HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: This summer and throughout this year, migrants and refugees have continued to flee wars and persecution in the Middle East and North Africa, attempting to get to Europe.
In the first half of this year, 73,000 reached Italy by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. That’s a 14 percent increase from last year, according to a new report from Amnesty International. The report calls attention to the estimated 2,000 people who’ve drowned trying to make the crossing this year, and shortcomings of European governments coming to their rescue.
Amnesty International’s Naureen Shah joins me now from Washington to discuss this.
Naureen, it’s interesting because for the past couple of years, there’s been different levels of attention being paid to this. But you’re pointing out that there are still more people coming even though the condition have gotten worse.
NAUREEN SHAH, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CAMPAIGNS, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: That’s right, Hari. And 2017 is actually on pace to be the deadliest year for the world’s deadliest migration route. We’re seeing more and more people drown, and at the same time, European governments instead of stepping up are actually taking a step backwards and trying to cede responsibility for what’s happening to local Libyan authorities who were actually woefully dysfunctional.
SREENIVASAN: What’s creating this? I mean, because it seemed that there were — there was some sort of agreement that different European countries would step in and try to stem this. It doesn’t seem like the search and rescue is the priority.
SHAH: That’s right. In 2015, we saw European governments actually do more to fund search and rescue operations and we saw a decrease in the number of people who were drowning at sea. Unfortunately, what’s happening since then is that European governments have shifted to a different strategy. They call it a deterrent strategy. They want fewer people to be leaving. The reality is, people are still leaving and they’re drowning at sea because there are not enough search and rescue operations currently going on.
SREENIVASAN: We’ve seen pictures of some of these boats being destroyed by some of these different European countries. So, what’s the kind of ripple effect that these people are now coming on, what, less sturdy boats?
SHAH: They’re actually taking to the seas in more and more unseaworthy vessels. We’re talking about people getting on a boat without life jackets, without a satellite phone, without enough water or food to last for the journey. They are fleeing war violence, extreme poverty. They are seeking what we would seek if we were in their shoes just trying to rebuild there lives and find safety.
SREENIVASAN: What about the situation in Libya which has become such a launching point for these people?
SHAH: The situation in Libya is disastrous for these people. Many of them are black Africans. They face racism. They’re bought and sold, put into sexual exploitation, put in the situations where they’re at risk of being kidnapped, killed.
People who are intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and sent back to Libya are put at detention sites where they’re at risk of rape and torture. And Amnesty International, for instance, talked to one man who said that he had seen three people tortured. They were using toilet war as drinking water. So, these conditions are unspeakably horrific.
SREENIVASAN: Have the European nations responded in any way or have they thought about changing their priorities?
SHAH: Unfortunately, what we saw this week from European leaders who met was actually a doubling down on this policy. They’re going to continue to try to fund Libyan coast guard to conduct interception search and operations but they’re not actually doing oversight of Libyan coast guard.
We know that Libyan coast guard, in some cases, are actually cooperating with smugglers. They are corrupt. They’ve taken actually gunshots at rescue boats that are operated by non-governmental organizations.
So, they do not have the best interests of the people who are fleeing at heart. In some cases, we’re actually seeing people at a much greater risk because of the Libyan coast guard.
SREENIVASAN: All right. Naureen Shah of Amnesty International, thanks so much.
SHAH: Thanks for having me.