In the aftermath of the Lampedusa tragedy of October 2013, more than 360 lifeless bodies were rescued from the waves in what was then labeled the worst shipwreck of modern times. The statements by all of the European Union representatives were supposed to lead to a new commitment to facing migration influxes by sea in order to avoid the recurrence of similar disasters. Almost two years later, in the wake of the disasters in April that have resulted in an estimated death toll of more than 1,000 migrants, the declarations and future commitments are the same statements we heard in 2013. The words of current Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos echo the commitment of his predecessor Cecilia Malmström, showing the lack of new EU strategies in combating illegal migrations by sea.
The latest summit in Brussels reveals no substantial changes in response to the Mediterranean crisis. Despite a very welcomed political recognition of Frontex’s brand new role in search and rescue operations, the agency’s head stressed the absence of such operative actions within Triton’s mission or Frontex’s mandate. Established in 2004, Frontex’s main aim is rather to secure the EU’s external borders through cooperation between member states’ national border guards.
These considerations are reinforced by the 10-point action plan issued during the European Council’s special meeting on April 23. Triton, the Frontex’s border security operation that took over the Mare Nostrum air and sea mission in 2014, after being granted tripled monthly financial support, will broaden its operations that are focused on fighting human trafficking. At the same time, its interventions must not exceed Frontex’s assignment, which is the implementation of border controls and surveillance of migrant influxes.
The last viable access route to enter Fortress Europe is represented by the Mediterranean route. In order to also close this route, the EU is implementing a strategy of outsourcing border controls, concluding deals with African states. Libya and Morocco are the notorious arrangements operating de facto. The Pan-African collaboration with the EU started in October 2010 with a cooperation agreement involving 50 million euros with Libya. The deal followed one signed by the Italian government and now deceased Col. Muammar Gaddafi in 2008. The EU’s economical support binds the South Mediterranean countries to monitoring not only their coasts, but also internal borders.
The EU’s one-sided approach in the war against migrants also involves countries such as Tunisia and Turkey so as to suppress the irregular flow toward Europe and to transfer the burden to transit countries on the migration routes. In the case of Turkey, stopping migrants on their way to the Old Continent is considered the currency of exchange for promises of a visa-free regime for Turks traveling to the Schengen area. Although the EU commits to helping Turkish authorities, the onus of the southeastern border management of irregular travelers will be completely on Turkey’s shoulders.
Summarizing, the aim of the 28 EU member states is to prevent undesired guests while considering their rights — first of all, migrants’ right to life — as second-order rights, which it claims do not need to be taken into account except in instances of catastrophes like those in April.