO migrant rescue ships from docking in their ports. The group says Europe’s migrant policy is putting lives in danger, both at sea and in Libya, where most of the asylum seekers set out from to try to reach Europe.

After 19 days at sea, close to 50 migrants were finally allowed ashore in Malta earlier this month after the NGO ships that rescued them had repeatedly been refused permission to dock in European ports.

Amnesty’s Matteo De Bellis says it stems from Europe’s decision to, in his words, ‘outsource’ border security to Libya.

“This has led European governments to rely on the Libyan coast guard not only to intercept ships of refugees and migrants at sea, but also to coordinate the rescues," De Bellis said. "The only thing that the Libyan coast guard can tell NGOs is to go back to Libya and disembark people there. But it is forbidden by international law to disembark people in a place where they are going to be exposed to torture.”

Many European countries, notably Italy, have ended their own rescue missions in the Mediterranean, so NGO boats have stepped in. Many southern EU states say it is unfair that under EU law, they must host the refugees.

“There is no mechanism enabling European governments, European states, to share responsibility among them for the assistance of those asylum seekers," De Bellis said.

Spain this week blocked the ‘Proactiva Open Arms’ rescue vessel from leaving port — action that drew praise from Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Salvini said the “If the European Union and the other European countries will follow up words with actions, Europe will be rescued. But if words will not be followed by actions, Europe doesn't exist.”

The EU says the flow of migrants to Europe is down 92 percent from its peak in 2015. The populist narrative of Europe threatened by migration is simply false, says Amnesty.

“And rather than challenging this on the basis of the real data, many governments seem to favor this kind of perception, this kind of ‘fake news’ environment, in which constituencies believe they are under siege," De Bellis said.

With populist, anti-immigration governments in power in several EU member states, Brussels appears a long way from agreeing to a permanent mechanism of refugee quotas.