EU policies worsen an already deadly situation for immigrants

Der Spiegel reports: The images and words are so very similar. Back then, the German chancellor said she was “deeply upset” — today she is “appalled.” Back then, the president of the European Commission said he would never forget the dead, and that something had to change — today he claims: “The status quo is not an option.” Back then, Europe’s interior ministers spoke of a horrific event — today it’s an “utter horror.'” The gap between then and now is 19 months. And several thousands of dead in the Mediterranean.

Then was the night of Oct. 3, 2013. A fire broke out on an old cutter that had set out from the Libyan city of Misrata. Near the small Italian island of Lampedusa, more than 500 people went overboard, most of them from Somalia or Eritrea. Not even one-third survived. The coffins in Lampedusa’s airport hangar became a symbol for Europe’s “shame,” as Pope Francis put it.

At a meeting in Luxembourg held after the disaster, EU interior ministers spoke of a “wake-up call” and immediately established a working group. European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström argued that Lampedusa was an “image of the Union that we do not want.” In Berlin, the German government declared that “given a human catastrophe of this size,” it was self-evident that current refugee policies should reexamined. Shortly thereafter, German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to a summit of EU heads of government in Brussels, where “decisive measures” were promised to avoid a repeat of the catastrophe.

And then? Then the catastrophe repeated itself. A dozen times. Between then and now. In the space of a few days in April, 400 people traveling from Africa to Europe drowned in the Mediterranean, then a boat with over 800 refugees capsized — and only 28 survived.

Interior and foreign ministers of the EU member states met once again in Luxembourg this week. But they didn’t create a new working group — after all, they already have one. The president of the European Council convened a special summit that met on Thursday. In Berlin, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière promised that, given recent events, the EU couldn’t simply return to the regular order of business.

The words and images are so very similar. And if you listen to what people are saying, you could be excused for thinking there was no “then.”

Wars, famines, poverty, unscrupulous human traffickers and borders on lock-down — the refugee drama has many sides. It’s not easy to determine who is responsible for the death of so many people and who carries what share of the blame. But any investigation would lead to the capital cities of Europe.

There’s plenty of blame to go around here. People are in dire need, but politicians are instead pulling the brakes on effective measures to help them or, worse, are involved in political deal-making at their expense. Borders have been drawn firmer than ever. And even initiatives with the best intentions have been allowed to peter out. At times it feels as though European governments have simply accepted the fact that Lampedusa will be repeated.

Through their reporting in Brussels and Berlin, the analysis of internal transcripts and interviews with diplomats and government representatives, SPIEGEL’s journalists reconstructed a timeline of policy developments dating from the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy to the most recent catastrophe. [Continue reading…]

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