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Wednesday, 17 January 2018 06:22

While Trump Erupts in Tweetstorms, Refugees Continue to Die En Route to Europe

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refugee123Refugees to Europe continue to die in the thousands. (Photo: Ani Bashar)

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While Trump continues to dominate mass media coverage with his tweetstorms, thousands of refugees continue to die trying to seek asylum in Europe. It is not a story that can compete with the sensationalism of a president who understands the values of modern corporate media. After all, Trump's outrageous tweets are good for attracting news consumers, and that enhances advertising dollars. Add that to compassion fatigue, and the deaths of those desperate to escape insufferable conditions end up receiving little coverage.

The objective of most European nations has been to work with Libya and other nations to prevent asylum seekers from making the perilous journey to Europe. This strategy, of course, doesn't deal with the root causes of mass emigration. Furthermore, as Al Jazeera News reported toward the end of last year: while the number of refugees has decreased, the percentage of deaths has actually increased. This tragic phenomenon is due to the increased use of the hazardous route from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea, resulting in many drownings.

As Al Jazeera explains,

At this year's rate, one refugee dies for every 50 who make it to Europe. Last year, one person died for every 90 who safely reached Europe.

"The rate of deaths for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean was almost twice as high in 2017 than in 2016," the IOM [International Organization for Migration] said in a recent report.

"Despite considerable policy and media attention and increased search and rescue efforts by a range of actors, the death toll in the Mediterranean has continued to rise … The rate of death increased from 1.2 percent in the first half of 2016, to 2.1 percent in the first half of 2017.

Al Jazeera attributes this, in part, to European nations clamping down on the Balkan land route also used by asylum seekers. The land route has a relatively low death rate compared to the Mediterranean crossing, which is often undertaken in broken-down and flimsy ships.

The busiest point of departure for those seeking sanctuary in Europe is Libya. The United States and Europe have an obligation to improve conditions in that nation since they overthrew its government. However, Al Jazeera reports that the European emphasis has been on confining would-be refugees to Libya, not on improving conditions there: "The Western pushback against refugees was also boosted in February this year when the European Union in February signed a $215m deal with the fragile Libyan government to stop migrant boats, encourage voluntary repatriation and set up 'safe' camps in Libya."

A January 15 article on Inter Press Service points out that the plight of migrants and refugees is not improving. They are just being more vigorously contained, while being forced to take a perilous water route if they seek to escape:

[T]he European Union has continued its policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean.

“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity…what was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, adding that the EU’s policy is “inhuman.”

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe’s shores,” he continued, calling for the decriminalization of irregular migration in order to help protect migrants’ human rights.

Meanwhile, the United States, which championed regime change in Libya, is doing little to improve conditions there -- or in other nations feeding the exodus to Europe.

NPR reported this month that in 2017, more than 3,000 refugees died trying to reach European Union nations by water. This is the fourth year in a row that more than 3,000 people have died. That is, in all probability, an undercount because the travel is undertaken in stealth, and most often run by smugglers. It is likely ships sink and lives are lost that are not accounted for because their existence was unknown. Al Jazeera estimates that at least 15,000 persons -- men, women and children -- have died taking the Mediterranean route since the autumn of 2013.

The refugee situation and deaths in the Mediterranean deserve more political and media attention. As with the issue of refugees from Mexico and Central America coming to the United States, these migrations represent some of the deep harm inflicted by Global North countries against countries of the Global South. The mortality that results is a reminder of the shameless self-interest of the former at the expense of residents of the latter.