This humanitarian crisis will not be addressed by waging war on migrants. Further militarisation of Europe’s borders, including the sea beyond its borders, and sinking boats used to transport migrants from Libya to Southern Europe is a monstrous proposition. It means nothing short of leaving up to a million human beings – who are seeking refuge from war and have an international legal right to do so – stuck in a country torn by civil war, and facing a wall protected by gunboats.
Asides from its moral bankruptcy, the policy is also likely to be highly ineffective: the EU cannot sink every boat that could be used for carrying migrants, and demand will continue to be enormous from people with no alternatives but to attempt to flee across the sea.
The ongoing deaths in the Mediterranean sea are crises for which Europe has a strong responsibility. The implosion of Syria owes much to the failed Western policies that have ravaged war and misery on the Middle East. So does the rise of ISIS-inspired conflict in Africa. The civil war in Libya has been ushered in by reckless British and French adventurism, and further military intervention in the country is now being discussed as a way of stemming migration flows.
We must resist the militarisation of migration. The European Union was built to prevent war, at a time when millions of Europeans had been displaced by it. It is time for the European Union to regain its moral leadership and live up to its responsibility. It is time for the European Union to open a humanitarian corridor and offer protection on its territory to migrants escaping war. It must do this in a way that does not conflate migrant safety with border security.
This may mean resettling a number of refugees which may run to a million. But while the member states of the European Union exclaim shock, they do less than many developing countries. Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey have taken in 2.2 million refugees from the Syrian crisis. Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya have absorbed half a million South Sudanese refugees. The European Union – one of the richest parts of the world with a population of 500 million, or twice all the countries above put together – has received 216,300 asylum applications in 2014.
It is time for Europe to face reality, and to restore its dignity and its humanity.