33,000 refugees, killed by ‘fortress Europe’, named


This video from Germany says about itself:

30 June 2016

The artist Banu Cennetoğlu explores the political, social and cultural dimension of the production, representation and distribution of knowledge and asks how it feeds into a society’s collective thought and becomes part of its ideology. Cennetoğlu has participated in major international exhibitions such as the 10th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea; at the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009) she and Ahmet Öğüt represented Turkey.

She is represented at the 13th Fellbach Triennial of Small-Scale Sculpture (2016) and currently guest of the DAAD artist programme in Berlin.

The free-lance critic and curator Vasif Kortun is known as one of the most important critical voices in the discourse on Turkey’s radically changing cultural politics. He has organized numerous international exhibitions focussing on art production in Turkey, for example the 3rd and 9th international Istanbul Biennale (1992 and 2005) as well as the Turkish pavilions at the São Paulo Biennale (1994 and 1998) and at the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007).

By Dietmar Henning in Germany:

Artist lists names of fortress Europe’s 33,000 refugee victims

18 November 2017

Artist Banu Cennetoğlu has published a list with the names of 33,293 asylum seekers, refugees and migrants who have died since 1993 while fleeing to Europe or in connection with Europe’s refugee policies.

The 48-page list was enclosed in the November 9 edition of the Berlin-based newspaper Tagesspiegel. As part of Berlin’s autumn salon at the Maxim Gorky Theatre, pages from the list will be posted on advertising pillars in the centre of the city.

Cennetoğlu said the list exposes only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, many more people have died while fleeing, including those who drowned in the Mediterranean. “The List” documents what could be compiled from available data, wrote Tagesspiegel. The data is based on work by the European network United for Intercultural Action.

November 9 was deliberately chosen as the publication date, Tagesspiegel explained in a comment, because in Germany it is a day laden with history. This date is connected with the 1918 revolution, which was suppressed by the Social Democratic Party, the failed putsch by Hitler and Ludendorff in Munich in 1923, the Nazis’ pogrom against the Jews in 1938, known as Kristallnacht, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Born in Ankara in 1970, Banu Cennetoğlu is an internationally successful artist. Her work concentrates mainly on the collection, archiving and publishing of books and newspapers. Giving a place for and names to the countless victims of Europe’s refugee policy has been a part of her work for several years.

In cooperation with Cennetoğlu, the Greek newspaper Ta Nea published in 2007 a list of 8,855 deaths. In 2010, a poster campaign for “The List” organized by the Kunsthalle Basel included the names of 13,284 victims.

Cennetoğlu emphasised that this is not about her or the names. This list is not a work of art, and the publication is not an artistic act, she said. “It is what it is,” she added. She insisted on only one condition: the list cannot be published in part, but only as a whole.

Behind every name there is a human tragedy. Most have drowned in the Mediterranean. Others died in refugee camps, including by committing suicide “with a few shoelaces out of fear of being rejected and sent back home” (Mikhail Bognarchuk from Ukraine in deportation detention). The scale of hopelessness outmatches all power of imagination, added Cennetoğlu.

Tribute is also paid to the 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean near the Turkish city of Bodrum while fleeing Syria on September 2, 2015. The heart-wrenching pictures of the dead boy lying face down in the sand on a beach shocked people around the world. They cast a grim light on the desperate dramas playing out on Europe’s borders.

“It is horrifying how the refugee catastrophe meets with general acceptance,” said the artist. It is not a major priority on the political agenda, she added. If it were a natural disaster, things would be different.

Behind each name on the list there is therefore also an indictment: an indictment of the wars waged by the US and its allies, which are the main reason why millions have been forced to flee their homes.

The decades-long wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Mali, Somalia and Syria, to name only the most important, transformed these countries into a hell on earth. More than 65 million people have been forced to flee from wars and unbearable living conditions.

The European Union member states have responded and continue to respond to the wave of refugees exclusively with suppression and deterrence. They erect barbed wire fences, build mass camps and mobilize police to keep the desperate people away, and in so doing condemn thousands to certain death.

