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April 19, 2019

A toxic spread

Opinion

April 19, 2019

The modern UN Refugee Convention is now so flea-bitten it’s been put out to the garbage tip of history. At least the enthusiastic fleas think so, given their conduct as political representatives across a range of parliaments keen on barbed wired borders and impenetrable defences.

Across Europe, the issue of refugees arriving by sea – in this case, the Mediterranean – has become a matter of games and deflection. Lacking any coherence whatsoever, the approach to certain, designated arrivals is to push them on to the next port in fits of cruel deflection, hoping that the next recipient will give in. Such conduct demonstrates how states have adopted notions of penalisation and discrimination against the arrival who seeks sanctuary, positions severely in breach of international humanitarian law.

Australia remains the undisputed pioneer in this, at least in the last two decades. Incapable of establishing a decent environmental policy, hostage to the gunpoint of the mining lobby, and suspicious of enshrined rights, its backwater parliamentarians have been dazzling with other efforts: finding a suitably bestial policy to repel maritime arrivals, for instance. Boats have been towed back to Indonesia, a country which many of its representatives grudgingly do business with. People smugglers, the very same ones demonised as “scum” by Australian politicians, have been paid when and where necessary. A veil of secrecy has been cast with suffocating effect across the operations of the Royal Australian Navy, and criminal provisions have been passed punishing any whistle-blower who dares disclose the nature of operations in the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Countries hugging the Mediterranean are also attempting to make a dash up the premier league of refugee cruelty. In January, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini bellowed in disdain that rescue ships heading to Italy were provocations. “No one will disembark in Italy.” This has been accentuated by a change in funding policy. The European Union has distanced itself from the anti-smuggling Operation Sophia, which ran for four years and involved the rescue of thousands of refugees with the use of EU vessels. Any united front on the part of EU states has effectively collapsed.

Vessels are now being refused docking rights as a matter of course. Sixty-two migrants on the German rescue ship Alan Kurdifound themselves being refused and moved on. Having been rescued on April 3 near Libya, the vessel owned by the German non-governmental organisation Sea-Eye faced a rhetoric, and approach, long favoured in the isolated Australian capital of Canberra. Those attempting to enter the ports of Malta and Italy were initially refused. To permit them entry would be tantamount to encouraging human trafficking.

It took 10 days of torment before an agreement was struck: the individuals in question would be allowed to reach Valetta in Malta. As with everything else, political representatives saw a chance to make hay. Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat claimed a victory in ending the stand-off, scolding conservatives who believed in abortion. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. We are speaking about the same human life, and I can no longer take the hypocrisy in people who have these double standards.”

There was a twist, suggesting that the government could still be selective. The crew of the Alan Kurdi were refused entry, thereby revealing that Malta was happy to spare the refugee but punish the rescuer. Captain Werner Czerwinski has proceeded to head to Spain with the express purpose of finding a harbour. The impediments on its movement have been costly, meaning that it will be unable to embark on its next mission to the central part of the Mediterranean.

Excerpted from: ‘The European Union and Refugees in the Mediterranean’.

Courtesy: Counterpunch.org

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