In November 2017, ministers from 13 states and representatives of several intergovernmental organisations met in Bern for the third meeting of the Central Mediterranean Contact Group. Sommaruga told the media how this panel apparently had saved 14’000 refugees from drowning and how it had stood up for better conditions of imprisoned migrants in libya. This sounds great but what is behind all of this?
The truth is that the libyan coastguard – financially supported by the participating countries – got 14’000 people off their boats shortly after they had set sail, and then imprisoned them in libyan detention camps. The fact is that the Contact Group is mainly pursuing a strategy that wants to see the issue of migration as far away from europe as possible. The three most important priorities formulated by the Contact Group correspond to their strategy:
1. To strengthen the libyan coast guard.
2. To increase the capacities for the protection of migrants in libya.
3. To control libya’s Southern border.
It is that exact policy that led to the closing of the Balkan route by means of a dubious deal with turkey one year ago. This policy was continued this summer when the central Mediterranean route was partly closed – much less noticed by the public than back in 2016. The partial closure went through mainly thanks to the efforts of italy’s prime minister Mitini who signed numerous official and unofficial deals with various warlords, militias, the libyan coast guard and libyan mayors. It seems that the various libyan players were successfully persuaded by these deals to prevent the refugee boats from sailing off the libyan coast.
The maritime sovereignty zone of libya was extended to 100 kilometres off the coast of the country. It had previously been 12 kilometres. This means that within this strip only boats of the libyan coast guard are allowed to patrol and save other boats from distress. The libyan coast guard fired sharp ammunition at a lifeboat upon its entry into the 100 kilometre zone. And yet, according to Sigmar Gabriel, there are no alternatives for the eu other than financially supporting that same coast guard as well as the libyan unity government who runs the above-mentioned detention camps.
At the same time, the eu forced various charities, active on the Mediterranean, to sign a code. This code includes the duty to take an armed policeman*policewoman on board rescue lifeboats. Furthermore, the code forbids any hand over of rescued people to bigger ships. The latter would have the consequence that smaller ships would have to sail to italy after every rescue and would thus not be able to carry out further rescue operations for several days. Fortunately, there were a couple of organisations who opposed this policy and did not sign the code. Medecins Sans Frontieres, for instance, states, that:
This Code seems to be entrenching the view that states can outsource the life-saving response to NGOs, allowing states to concentrate their efforts on naval and military operations.8
Organisations that did not sign the code were threatened with being banned from using italian ports. In addition, there were several cases of undercover investigators and bugging devices being brought on board of rescue ships. One ship, owned by the organisation Jugend rettet, was even confiscated by the italian police. A media campaign then propagated the cynical assertion that by rescuing people from the Mediterranean NGOs actually work as pull factors and therefore bear the main responsibility for the many casualties. Without any doubt, an attempt to defame the charities’ valuable work.
The strategy chosen by the Central Mediterranean Contact Group made a visible impact. Since July, the numbers of attempted passages from libya to italy are permanently low, while the detention camps are filling up. In libya, people are forced into slavery and prison camps, and exposed to rape and abuse. A quote by Sommaruga illustrates the double benefits of this strategy for european countries. On the one hand, the violent treatment of migrants is successfully moved even further away from pacified europe, on the other hand, the european states can show off their cloak of humanity:
We have to be able to get the weakest quickly out of libyan detention camps. The situation there is absolutely terrible. This also affects all the other migrants such as the numerous migrant workers stranded in libya and who are stuck there now. It is them we have to support so that they return to their countries of origin voluntarily, because it is unlikely they will receive asylum in europe, they only risk their lives when crossing the Mediterranean.
The fact that migrants continue to arrive, despite the strengthened repelling mechanisms, clearly shows that europe’s wealth rests on the three pillars of violence, exploitation and war. This, however, does not fit in the picture of europe’s self-perception. In my opinion, the goal of the strategy is to shield europe from the consequences of war and misery for which it itself is responsible. The fact that in pursuing this strategy, europe is not afraid to resort to military means seems nothing but a logical consequence.
europe is at war with refugees and it is a war waged on several different levels. Yes, you read correctly, war. Because it is war. A war at the borders, against migrants; a war that serves europe as means for exploitation and retention of power but also for the pacification of europe and the preservation of privileges. This is shown by the surveillance of the borders by military forces in libya as well as in europe . This is shown by the detentions camps in which people are imprisoned, both in libya and in europe . And it is shown by the people killed by the border regime, both in libya and in europe.