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Death and drones in the Mediterranean



Since former US President Barack Obama's tenure, drone warfare has become the preferred option for governments wanting to engage in aggression while limiting scrutiny. This detachment has allowed governments to perfect inhumane tactics — whether drones are used for bombing or surveillance. The EU's purportedly peace-building agenda is finding drone surveillance a useful tool to support its anti-migrant stance.

A Heron drone, one of the types operated by Frontex. (Photo by Israel Aerospace Industries via Getty Images)The EU is reported to have invested £95 million in Israeli drone technology for Frontex to provide intelligence on migrant movement in the Mediterranean. Rescue operations in the Mediterranean have been largely left to NGO ships as the EU scaled back on its missions, in accordance with the exclusionary politics it adopted after playing a role in the Middle East and North Africa foreign intervention.

So far, Frontex has not explicitly linked drone investment to EU migration policies, although its website states that it is testing new equipment for border and sea surveillance in Greece. Opting for surveillance of migrants instead of rescue operations will result in death by drowning, or torture and possible deaths in Libya. For both scenarios, the EU has cultivated its own brand of impunity. Looking away has become politically acceptable.

Increasing drone surveillance has been described as 'a way to spend money without having the responsibility to save lives'. However, the EU's anti-migrant stance goes beyond refusing responsibility. It is an adamant declaration of how the bloc has determined to continue engaging in different forms of warfare.

An estimated 686 migrants have drowned so far in 2019. These numbers do not include migrants who drowned off the Libyan coast. If surveillance is used without any form of rescue operations, the death toll will rise, even as the EU will be able to congratulate itself on having diminished the 'burden' of immigration while consolidating the reality of the Mediterranean Sea as a graveyard.

With less direct involvement and more investment in surveillance, the EU unleashes the possibility of increasing its own perpetuation of human rights violations. InfoMigrants has reported that for over a year, Frontex surveillance has not been accompanied by EU search and rescue efforts. The bloc can instead focus on funding the Libyan Coast Guard to do its dirty work while attracting less scrutiny.

Reports of horrific abuse and torture in Libyan detention centres have surfaced time and again in the media, and a report by Doctors Without Borders stresses that migrants' biggest fear is being returned to Libya, on account of the torture administered in the detention centres. The Libyan Coast Guard has affiliations with the militias unleashed upon Libya during the NATO intervention in 2011.


"The EU is blurring the line between humanitarian rescue and human trafficking to deter NGOs from saving lives at sea."


Lest recent history is forgotten, the EU trend of funding human rights violations in Libya can be traced back to 2011, when former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton appealed for funding the rebels, even as news of their atrocities made it to the media, notably the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha.

In addition, the EU has been criminalising NGOs' search and rescue missions by seizing vessels and initiating court procedures against volunteers saving lives at sea. The EU is blurring the line between humanitarian rescue and human trafficking to deter NGOs from saving lives at sea.

Meanwhile, it continues to deny immediate safe haven to rescued migrants. The latest standoff over the rescue ship Open Arms prompted ten migrants to jump off the ship in an attempt to swim to Lampedusa, as Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused permission for the ship to dock. Following an inspection on board, Italian prosecutors ordered immediate disembarkation.

Displacing accountability, as well as migrants, is an EU speciality, it seems. Obligatory rhetoric aside, would it uphold the concept of human rights and the freedom of movement for refugees away from glorified podiums? The answer, unfortunately, is an unabashed 'no'.

As long as migrants are not dying on EU land — indeed as long as it is possible to finance the killings of migrants away from its territory and blame others for its failings — EU politics will, for the most part, remain intact in its brutality. There is a price for EU involvement in Libya, and innocent lives are paying for it.



Ramona WadiRamona Wadi is a freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger. Her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America.

Main image: A Heron drone, one of the types operated by Frontex. (Photo by Israel Aerospace Industries via Getty Images)

Topic tags: Ramona Wadi, European Union, Libya, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers



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Existing comments

Thanks Ramona, We cannot speak up if we are not informed and it is valuable to read your article. My fear has been with drone warfare exactly what you say "This detachment has allowed governments to perfect inhumane tactics " Man has been given a tool that is so important for sightings and rescues and many other things but it quickly becomes a tool for power and destruction. When ever will we hear Gandhi's words, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind? I always hoped with war man would see himself in the other and final halt but drones take that chance, that opportunity away . How does one turn the projection of our world around?

Colleen Keating | 23 August 2019  

One of the things which must be remembered is that the Mediterranean has been an invasion route for centuries. The invaders have come from both North and South and West and East. For Westerners, there are race memories of the Ottomans, who were, to put it delicately, not very nice to Christians. Some of the Ottomans' best pirates/Ottoman Navy were from the Barbary states. There are some countries, such as Poland, which are proudly Christian and Catholic to boot. Russia was constantly at war with Turkey. So it's not simply a matter of 'drone surveillance'. Modern warfare/surveillance is terrifyingly technical. That is how totalitarian states, like Syria, crush opposition. At some stage, like now, Europeans will get sick of the tide of refugees/economic migrants (you can be both) from the failed states of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The real solution is to make sure, by depriving the rotten, kleptocratic and repressive regimes of these failed states of funding. By all means feed the people but starve their rulers, like Mugabe and his successors, of funds. Long term these countries need to be revived to provide for their own citizens. That is the only feasible solution.

Edward Fido | 24 August 2019  

Edward Fido: “At some stage, like now, Europeans will get sick of the tide.…“ Refugees can be accommodated with some degree of functionality in economic infrastructures which are loosely regulated, but would Australians want sanctuary zones to be carved out of Northern and North Western Australia in which refugees get by (and relatively well at that in entrepreneurial responses to scarce resources) in conditions akin to Northern Uganda’s laissez-faire state-style Bidibidi refugee camp? The question turns on whether hospitality is due as a right or extended as a privilege, and whether the right is to your house or the privilege is to the backyard shed (any residential innovation in which the prime refugee criteria, eg., torture and death, are absent). The general scarcity of resources means that adjudicating who is to be pinched is a religious rather than a secular-scientific question, based as it is on what is a human being, itself a religious rather than secular-scientific question. Given that the atheistic state – one like Australia which claims to be able impartially to referee among contesting faiths – cannot coherently decide the extent of hospitality is the chicken coming home to roost of Left and Christian Left/Catholic modernist thinking.

roy chen yee | 25 August 2019  

The whole 'refugee' business can be manipulated for all sorts of reasons by people of all sorts, Roy, Angela Merkel, a most perceptive politician of impeccable integrity, suffered politically because of the appallingly antisocial, ungrateful behaviour of a proportion of the refugees post Syrian implosion, which played right into the hands of the German Far Right. There are, I believe, 40 million displaced people in the world. The plight of some, like the Rohingya, cries out to heaven. How to reach the most needful? A wealthy middle class Iranian could, until recently, fly to Malaysia or Indonesia, then purchase an airline ticket to Australia as a tourist and claim refugee status on arrival, thereby immediately making themselves persona non grata in their own country. Were many of them 'real' refugees or queue jumpers? Religion is a wonderful thing, but the genuinely religious, like Jesus, need to have their wits about them. It is a complex and difficult to solve issue.

Edward Fido | 28 August 2019  

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