Condolences for the Lampedusa tragedy are not enough; Europe must act!


Last Thursday a boat originating from Libya with 500 migrants on board caught fire half a mile away from the Italian coast.

At the time of publishing this article, 232 people including four children have been reported dead, while more than 100 are still missing.

But this is not the first time that such a tragedy has happened.

Since 1990, close to 20,000 people, mainly from Africa, have lost their lives trying to reach Europe, making the Mediterranean Sea a graveyard for migrants, and the small Italian island of Lampedusa a symbol of a failed European response.

Most of the people on the boat were from Somalia and Eritrea and many were likely to have been considered as refugees under the 1951 UN Convention.

The international community, and the European Union in particular, must understand the despair of these men and women who have no choice but to leave their country, their families and their friends.

When deprivation is a reality, the right of people to survive must be effectively protected.

Europe must find the way to prevent these tragedies from happening again.

It must review its asylum policy and distribute the duty to grant asylum to those in need more fairly among member states.

It is a fundamental issue of solidarity with the migrants themselves but also with those countries which are experiencing increasing migratory flows.

But Europe must also review its migration policies.

Tougher border controls may have made Fortress Europe’s walls less porous. But persecution, deprivation, poverty and human rights violations on the other side of the Mediterranean have not stopped people from fleeing.

While nobody can deny the right of any state to control its borders, the reality is that Europe’s border policy strongly discourages assistance to, and the rescue of, boat people drifting across the Mediterranean. It also encourages a flourishing business for human traffickers and smugglers exploiting people’s misery.

Clearly more than condolences are expected from Europe.

As the quest for better and safer livelihoods and decent jobs is not likely to decrease, a paradigm shift is urgently needed.

With its rapidly ageing population, Europe must find new ways of balancing border control and labour migration policy.

Creating regular migration channels in collaboration with the real actors of the world of work – i.e. labour ministries, employers’ and workers’ organisations – must be considered.

The incident occurred while the UN General Assembly was holding its high-level dialogue on international migration and development.

The UN Secretary General’s message was that we need to make migration work for the benefit of migrants and nations alike.

This starts by making sure that the human rights of migrants are respected – in Europe too.