Monday, May 09, 2011

Europe leaves refugees to die

At the moment, NATO, backed by a UN mandate, is bombing Libya, ostensibly to save civilian lives. Meanwhile, it left a boatload of refugees fleeing the bombing to die of hunger and thirst at sea:

Dozens of African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean after a number of European and Nato military units apparently ignored their cries for help, the Guardian has learned.

A boat carrying 72 passengers, including several women, young children and political refugees, ran into trouble in late March after leaving Tripoli for the Italian island of Lampedusa. Despite alarms being raised with the Italian coastguard and the boat making contact with a military helicopter and a Nato warship, no rescue effort was attempted.

All but 11 of those on board died from thirst and hunger after their vessel was left to drift in open waters for 16 days.

As the article points out, the law of the sea requires all vessels to respond to distress calls. But the military forces of Italy and France refused, because that would mean the refugees would be entitled to asylum in the rescuing country. So instead, they left them to be someone else's problem - which in practice meant leaving them to die. At the least, it is a violation of international maritime law, and the officers who gave the order to ignore need to be prosecuted and stripped of their positions. But beyond that, it exposes an ugly policy on the part of European nations to ignore cries for help when they come from people with the wrong coloured skin. And that is simply racism.