Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg issued a new Comment, “African migrants are drowning in the Mediterranean,” in which he voices the concern that “preventing migrants from coming [to Europe] has become more important than saving lives” and calls for a dramatic increase in “surveillance – from the air – along the Libyan coast and further out in order to spot any fragile [migrant] vessels at sea and safely prepare a rescue.”
“The drowning tragedies in the Mediterranean are not a new phenomenon; … [European deterrent measures] ha[ve] not prevented people from trying to reach Europe, but it has made the journey more dangerous and given the smugglers a reason to increase their prices. The boats have become more and more overcrowded and more of them have capsized. Smugglers have a responsibility; they take on board much too many migrants in much too unsuitable boats – and thereby put lives at risk. …
Europe has a role in this. The imperative principle of ‘rescue at sea’ must not only be respected for those close to a sinking ship; there is also a need to increase dramatically surveillance – from the air – along the Libyan coast and further out in order to spot any fragile vessels at sea and safely prepare a rescue. In view of the ongoing military operations it would be difficult to argue that there are no resources for such reconnaissance activity. Indeed, the escalation of the armed conflict has contributed to the acute situation of the sub-Saharan migrants.
European governments and institutions have more responsibility for this crisis than they have demonstrated so far. Their silence and passivity are difficult to accept. When preventing migrants from coming has become more important than saving lives, something has gone dramatically wrong.”