Every name on the list is also an indictment of the “Fortress Europe” established by Europe’s governments.

Only a tiny minority of the world’s 65 million refugees have sought to reach Europe. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 153,355 people have reached Europe across the Mediterranean so far this year, and almost 3,000 have drowned in the process or are missing.

The Mediterranean remains a mass grave for refugees. Supported by the EU, Italy has concluded a similar deal with the various warlords and rulers in Libya as the EU did with the authoritarian regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Refugees are thus prevented from traveling to Europe.

Italy has supplied the Libyan coastguard with patrol boats, helicopters, specialized vehicles, communications gear and other equipment with which they will attempt to prevent boats carrying refugees from leaving Libyan territorial waters. The coastguard has murdered refugees on the high seas and attacked human rights organizations because they wanted to assist refugees.

Since this past summer, hardly any private sea rescue services are operating. Italy forced human rights organizations to sign a code of conduct that included the acceptance of armed police and Frontex officers on their ships. Many organizations, including “Doctors Without Borders” and “Save the Children,” refused and suspended their sea rescue services. Other aid organizations were taken to court on the basis of accusations of assisting smugglers.

The EU boasts that it has destroyed smuggler networks in Libya. Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti claimed in May, “The people who arrive in Italy have put themselves in the hands of brutal human traffickers. We are merely saving them from this fate.”

… In reality, the former smuggler groups are earning more money by preventing refugees from traveling than they did from organizing flight. Italy and the EU pay more than the desperate refugees.

The refugees being held back from traveling to Europe live under inhumane conditions. In Libya alone some 700,000 people are being detained. They are systematically abused, raped and executed at random. Those who cannot pay their guards are often killed or starved to death. Others are sold at modern slave markets in Tripoli—women as sex slaves and men as slave labor.

Joanne Liu, the president of Doctors without Borders, who was in Libya in the late summer, described in an open letter the way refugees are dealt with there. She wrote of a “flourishing business of kidnappings, torture and blackmail,” and accused the EU of being jointly responsible for this. The price for declining numbers of arrivals in Europe is “rapes, torture and enslavement by criminals,” she declared.

The thousands who die in Africa on the way to the Mediterranean coast or in Libya itself are not included in the list collated by Banu Cennetoğlu. They remain nameless.

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Don’t send refugees to Libyan torture jails, United Nations says


This Doctors Without Borders video says about itself:

5 Reasons Not to Trap Migrants & Refugees in Libya

13 September 2017

People who’ve left their homes searching for safety and a better life are being detained, imprisoned, tortured, raped, starved, and sold into slavery in Libya.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV, 14 November 2017:

UN: sending refugees back to Libya is inhuman

The United Nations refugee organization UNHCR has strongly criticized the European Union policy to assist the Libyan Coast Guard in intercepting boats with refugees.

There is not one Libyan Coast Guard, as there is not one Libyan government. There are at least three governments, each with their own armed gangs, killing each other’s gangsters and civilians. Some of them call themselves ‘the coast guard’. Some are paid by European Union taxpayers’ money, some by Italian taxpayers’ money, some by British taxpayers’ money, etc.

Human rights chief Zeid calls the way in which the refugees are detained in Libyan prisons inhuman and an insult to the conscience of humanity. He says that the situation has deteriorated considerably in recent times. “It was bad, but now it is catastrophic.”

In February, the EU signed an agreement with the government in Libya.

In exchange for around € 200 million, the Libyan Coast Guard must intercept ships in the Mediterranean and return them to land. The fact that the agreement does not contribute to the well-being of refugees has already been concluded by aid organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières.

Emaciated

Employees of the UNHCR were in Libya last week. They spoke to people who were detained in Tripoli. “They were shocked by what they saw,” said Zeid. “Thousands of emaciated and traumatized men, women and children piled up on each other, trapped in hangars without access to the most basic provisions and stripped of their human dignity.”

According to the Libyan authorities, almost 20,000 refugees are now in prison. The UNHCR points out that they have no possibility to challenge their imprisonment and say they do not receive legal assistance. “Everything the EU has done so far has not helped to reduce abuses.”

