Rescuers cast serious doubts on Margaritis Schinas’s dubious assertion at the World Economic Forum today
THE European Commission’s vice president Margaritis Schinas raised eyebrows today when he claimed that Europe will “always be an asylum destination” for refugees.
Mr Schinas was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — where billionaire barons and dirty fossil fuel fat cats began flying to in private on jets on Monday to lobby government officials for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Schinas said he was very proud of the bloc’s activation of an emergency protection system for refugees when over six million Ukrainians began fleeing from Russia’s invasion.
This act, he said, “testifies to the fact that Europe will always remain an asylum destination for those who flee war and persecution.”
“This is what defines us. This is the model of society we stand for. This is the European way of life.”
Meanwhile, at Europe’s edges, activists aboard the Astral rescue ship saved 110 people from an overcrowded wooden boat in the central Mediterranean this afternoon.
The rescued had been at sea since Sunday after they fled war-torn Libya. That day, someone on the boat managed to contact the activist-run distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone and tell them their engine had stopped working.
Alarm Phone alerted the Maltese, Tunisian and Italian authorities and provided them with the refugees’ GPS position. As usual, no help came.
“The  travellers, including children and a pregnant woman, are still at sea without food or water,” Alarm Phone warned yesterday morning.
“[The] Tunisian, Maltese and Italian authorities were informed last night, but so far no rescue operation has been launched. Do your duty and send help now!”
Elsewhere, SOS Mediterranee’s ship, the Ocean Viking, is still carrying 296 people who would otherwise have likely drowned in the Mediterranean had her crew not found them.
Since the EU stopped operating dedicated rescue ships in the region in 2019, the only actors saving refugee lives has been a small group of NGOs and activists.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 129 deaths have been recorded in the central Mediterranean this year, and 459 have gone missing. In 2021, 662 people died along the route and 891 are missing, the IOM says.
“Maybe Margaritis would like to take a visit to Tripoli, where he can meet with Refugees in Libya,” Alarm Phone’s Jacob Berkson told The Civil Fleet today.
“They may just be able to persuade him that what he meant to say is that Europe, for people like him, will always be a white space and will continue to deny the humanity of the racialised other.”
Kathrin Schmidt, a rescue worker who along the Iuventa crew saved over 14,000 lives in the Mediterranean, told The Civil Fleet that Europe’s “willingness to welcome people fleeing war from Ukraine shows that acting in accordance with international law and human rights is possible.
“However, if what defines Europe would be providing unconditional access and protection, there would be legal and safe means to apply for asylum,” she said.
“Yet thousands continue to die at Europe’s doorstep and hundreds face criminal charges for exercising the right to live.”
Ms Schmidt, was put on pretrail in Italy on Saturday with three of her Iuventa crew mates. The prosecutor accuse them of “facilitating unauthorised entry” into the country. The four could face up to 20 years in prison.
Iason Apostolopoulos, a search-and-rescue coordinator with Italian refugee rescuers Mediterranea: Saving Humans, also expressed his disbelief at Mr Schinas’s assertion.
“Does the ‘impeccable’ refugee camp on Samos fall under the ‘European way of life’, where 400 asylum seekers have been living without running water since May 6?,” Mr Apostolopoulos told The Civil Fleet today.
“The Samos camp is praised by EU officials, and is seen as a role model for refugee reception in Greece. €45 million was spent for a prison that is flooded in winter and has no water in summer.
“Priority is given to the triple line of barbed wire fencing, the security cameras and the complex surveillance systems. Europe’s priority is deterrence, not ensuring that their basic needs are met.
“Everything is calculated to cause suffering in order to detter refugees from coming to European soil.”
Mr Apostolopoulos was recently in court in Greece as an expert witness for the defence during the trail of the Samos 2 — a controversial case in which the authorities sought to jail two refugees: Hasan, for piloting a boat across the Aegean, and N, a father of a six-year-old boy who died when the boat sank.
N was found not guilty, while Hasan was freed on a suspended sentence.
Top image shows the refugees saved by the Open Arm’s Astral today [Pic: Open Arms]