Lawyers Attack The EU’s Deterrence-Based Migration Policy As Being Responsible For Migrant Deaths

Amid increasing anti-immigration rhetoric in Europe, a recent case submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) argues that the European Union (EU) is collectively responsible for the countless number of migrant deaths crossing the Mediterranean. The submission, which contains over 240 pages, attacks the EU’s deterrence-based policy that seeks to prevent migrants from entering Europe. The lawyers bringing the case forward urge that EU member states be prosecuted for their unwillingness to protect the lives of migrants – to which they argue amounts to “crimes against humanity.”

In recent months, Europe has witnessed a growing surge of both immigration and anti-immigration rhetoric. The latter policy is arguably represented in an EU statement: Europe no longer faces a migration crisis. Yet, with the ongoing war in Tripoli, the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, including those that die doing so, is increasing. EU member states, however, have adopted deterrence-based policies to keep migrants out of Europe. These policies include establishing fences and militarizing ports.

As EU leaders have played down the severity of migrant movement to Europe, EU naval operations responsible for protecting migrants crossing the Mediterranean – such as Operation Sophia – have severely diminished in their mandate. In the submission to the ICC, lawyers Juan Branco and Omer Shatz have stressed that this deterrence-based stance towards migration has “intended to sacrifice the lives of migrants in distress at sea, with the sole objective of dissuading others in a similar situation from seeking safe haven in Europe.” As a result, they argue that EU members states have willingly created “the world’s deadliest migration route.” Late last year, Amnesty International similarly accused the deterrence-based policies of EU member states as contributing to the deaths of migrants at sea. Matteo de Bellis, a researcher for Amnesty International, also placed direct responsibility on EU member states for their isolationism, “responsibility for the mounting death toll falls squarely on European governments who are more concerned with keeping people out than they are with saving lives.”

Anti-immigration rhetoric is clearly visible across the whole of Europe. The underlying characteristics of Brexit involved the scaremongering of migrants and refugees entering the country, whilst Italy’s and Hungary’s stances are made visible via physical – and metaphorical – barriers against migrants. Moreover, the EU as a collective body holding the ability and influence to make a difference, has openly advocated a tight relationship with Libya to prevent migrants from reaching Europe. In a report labelled ‘A Perfect Storm: The Failure of European Policies in the Central Mediterranean,’ John Dalhuisen from Amnesty International summaries the EU’s stance against migration amply, “rather than acting to save lives and offer protection, [EU member states] are shamelessly prioritising reckless deals with Libya in a desperate bid to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Italy.”

The 243-paged submission to the ICC is both welcomed and needed as a wake-up call to EU member states. Although migration numbers have decreased from their height in 2015, the number of migrants living in inhuman conditions – particularly in Libya – has increased, as well as the number of deaths at sea. Preventing migrants from entering Europe with the awareness of inhuman migrant detention camps in Libya, EU member states are willingly subjecting migrants to terrible conditions that sometimes amount to death.

This is part of the solution; the change in narrative. The EU should reconsider its position with Libya, notably to improve the condition of migrants living in camps within the country. As such, the EU should condemn the inhuman conditions in Libya and prevent the reliance on the Libyan coastguard in preventing migrants from entering Europe. In response, the EU should reinstate naval operations, albeit on a limited basis, to ensure safe travel across the Mediterranean. Central to this is the EU’s declaration of the migration movement as a crisis, which subsequently affirms the overall stance and unity of EU members states towards migration. Longer-term goals should seek to explore the root causes of migration head-on rather than deferring responsibility to countries such as Libya.