More People Drown as EU Deploys Drone Technology to Watch
Four years ago, Europe witnessed a resurgence of people searching for sanctuary from war and unimaginable terror. At the time, the EU responded to the crisis appropriately under ‘Operation Sophia’. Although not its sole mission, this operation became responsible for rescuing those in distress.
However, by 2019 treatment towards the globe’s most persecuted individuals couldn’t be more different. The ‘hostile environment’ has taken hold. Penalising refugees at home while the Home Office donates millions of taxpayers’ pounds into the ‘Fortress Europe’ pot. The mission was clear. Stop aiding those seeking sanctuary and heighten the hurdles migrants and refugees must clear to arrive safely in the UK.
The plot to prevent refugees from reaching British shores first began with the EU criminalising NGO rescue boats and cancelling naval operations.
Skippers now face the unprecedented dilemma of whether or not to save people in distress and face consequences. From being arrested, to having their boat impounded or becoming saddled with a lifetime of unpayable debts for doing so. Operation Sophia ended in March this year, while border forces destroyed the fishing boats Libyan refugees had relied on. Pushing them into precarious, inflatable dinghies instead.
The appointment of drones has also worsened peoples’ chances of surviving the perilous journey. Drones, crucially, are not burdened with human feeling or the law for that matter. The UN’s sea laws (UNCLOS) obliges ships to intervene and preserve life, this does not apply to unmanned aerial vehicles.
This initiative allows the EU to monitor the deadliest stretch of water in the world, without being pulled in to respond to SOS cries.
The UNHCR claim the Mediterranean risks becoming a “sea of blood” as a result.
Although Frontex (the EU border agency responsible for the drones) claim that they report instances to the authorities, their alerts are few and far between. Only four non-serious incidents were reported this June by Frontex. Which pales in comparison to the numerous serious reports and rescue missions conducted by officials every month previously.
The death toll has subsequently rocketed at a disproportionate rate. This cannot be a coincidence as not one rescue mission has been launched since August 2018. Indeed, the Missing Migrants Project has found 2,479 people have died or are missing so far this year. The English Channel also became home to the first refugee deaths this August. One woman drowned saving her fellow passengers and another man separately succumbed to the same fate as he attempted to swim the journey.
A further two bodies of Iraqi migrants were discovered only a few weeks ago on a beach in Northern France.
The UK justifies its role in the catastrophes by claiming that the near £50 million donation in 2018 and subsequent £6 million contribution in January 2019 are going towards ending human trafficking and the smuggling trade.
However, all it has proved to achieve so far is to litter refugees’ paths with boobytraps. From 24-7 CCTV surveillance in Dunkirk to constructing the ‘great wall of Calais’, refugees ultimately become ensnared in a merry-go-round of torture. They are persecuted at home and chased by border patrols. Left to drown or intercepted and marched back to square one to face the process all over again.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, also has some further ideas, to the cost of £2 million to see advanced super-scanning lorry equipment and long-range detection scanners to spot migrants departing from France. Channel 4’s Black Mirror may have warned watchers of a dystopian future bereft of humanitarian principles that prioritises technology. Our governments took notes.
Refugees in search of a better life will now stand aboard a semi-sinking inflatable to see a hovering camera broadcasting their final moments, to no-one who cares enough to stop it.
If the UK Government were as serious about preserving life as it claims to be, funding would go towards escorting refugees to safety. The Government would also allow refugees to claim asylum in ports and embassies abroad. Eliminating the need for asylum seekers to challenge the Mediterranean or the Channel just to have their claim heard.
This would also make some headway at lifting women and children out of the unimaginable hell of participating in so-called ‘survival sex’. Which many are forced into for protection and to earn a place to be smuggled past borders.
The absence of legal and safe land routes has only served to force people to gamble with their lives. Either by clinging on to the underside of lorries through the Eurotunnel for hours or freezing in a refrigerator truck. The cost of preventing this, surely cannot outweigh the staggering loss of human life that is currently racking up.
The ‘hostile environment’ has made us hostile people on a hostile continent.
The death of refugees is becoming more of a public spectacle than a public concern. The death of toddler, Alan Kurdi, for example, who washed ashore to stir our consciences for little more than a month. While the wreckage that lay at the bottom of the Mediterranean for four years was only resurrected this May. Not to commemorate the hundreds who died, including the 300 bodies still trapped inside, but to go on display for an art exhibition.
The wreck has come to epitomise the EU’s indifference towards the plight of asylum seekers. It has been placed amid the hustle and bustle of a local café in Italy where tourists take selfies with it. But for as long as wars wage on, climate disasters continue to displace people and inequality, slavery, exploitation, persecution and poverty remains prevalent around the world, there will inevitably be migration.
This perverse game of cat and mouse to catch and chase people away is not only fundamentally inhumane, but a stain to our British history and ethical principles. The principals that once saw Britons open their homes to children fleeing Nazi persecution. Now, we slam the door in their faces – or pay through the nose to see that they drown instead.
This article was written by Olivia Bridge who is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of immigration lawyers.