The EU is using the coronavirus outbreak to disrupt the life-saving work of migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean, a prominent journalist told Redaction Politics.
Ben Cowles, web editor at The Morning Star, said members of the bloc were employing tactics which sort to frustrate the operations of the civil fleet, private ships operated by NGO migrant rescue organisations.
These include Sea Watch, Sea Eye and SOS Mediteranee.
He said: “Recently, the entire world has been transfixed by the global Covid-19 pandemic. But a pandemic does not stop people trying to escape a war zone [such as in Libya or Syria].
“Italy and Malta, and the EU by extension, have been using coronavirus as an excuse to obstruct the civil fleet.
“In the last couple of days they have closed their ports to foreign-flagged rescue ships only, saying that their ports are unsafe.”
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The Italian Coast Guard has offered to transfer 150 migrants from Sea Eye’s ship the Alan Kurdi to another vessel after days at sea to quarantine them over coronavirus concerns.
Mr Cowles said: “It’s completely absurd. Why can’t the Alan Kurdi just sail into an Italian port and disembark the rescued there?
“The tactic appears to be to annoy and delay the civil fleet and to discourage them from operating.”
This is very much representative of the EU’s modus operandi according to Mr Cowles, with the bloc keen to ensure less migrants reach its shores to ease political pressures on leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, who is faced with a resurgent far-right in some regions.
He said: “[The EU has been] funding, equipping and training the Libyan coastguards, which have been responsible for returning thousands of refugees back to a war zone and systematic human rights abuses.
“This is a breach of international refugee laws. But no-one seems to care when it’s Europe.
“We only even hear about such things from the corporate media (bar the occasional article in the Guardian) when our official “enemies” carry them out.
“There’s a very clear liberal-right-wing divide [in the British mainstream media] on the EU. The liberal press probably finds it hard to cover the situation as it would then have to present the EU’s fortress Europe policies in all it’s horrible glory.
“The right-wing press on the other hand wants to portray the EU as some ultra snowflake organisation intent on overflowing Europe with all kinds of scary foreigners.”
Mr Cowles is calling on the EU to allow the civil fleet to save lives, as well as stepping up itself.
“If people are drowning then they need to be rescued. It doesn’t matter where you came from or why you’re there at that particular moment. If you’re drowning you need to be saved.
“Ultimately, there should be no need for the civil fleet to exist. If we’re going to have governments and centralised control of people, then they need to look after everybody in their jurisdiction, no matter what colour their passport is or the stamps in it.
“If a few volunteers can raise enough funds to buy a boat, find a crew, figure out how to sail it, find people in distress in the Mediterranean and bring them to safety, then European governments can sure as shit do the same.
“As far as what Britain could do for refugees, well, getting rid of the utterly egregious and criminally insane ‘hostile environment’ would be a good start.”
The policy was first announced in 2012 under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in an attempt to meet a commitment in the former party’s manifesto to cut immigration.
But it was described by campaigner Colin Yeo as creating an “illegal underclass of foreign workers and families who are highly vulnerable to exploitation.”
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