EU drones watch as migrants drown

Brussels stands accused of ‘crimes against humanity’ for its brutal treatment of migrants.

Dominic Standish

Topics Politics World

A boat carrying 48 migrants, including three pregnant women and six children, docked on the Italian island of Lampedusa last week. According to religious organisation Mediterranean Hope, during the boat’s two-day journey from Libya an unknown number of migrants fell into the sea and drowned. One of them was a five-month-old baby.

Since the height of the migrant crisis, the number of migrants entering Europe has fallen dramatically. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimates that the number of refugee and migrant arrivals in Europe (including land arrivals via Greece and Spain) fell from 1,032,408 in 2015 to 185,139 in 2017 and 141,472 in 2018.

But while the number of migrants has fallen, the death rate for migrants has increased significantly. According to estimates, 8,362 people have attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea so far this year. Of these, 567 have died. This month, 14 per cent of those attempting the crossing died – compared with a historical average of two per cent.

So why has the death rate increased so much? The principal reason is that the EU has cut down its maritime rescue patrols in the Mediterranean. An article in the Observer alleges that Frontex – the EU’s border and coastguard agency – is sending unmanned drones instead of rescue ships, leaving migrants to drown. In response, Frontex has denied that it is ‘currently’ using any drones in its operations and has maintained that it still operates some rescue boats. But just two months ago, Frontex posted some footage on Twitter of a migrant ship filmed by one of its drones.

Clearly, there has been a change in policy. In 2015, the EU launched Operation Sophia in response to a sharp rise in migrants crossing from Africa to Europe. Operation Sophia has its headquarters in Rome. It used to rely heavily on the Italian navy and coastguard to rescue migrants, although other southern EU states and vessels rescued some migrants, too. The operation’s initial focus was on disrupting Libyan people-smuggling networks using aeroplanes, submarines and drones.

In 2016 and 2017, the emphasis of Operation Sophia shifted away from rescuing migrants towards keeping migrants in Africa. The EU and the previous Italian government, led by the centre-left Democratic Party, increased payments and training to the Libyan coastguard, even though many of its members were themselves involved in people-smuggling networks.

In 2018, the Five Star-League coalition government came to power. It called on other EU states to open their ports to migrants rescued under Operation Sophia. No other states came forward. A year later, in March 2019, EU diplomats said that Operation Sophia’s maritime rescue patrols would come to an end. In their place, the EU planned to increase its air patrols and deepen its cooperation with Libya.

The Observer has found £95million worth of contracts in unmanned aerial vehicles that supply information to Frontex. Many of these drones are flying over the sea off the Libyan coast. The information they gather is shared with the Libyans, who pick up migrants and detain them in EU-funded detention centres. Between the start of this year and early June, more than 2,300 people were picked up off the coast of Libya and put into detention facilities.

Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the UN high commissioner for human rights, has condemned the ‘ghastly conditions’ of these detention centres. The UN’s report suggests that migrants detained in these camps face death from diseases like tuberculosis, malnutrition, water shortages, overcrowding and overflowing human waste. People have even been sold for forced labour and sexual exploitation. Moreover, under Libyan law, any undocumented migrant or refugee can be detained arbitrarily without any right to challenge the detention.

It is no wonder, then, that last month the EU was accused of ‘crimes against humanity’ by two lawyers based in Paris. In a submission to the International Criminal Court, they accused the EU of ‘orchestrating a policy of forced transfer to concentration camp-like detention facilities [in Libya] where atrocious crimes are committed’.

The EU has replaced rescue missions with drone missions. It detains thousands of people in horrendous EU-funded prisons in North Africa. The EU’s treatment of migrants is appalling.

Dominic Standish is the author of Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality. Visit his website here.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


fret slider

15th August 2019 at 11:48 am

All the money we’ve thrown at Africa as a whole for the last 60 years or more has been totally wasted.

Not all cultures are equal, there I said it.

jessica christon

14th August 2019 at 8:35 pm

So why not just take the prize off the table in the first place? An Australian style turnaround policy would have dealt with this much sooner and without the need to outsource brutality.

Tony Murphy

14th August 2019 at 7:59 pm

I have but one question to those virtue-signallingn craw-thumping open border hypocrites: How many? Do we allow in every migrant who wants to come here? If so that would mean, depending on which research you believe, between 100 and 150 million new Europeans to immediately house and feed. If it is agreed that this is impractical then does it not then mean that Europe has to apply border controls?

Not holding my breath for an honest answer.

Jerry Owen

14th August 2019 at 2:12 pm

‘Mediterranean Hope’ is a leftist organization with the usual ‘open borders, anti racist, anti xenophobic ‘ credentials you would expect from such a group , this time hiding behind dog collars. No wonder there is no link to the alleged deaths and death of a five month old girl !

Jerry Owen

14th August 2019 at 1:15 pm

How do we know people drowned and a five month old baby also went over board and drowned ? Do you have a source ? You mention ‘Mediterranean Hope’ with no link.

Ven Oods

14th August 2019 at 12:44 pm

It’s politics.
The backlash against mass migration scared the politicians into paying third parties to ‘deal’ with the problem. Taxpayers being a bottomless well, why wouldn’t they?

Mark Houghton

14th August 2019 at 12:28 pm

I’m find with the migrants being picked up by NGO boats provided those NGO boats safely transport the migrants back to whichever place they left from and don’t give them ongoing transport to Europe.

Jerry Owen

14th August 2019 at 12:24 pm

These people are not going through the proper channels to enter Europe. They have only themselves to blame as harsh as it sounds. Merkel opened the floodgates once and look what happened , and indeed is still happening.
We have to let these economic migrants know that they will not be rescued and Europe will not help them and indeed we will return them, once they know this they will not come.
Perhaps they’ll sort their own problems out, we can’t be the worlds philanthropists.

Jim Lawrie

14th August 2019 at 12:24 pm

They are illegals into Libya but you think they should be afforded the rights of Libyan citizens. Your ilk convincing them of their entitlements encourages them to enter Europe illegally. Their sense of victimhood is enhanced bu you finding fault with a nation wanting to protect its borders. Take responsibility for the consequences of your politicking instead of pointing the finger elsewhere.

As for people falling overboard, where is your evidence? Or did you just hear about it?

Hana Jinks

14th August 2019 at 10:48 am

These people are economic refugees, and not migrants. They need to be discouraged from thinking that there is a place for them in Europe. They are helping to destroy European nations at the behest of the diversity-communists.

Hana Jinks

14th August 2019 at 3:05 pm

The UN needs to be disbanded.

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