As the European Union called on member countries to contribute more to the effort to resettle refugees, Amnesty International released a blistering report on Wednesday which charges that EU policies have made the Mediterranean route from Africa to Europe more deadly than ever for the tens of thousands of refugees who attempt the crossing.
More than 2,100 refugees have died so far this year while crossing the Mediterranean sea in overcrowded, rickety boats. According to estimates, at least 85,000 have made the journey from countries including Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, and Ethiopia—most of those aiming to escape extreme poverty and conflict.
In its report, Amnesty International finds that the EU has failed to prevent the increase in drownings of refugees, and has done nothing to stop the abuse of migrants at the hands of the Libyan coastguard.
In April 2015, the EU strengthened its search-and-rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea, a move that decreased deaths of refugees. But since then, European governments have gradually shifted their focus to preventing refugee boats from leaving Libya, with the help of the Libyan coastguard. The work of rescuing drowning refugees in the Mediterranean has been left to NGOs in recent months.
Amnesty International writes that this change has been "a failing strategy that has led to ever more dangerous crossings and a threefold increase in the death-rate from 0.89 percent in the second half of 2015 to 2.7 percent in 2017."
According to the report, "There are also serious allegations that members of the coastguard collude with smugglers and evidence that they abuse migrants."
After the coastguard intercepts boats bound for Europe, refugees are reportedly "returned to Libya where they are routinely detained and tortured and where no asylum law or system exist. Those trapped in Libya are vulnerable to human rights violations and abuses including killings, torture, rape, kidnappings, forced labor, and arbitrary and indefinite detention in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions."
Amnesty International argues that the EU Ministers meeting taking place in Tallinn on Wednesday will only worsen the plight of refugees hoping to resettle in Europe, as the focus of the EU remains centered on working with the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats. The group says that any agreements with the coastguard must hinge on improvements to the coastguard's process of intercepting boats, and accountability for any abuse that's taken place.
The EU, the report says, "should also insist on the transfer of those rescued to vessels that will take them to EU countries where their safety and protection needs can be guaranteed."
"Ultimately the only sustainable and humane way to reduce the numbers risking such horrific journeys is to open more safe and legal routes for migrants and refugees to reach Europe," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe director.
Despite the unsafe conditions refugees are thrown into when they board unstable vessels bound for Europe, about 250,000 people are expected to make the crossing this year—a fact that only underscores the dire situations they are attempting to escape.