Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Migrant drownings show the triumph of racism over humanity

Lives are being sacrificed for the sake of populist votes in Europe

The rescue ship Aquarius has been grounded. Guillaume Horcajuelo / EPA
The rescue ship Aquarius has been grounded. Guillaume Horcajuelo / EPA

The recent drowning of an estimated 170 migrants off the coast of Libya is the starkest and most tragic consequence of populist sentiment triumphing over humanity. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, by far the loudest voice shouting to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, has even blocked search-and-rescue vessels from docking in Italy's ports and compared the voyage of the starving and desperate to a cruise ship. But he is not the only one to turn his back on those who are willing to risk what little they have by embarking on a perilous journey.

Europe’s callous disregard for those in danger off its shores is no more logical than it is humane. No one sets out to risk their life, or the lives of their children, without good cause. All those who embark on this dreadful ordeal fall into a single, indivisible category: desperate human beings. To treat them as anything less is a betrayal of common decency. To sabotage those who would seek to save them is nothing less a crime against humanity. To the toll of 2,297 lives lost at sea last year, we must now add the 170 men, women and children who drowned last Friday. Many share the blame, from those who create the conditions that continue to drive people from their homes, to the traffickers cynically exploiting their desperation. That no one was on hand to rescue them, however, can be laid at Europe’s door.

Led by Italy, which in defiance of maritime law has closed its ports to ships carrying those rescued at sea, European politicians have been undermining the work of charities in the Mediterranean. Snared in red tape or with their operators facing trumped-up charges, ships responsible for saving thousands of lives have been left idle in port. One such ship is the Aquarius, operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres. Until it was impounded in Marseille in October at the request of Italy, in two years it had saved 30,000 people. Last month MSF formally ceased operations, blaming a campaign by Europe “to delegitimise, slander and obstruct aid organisations trying to save the lives of vulnerable people”.

On Sunday Pope Francis, who next month visits the UAE to promote harmony between all people, led prayers on behalf of the drowned and, in the spirit of forgiveness, for “those who have the responsibility for what happened”. In the silence of Europe’s politicians in the wake of the latest tragedies, the Pope’s words ring out as a shaming rebuke of those who, in their desperation to cling to power, have abandoned the basic principles of human kindness and compassion.

Updated: January 21, 2019 07:11 PM

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