DAY 251: Live for ever?

July 11th, 2018 § 0 comments

The other day, at one of those Catholic revival meetings in South Sudan which she’s addicted to attending, my sister was asked if she wanted to live for ever. (So were the rest of the congregation; understandably they preferred the option of cutting short their stay in this vale of tears ASAP.) Me, while i can see  some attractive points in life on earth as opposed to life as a ghost, or as a zombie, or any of the other available alternatives – say watching the arrival of the spring, or listening to Lebanese pop music – things on this particular planet do seem to be going a bit out of control to the point where I can’t see much point in hanging around to wait for History to get its act together and let the toiling masses finally grab the cup of plenty which is due to them and declarerevolution ‘It’s coming home!’ I’ve been waiting for sixty-six years, and things have been getting steadily worse – I know about gay marriage and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and that, but having seen the invasion of Iraq, the war in Syria, the rise of Daesh, and now the election of a racist misogynist President who then goes on to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – I’m about ready to hand on the torch to my friends in their 20s and 30s to whom I can only wish good luck. I suppose that, like Hamlet, I might be put off by the prospect of visiting that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns, but frankly I don’t see that it would be much worse. Hand me a bare bodkin, I’ll make my quietus.

These thoughts have been sharpened, and my few remaining friends have been noticing my obsession, by the completely unacceptable actions of the European Union. Never a reliable agent of progress at the best of times, whatever you may say about the role of Defrenne v. Sabena in advancing equal rights, or about the Social Chapter which the Tories opted out of and Labour opted into, or… it has most recently been rushed into a decision which effectively endorses the position of the fascist Italian government on humanitarian rescue at sea.

As MSF has said:

 London/Amsterdam: European governments must come to their senses and end policies which trap extremely vulnerable people in Libya or leave them to die at sea, said the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) following the conclusions of yesterday’s talks at the EU summit.
Last week was the deadliest so far this year on the Mediterranean, as at least 220 people drowned. These were avoidable tragedies. European Governments have blocked non-governmental search and rescue operations, while turning over responsibility for rescues to the Libyan coastguard.European governments are financing, training and equipping the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats in distress and return them to Libya, where they are held in inhumane conditions. In an unprecedented development some 2,000 people were returned to Libya over the course of last weekend. Upon arrival they were sent to arbitrary detention, with no due legal process.

The same European governments that were just a few months ago strongly condemning reports of slave markets in Libya, seem today to have no hesitation in escalating policies that will increase the suffering of people trapped there. People whose only ‘crime’ is that they flee conflict, violence or poverty.

“EU member states are abdicating their responsibilities to save lives and deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea” said Karline Kleijer, MSF head of emergencies “They do this fully aware of the extreme violence and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer in Libya.”

“MSF urges European governments to show some basic decency and remember that we are talking about human lives and human suffering. They can start by committing to search and rescue and facilitate swift disembarkation in places of safety, this does not mean Libya”.

People trapped in Libyan detention centres are largely without any assistance, as access for international humanitarian organisations including MSF and the UN is severely limited. This affects the ability to monitor and provide protection, however over the last month MSF has conducted over 3,300 medical consultations in four detention centres. Medical teams found that the main health issues are linked to poor living conditions, including overcrowding, and lack of sufficient water or sanitation.

Meanwhile despite the overwhelming need for search and rescue, an orchestrated campaign against non-governmental search and rescue operations is reaching breaking point. Independent search and rescue missions are increasingly obstructed from carrying out rescues in international waters and are denied access to local ports. This weekend the Aquarius was one of the only three dedicated search and rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean.

“Saving lives at sea is not a crime” continued Kleijer. “Yet, the message from European governments is loud and clear: humanitarian assistance is not welcome. Scapegoating NGOs is a tactic to distract from the real issues: lack of solidarity or vision in the EU, and a broken asylum system. These actions block and obstruct us from doing the work EU governments are failing to do, all the while de-humanising people in need. Any deaths caused by this are now at their hands.”

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