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As Migrants Die at Sea, Italian Red Cross' Rocca Tells ICP the EU Must Do More

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 6 -- When Francesco Rocca of the Italian Red Cross came to the UN to speak about migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on May 6, Inner City Press asked him how those migrants who are saved are processed, and what he thinks the European Union should be doing.

  Rocca replied that after the EU stopped its Mare Nostrum search and rescue program, deaths have doubled. The numbers, he said, speak for themselves. He said many, after being interviewed, travel further into Europe, illegal, an underclass. Inner City Press' fast transcription, video here:

Inner City Press: At some point it was unclear, even to your organization, where the 28 people who had been rescued were. What are the rights of people, and what’s your process for gaining access for people who have been rescued? What will be required to improve search and rescue operations?

Rocca: About the last question, I think the facts and figures are talking by themselves. Triton is not like Mare Nostrum, it’s very clear. Even the number of deaths has increased 51 percent after the closure of Mare Nostrum. So this is the evidence that Mare Nostrum saved lives. And it cost 9 million per month. So I wonder why now the EU is spending 9 million per month, after the last EU meeting, immediately after the tragedy. But then again, all the operation was led by the Italian navy and the Italian coast guard. And this is a fact.

About the 28, if you mean the process, of course they will meet the commission and be interviewed by the commission to verify if there are conditions to receive the humanitarian protection or not. All the migrants that arrive on our docks pass through this process. I met them, immediately after that very night when they arrived, and had the opportunity to talk with a few of them. So what was in my mind, not only in my mind but my heart, was the words coming from one of them, and I repeated these words today to the UNSG about the priority to solve the Libyan crisis.

Once you enter in Libya, even if you change your mind, you cannot go back anymore to your country. You are not anymore free. You are pushed to with the guns to go on the boat.

He told me several times, repeating. Of course he was in shock. But you cannot imagine how hard is the situation in Libya.

So, the process is always the same. The fact is the majority of these people don’t want to stay in Italy. They want to reach their families, relatives in Europe. So this is a Europe issue, not only an Italy issue. And this is the reason why, at the end, when you verify the figures, comparing the number of people processed that go under interviews and the number that arrived on the dock is completely different. Because most of them they escape and they go in Europe without any interviews and they become illegal. Most of them.

Without a European solution, we are creating other people that are going to live at the borders of our society. This is a fact. This is the reason why it must be an EU issue that cannot be solved only at the Italian border or the Greek border or the Spanish border.

Footnote: one issue Inner City Press was not able to ask about was the role of the UN and its closely related but even less scrutinized fellow agencies like the International Organization for Migration in conducting surveillance for terrorist threats, in the guise of immigration screening. It happened as people fled, or tried to flee, Yemen -- IOM refused to answer Inner City Press' questions, as did the UN about UNODC's work in Puntland -- and one can imagine EU concerns if it replaced Triton with another mission. We'll have more on this.

Here is Mr. Rocca's opening statement, as provided to Inner City Press:

Over 5,000 people are believed to have lost their lives attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean in the last 18 months. This makes these waters the most dangerous borders in the world. This should trigger action, commitment and support.

Just two days ago, another 10 migrants did not make it. And today another 40 migrants are thought to have lost their lives. A piece of news that has made less noise in the media than the shipwreck of last 18 April, in which 400 people died, but which left us again shocked and angry.

Because together with that capsized boat, our soul has sunk as well.

Since the beginning of 2015, over 35,000 migrants from North Africa and the Middle East have embarked on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea toward European shores, risking their lives on unsafe vessels.

The most appropriate way to mitigate an exodus abroad is to ensure conditions of security and dignity at home. This should be at the heart of any strategy, but we must not be naive about its ability to produce instant results. Many of the world’s most violent conflicts, such as those in Syria, Iraq or South Sudan, are far from resolution. Some of the world's most difficult political contexts, such as in the Horn of Africa, will not change because of aid.

People will continue to flee desperate situations and inaction will only lead to more suffering. It will mean more harrowing tales of exploitation and abuse, culminating in the terrifying and deadly journey across the Mediterranean. So we listen at a lot of options from EU to stop this trafficking, but we’re not sure that the solution is bombing the vessels.

We believe once again that the imperative has to be humanitarian action. We should stop looking just at the issue of security. People who are fleeing wars and conflicts will try others routes. We can close this route from Lybia, but as evidenced by the tragedy of Rhodes last days, there are other routes open to these desperate people who will continue to try to escape.

For example, we cannot exhibit signs that read 'Bring back our girls' and then pretend that a mother has no right to run away from a dangerous situation and look for a better solution for her children. We cannot think that the flow from the Horn of Africa will magically stop just because we shot down and sunk vessels. We ask that there is an action of our institutions that put the human being in the center and stop labelling them as “illegal”.

Two weeks ago, European leaders held a summit in Brussels and committed to increasing the search and rescue capacities of FRONTEX. While this is welcome, it is not enough. Its scope is limited and is not the same as a dedicated search and rescue operation which would cover the entire Mediterranean. The summit was just the beginning. We need to build on it to develop asylum policies which are forward-looking and firmly based on the principles of humanity, solidarity, and respect for human rights. This will mean legal protection to deter exploitation along the well-known migration routes.

This in turn will require international collaboration between countries of origin, transit and destination.

Over the past three days, in southern Italy’s regions of Sicily and Calabria, the Italian Red Cross has delivered humanitarian assistance to more than 7,000 people rescued by the Italian Coast Guard off the Libyan coasts. In Italy, Red Cross staff and volunteers are present in every port, providing first aid, food, drinking water, psychosocial and logistics support.

For this reason, finally, I want to thank all the volunteers of the Mouvement of Red Cross and Red Crescent, but on my side, as President Of Italian Red Cross, I want to say thank you to my volunteers for their efforts and for their humanitarian approach to the migration’s issue.


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