A damning report has accused EU policymakers of “killing by neglect” by reducing search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean – potentially costing the lives of over 1,500 migrants. agencies report.
Mare Nostrum, the Italy-led rescue mission, was scrapped in October 2014 and replaced by Triton, which deployed fewer ships and prioritised deterring migrants over rescue operations, the report by academics said.
But as the conflicts in Syria and Libya deepened, migrants continued to resort to people smugglers who packed them on to dinghies and sent them across the sea.
Documents unearthed by UK universities showed the European border force Frontex pushed ahead with the change despite an internal assessment warning that if it was not properly planned it “would likely result in a higher number of fatalities”.
Over 1,500 people died trying to cross the sea in the months after the change was implemented, according to the report, Death By Rescue: The Lethal Effects Of The EU’s Policies Of Non-assistance At Sea.
The number of refugees crossing the Med in the first four months of 2014 and 2015 stayed the same at 26,000, but death rates soared.
Sixty died in the first four months in 2014, but 1,687 died in the same four months the following year, meaning the chances of dying at sea increased 30-fold.
Charles Heller, from Goldsmiths, University of London, co-author of the report, said policymakers were guilty of “institutionalised wilful neglect”.
He added: “Can we really qualify the ending of Mare Nostrum and its replacement by Triton in all knowledge of the consequences this would have, as a mistake?
“I would rather argue that this was a case of institutionalised wilful neglect, and that European policymakers and Frontex have made themselves guilty of killing by omission.
“Simply arguing that it was a mistake is insufficient. And if, as we show, policymakers and European agencies decided to disregard the risk their policy would entail for migrants, they should be held accountable for that negligence.”