Hundreds of migrants drowned off the coast of Egypt yesterday, Wednesday. It was the bitter fruit of European Union (EU) naval operation in Libya that includes British ships.
An overloaded fishing boat believed to have up to 450 people aboard sank near the city of Rosetta. Just 163 were rescued and up to 100 may be entombed in the ship’s cold store.
The dead include Egyptians, Eritreans, Sudanese and Syrian people bound for Italy. Egypt’s military regime took survivors into police custody—some handcuffed to hospital beds.
Egyptian Ahmed Mohamed said, “It was like the apocalypse. Everyone tried to get out alive. I swam for ten kilometres.”
Seventeen year old Ahmed Gamal said, “I just wanted to reach Europe and live a decent life.”
EU border force Frontex warned in June that Egypt was becoming one of the main hubs for refugees trying to reach Europe.
The brutal counter-revolution in Egypt has also spurred growing numbers of Egyptians—particularly the young—to flee.
The European Commission has a £9.8 million aid programme for “building the capacities of the Egyptian administration” to confront these “migration challenges”.
But the main trigger is Operation Sophia, an EU naval mission launched last year to patrol the Libyan coast. It is now training the Libyan coastguard.
Operation Sophia is presented as a humanitarian mission aiming to “disrupt” people traffickers. This is a lie. It is the latest in a series of clampdowns to drive refugees onto successively deadlier routes.
The closure of EU land borders and restrictions on migration through airports drove hundreds of thousands to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece.
Nato patrols and an EU-Turkey deal made that harder this year—so the longer “Central Mediterranean” route between Libya and Turkey overtook the Aegean.
Some 3.6 percent of those making this journey die, up from under 0.1 percent on the Aegean.
Now Operation Sophia is pushing them onto the even harder Egyptian route. From Rosetta to the Italian island of Lampedusa is almost 1,000 miles.
The Royal Navy’s HMS Enterprise is part of the action, as was the frigate HMS Richmond last year.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson called for stepping up the repression last week—arguing that Operation Sophia should include turning boats back.
The government has also begun building its latest wall in Calais. Work started days after a 14 year old Afghan became the latest to die on the road trying to get past the existing blockade.
The deaths are a direct, predictable result of a conscious policy. Only opening the borders can stop the carnage.