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Tragedy at the Rio Grande, but the EU must look at its own borders

28 June 2019

On the same day that the European Court of Human Rights denied 42 migrants on board the Sea-Watch ship permission to land, the shocking photograph of the father and daughter who drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande provided stark reminders of the extent of human desperation on two different borders.

600 people gathered on Sandymount Strand in Dublin, on Sunday 13th September 2015, to spell out Ireland's huge welcome to refugees. Photo Credit: Steve Kingston

The image of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, Valeria, hauntingly encapsulates the dangers faced by thousands of migrants fleeing poverty, violence and persecution throughout Central America in their efforts to cross the US border. Julia Le Duc’s photograph also reminded us of the devastating repercussions of the heartless immigration policies enforced by the Trump administration.

However, while the photograph rightly provoked outrage, closer to home similarly callous decisions have been taken in relation to migrants attempting to enter Europe.

The migrant rescue ship, Sea-Watch 3, was this week denied permission to allow 42 stranded migrants to disembark in Italy after the European Court of Human Rights ruled against an emergency decree appeal. While the court indicated that Italian authorities must provide assistance to those on board, this does not go far enough in terms of providing the support and respect that should be given to such vulnerable people.

Heartless EU policy has previously let children drown and often criminalises those who try to help these people, some of whom are attempting to flee from horrific conditions in prison camps in Libya.

The Trump administration receives deserved criticism in Europe for its brutal policing of its southern border, but equal attention needs to be paid to how Europe has responded to desperation in its neighbouring countries.

Our own response has in fact mirrored Trump’s approach.

De facto, walls have been built, borders have been reinforced and the door has been firmly closed on those seeking safety and refuge. Europe’s policy is arguably even more brutal than America’s.

Alejandro Perez, 54, is one of the thousands who have joined 'migrant caravans'in central America to flee violence and poverty and seek asylum in the US. (Photo : Simone Dalmasso / Trócaire)

In 2018, an average of six people died each day trying to cross the Mediterranean. We are not only letting people die, we are criminalising those who try to help them. People who have provided food and shelter to migrants have been harassed and prosecuted.

Caritas, the global body of which Trócaire is a member, has cited examples of this in Belgium, France, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland, Serbia, Spain and along the coast of Italy and Malta.

The upsurge in migration has not appeared out of nowhere. Syria has been destroyed by eight years of brutal war. Much of Libya is controlled by militias and the refugees in its detention centres come from countries such as South Sudan, which have suffered years of conflict.

Much of northern Africa has experienced political turmoil, while millions have been affected by drought and conflict in East Africa.

Given our own history, Europe should show compassion to people escaping these brutal situations. The European Court of Human Rights has opted to rule against the EU’s founding values by callously rejecting an opportunity to show real compassion to 42 desperate people.

This letter by Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra was published in the Irish Times on Friday 28th June, 2019.

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