Migrants perish as ‘EU turns its back’

An unprecedented wave of migrants has headed for the European Union’s promised shores over the past week, with 10,000 people making the trip. Hundreds — nobody knows how many — have disappeared into the waters of the Mediterranean, including 41 migrants reported dead yesterday after a shipwreck.

Migrants perish as ‘EU turns its back’

Amid the scenes of desperation, the 28 nations from the world’s wealthiest trade bloc have largely looked on. No EU country has pledged a single ship, a single plane, a single cent to the rescue efforts. The EU has no relevant legislation in the works, and no emergency meeting on the agenda.

The EU says it will unveil a migration agenda for discussions by the end of May and draw up a report by Christmas.

The most visible action this week has come from aid group Doctors Without Borders, which pledged to put medical workers on board a rescue ship beginning in May.

“We are acutely aware that we are only one boat,” said Hernan del Valle, the group’s head of humanitarian affairs. “It’s a tragedy that Europe has turned its back on this problem.”

The EU acknowledges it doesn’t have a plan for the humanitarian catastrophe. There is no appetite to launch an emergency operation, like Italy did in 2013-14 when migrants started drowning in big numbers.

“We do not have a silver bullet,” EU migration spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said yesterday citing political and financial constraints. “The European Commission alone cannot do it all.”

The 28 EU nations have long argued about how to share the burden that migration places on the continent. Italy, Greece and tiny Malta are bearing the brunt of the influx. Germany and Sweden are accepting large numbers of asylum seekers.

Other countries are doing less. Many EU nations are mired in economic crisis, facing a growing anti-foreigner electorate at home and an increasing bent to look inward instead of out to the wider world.

The EU’s institutions, so often the first target of scorn, are hamstrung unless the member nations agree forceful action should be taken.

That leaves migrants and asylum seekers — driven chiefly by poverty and conflict — on their own.

This week survivors of a capsizing told the aid group Save the Children 400 of their shipmates were missing. Yesterday, the International Organisation for Migrants said 41 more were feared drowned in another shipwreck, citing four survivors rescued by a helicopter after four days adrift at sea.

The EU’s top migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said such events are “unfortunately the new norm and we will need to adjust our responses accordingly.”

According to the UN’s refugee agency, 219,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean last year, and at least 3,500 died trying. The numbers crossing in the first two months of 2015 were already up by a third over the same period last year.

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