"Those deaths are a disgrace for Europe," his colleague Markus Preiss said the same evening, speaking on rival TV network ARD. In an uncommon showing of unity among European commentators, editorials Monday condemned the "deliberate homicide" committed by the E.U., and its role in turning the Mediterranean into "a cemetery."
These are just some of the people laying the blame for migrants deaths at the door of Europe. Should Europe be blamed? Here's three reasons why Europe could be held responsible.
The E.U. downsized its rescue mission in a bid to deter refugees from risking crossing the Mediterranean
At the end of 2014, the operation was nevertheless stopped because, with a budget of $12 million a month, it had become too expensive for Italy to finance alone. The E.U. refused to offer support because politicians of some member states thought that the operation would attract even more refugees and help traffickers in the long term.
Instead, the E.U.'s border agency Frontex was tasked with a much smaller operation called Triton. Besides the fact that the new program receives less funding, its patrol boats only operate in proximity to the E.U.'s borders and not close to the Libyan coast, where many refugees have drowned in the past.
It is nearly impossible to enter Europe legally if you're a refugee
Applicants for European visas face a two-class system: If you are wealthy enough, you can buy a residence permit. However, nearly all applicants from North Africa and the Middle East fall into the second category: They have little to chances of obtaining an E.U. visa.
Applicants are only granted visas for European Union member states if it is certain that they have the intent to leave again. Syrians, for instance, are classified as suspicious due to the situation in their home country — something that prevents them from obtaining even tourist visas for E.U. member states.
Unable to legally enter the continent, refugees are forced to consider choosing far more dangerous options, such as sea routes.
Once they reach European soil, refugees can apply for asylum and have good chances of being allowed to stay. So why doesn't the E.U. allow migrants to simply apply for those permits without forcing them to cross the Mediterranean illegally? It appears as though the E.U. aims to use the deaths of some migrants as a deterrent for others. However, the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean has continuously risen — despite the deaths.
Some refugees from countries that are especially hard hit can hope to be selected for a resettlement program. Every year, a few hundred refugees are allowed to relocate from camps outside the European Union. The program is supposed to support countries such as Turkey that have absorbed hundreds of thousands of refugees — but the number of legal migrants who are accepted by the European Union is hardly sufficient to make an actual difference.
NATO and E.U. member states bombed Libya but failed to rebuild the country
One argument of those opposed to accepting more refugees in Europe is that those people are needed in their home countries to improve living standards there. However, the E.U. cared little about those living conditions, as long as they had no major impact on Europe.
Prior to the Arab Spring, E.U. member states openly supported many of the regimes in North Africa and the Middle East that are responsible for many of the woes and problems the region faces today.
In 2007, for instance, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi for five days in Paris with the aim of securing an arms deal worth as much as $5.86 billion. Only four years later, France and other countries (including the United States) attacked Libya in an attempt to topple Gaddafi.
That intervention was supposed to be swift and easy. But Libya has turned into a mess, a fractured conflict-zone, and Europe has done little to improve conditions in the country.
The Libyan instability is among the key reasons why trafficking gangs can operate in the country without having to fear authorities. Those traffickers promise refugees a better life in Europe and they charge them for the hazardous trip in overloaded boats with the goal of reaching European soil.
Can the E.U. learn from its mistakes and prevent more deaths?
According to an E.U. pledge, released Monday, which will be discussed later this week, Europe might be willing to tackle some of the problems it created. Among the ideas is to increase funding and expand the territory of operation of E.U. patrol vessels.
More refugees could be legally accepted by E.U. member states, but the pledge also mentions that unsuccessful asylum seekers should be sent back to their countries more quickly.
Whereas the E.U. is also expected to put a renewed emphasis on persecuting the traffickers, there seem to be no plans so far to address the deeper origins of the mass flight: the chaos in Libya and other countries in North Africa and the Middle East.
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