This June 2017 video is called Rescued African migrants say they are fleeing slavery.

Militarisation of the European Union


Greek neonazi general Georgios Epitideios, ex-European Union military staff commander

The European Union already has, not an official European Union army, but something close to it: the European Union Military Staff. The commander of its ‘department of crisis response and current operations’ used to be Greek general Georgios Epitideios. Also in Brussels, Epiteidios was senior staff member of NATO’s Central Command.

Recently, General Epitideios came back to Brussels. This time as Member of the European Parliament for the Greek nazi party Golden Dawn. Does European Commission boss Mr Juncker want someone like neo-nazi General Epitideios as commander of the European Union’s ‘stronger military fist’ plans?

By Peter Schwarz in Germany:

EU member states take major step toward a European army

14 November 2017

The European Union has taken a major step toward developing the capacity to wage war in the future independently of and, if necessary, against the United States.

Foreign and defence ministers from 23 of the 28 EU member states signed a framework document on a common defence policy in Brussels on Monday. Along with Britain, which will leave the EU in 2019, only four smaller countries—Denmark, Ireland, Malta and Portugal—did not sign on to the deal. However, they can do so at any time.

With the “agreement on permanent structured cooperation” (PESCO), the EU states committed themselves to close cooperation in the development and purchase of weapons, and in making available troops and equipment for joint military interventions.

“PESCO is an ambitious, binding and inclusive European legal framework for investment in the security and defence of the EU’s territory and citizens,” the document states. The key issue is to make Europe more efficient, capable of acting and quicker, said a representative of the German defence ministry.

The agreement signifies an escalation of European militarism. The first of 20 conditions to which all parties must commit is a regular increase in military spending. At least 20 percent of this must be directed to the purchase of new weapons. For its part, the EU intends to contribute €500 million annually and €1 billion after 2021 to joint arms projects.

Details concerning the form of cooperation will be worked out over the coming weeks. There are currently 47 proposals for joint projects. These include a joint crisis response corps, the establishment of multinational combat units, a joint “centre of excellence” for European training missions, precautionary plans for military interventions in various regions around the world, a “military Schengen” zone, which would allow the swift deployment of troops and heavy weaponry without bureaucratic hurdles, joint satellite reconnaissance, a European medics commando, and joint logistics hubs. Ten of these 47 projects are to be initiated in December.

The driving forces behind PESCO are Germany and France. In recent months, Berlin, Paris and Brussels have promoted the project by holding six workshops. French President Emmanuel Macron, in a speech delivered at the Sorbonne University in Paris in September, declared, “By the beginning of the next decade, Europe must have a joint intervention force, a common defence budget and a joint doctrine for action.”

German Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen said the signing of PESCO was “a great day for Europe.” The parties were taking “a further step towards an army for Europe.”

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel described the agreement as “historic.” It was a “major step towards independence and the strengthening of the EU’s security and defence policy.” He anticipated that PESCO would result in a major increase in military capabilities.

Europe currently spends half of the money the US does on its military, he said, but achieves a capacity of only 15 percent. Closer cooperation could bring about an improvement.

Berlin, Paris and Brussels are seeking to portray EU military cooperation as complimentary to, rather than at odds with, NATO. The PESCO agreement itself states: “The strengthened military capacity of EU states will also be of use to NATO. It will strengthen the European pillar and serve to answer repeated demands for stronger transatlantic burden-sharing.”

Von der Leyen also sought to deny any opposition to NATO. The transatlantic alliance would always be responsible for national and collective defence, she said, while the EU, with its “networked security,” would carry out tasks that are not part of NATO’s remit, such as “assistance” to African states.

This is nonsense. Commentators are generally agreed that two key events have encouraged the implementation of long-discussed but repeatedly frustrated plans for a European army: the election of Donald Trump and Brexit.

A first attempt to found a European Defence Community failed in 1954 in the face of French opposition. No further attempt was made for several decades. At the turn of the new century, efforts to establish closer military cooperation failed due to resistance from London, which, as Washington’s closest ally, wanted to prevent the emergence of any alternative to NATO.

Trump’s “America First” policy has sharpened the tensions between the United States and Europe. US policy in the Middle East and Southeast Asia is viewed in Berlin and Paris as an attack on their interests, and America, Europe and China are fighting among themselves for influence in Africa. Only in the preparations for war with Russia are the European powers and the US cooperating closely via NATO. But even here, there are tactical differences on how far the conflict should be pushed.

At the same time, Brexit has removed the most important opponent of a European army from the EU.

The PESCO agreement does not mean that all of the conflicts within Europe have been overcome, and that Germany and France will toe the same line from now on. Even prior to the agreement, sharp differences emerged.

While Paris wanted to restrict the agreement to a small, exclusive group of states with large armies that could intervene decisively in a crisis situation, Berlin pressed for the broadest possible range of participants, with a wide spectrum of tasks. Germany prevailed.

Since unanimous decisions are required, decision-making will be difficult. But Berlin feared that the Eastern European states, which are increasingly dominated by nationalist and anti-EU sentiment, would align with the US.

The huge hike in military spending connected with PESCO will exacerbate class tensions in Europe. The ruling elites are already responding to class tensions in every European country with a major buildup of the apparatus of state repression. This is encouraging right-wing and nationalist forces and tearing the EU apart.

In the final analysis, the growing tensions between the US and Europe are “not simply the product of the extreme nationalist policies of the current occupant of the White House,” as the World Socialist Web Site wrote in its June 2, 2017 Perspective column titled “The Great Unraveling: The crisis of the post-war geopolitical order.”

The column continued: “Rather, the tensions are rooted in deep contradictions between the interests of the major imperialist powers, which twice in the last century led to world war…

The events surrounding Trump’s trip to Europe reflect a crisis not only of American imperialism, but of the entire world capitalist system. None of Washington’s rivals—neither the EU, despised at home for its austerity policies, nor the economically moribund, right-wing regime in Japan, nor the post-Maoist capitalist oligarchy in China—offers a progressive alternative. Anyone who asserted that a coalition of these powers will emerge to stabilize world capitalism, and block the emergence of large-scale trade war and military conflict, would be placing heavy bets against history.”

The rearming of Europe confirms this. Only the construction of an international antiwar movement based on the working class and fighting for a socialist programme and the overthrow of capitalism can avert the catastrophe of another world war.

European Union anti-refugees conference


This video says about itself:

26 September 2016

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán has called for the European Union to create a “giant refugee city” on the Libyan coastline. He proposes the city could be used to house refugees and migrants coming from across Africa who are attempting to board boats in north Africa headed for Europe. Our Europe correspondent Jack Parrock reports.

Far right Viktor Orbán hates refugees. So, this ‘giant city’ would in practice be a ‘giant concentration camp‘. Where food for refugees, if any, would be thrown at them like at farm pigs; like happens in Orbán’s Hungary; and happened during World War II nazi concentration camps for Soviet prisoners of war, whom Hitler considered to be ‘Asian subhumans’. Or Orban’s ‘city’ might resemble the ‘tent city’ in Arizona, USA where racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio (convicted, but now pardoned by President Trump) used to have Latinos tortured for being Latinos.

Even not that progressive other European Union countries’ politicians sometimes criticize Orbán. However, now it looks like they are copying his anti-refugee ideas.

By Alex Lantier in France:

EU holds Paris conference to set up detention camps for migrants in Libya

29 August 2017

Yesterday, heads of state of Germany, France, Italy, and Spain and of the African states of Niger and Chad, together with UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of Libya attended a summit on immigration hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

The purpose of the summit stamped it with a politically criminal character. It discussed how to deny the right of asylum to hundreds of thousands of refugees and block their travel through Africa north to Libya and across the Mediterranean to Europe. The conference, attended by European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, discussed using the armed forces of the African regimes to detain refugees and send them back toward the countries they had fled, thus keeping them in Africa and deterring further migration.

The conference was an attempt above all to deal with the disastrous consequences of the 2011 NATO war in Libya, which destroyed the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and unleashed a bloody civil war that rages to this day. The summit also tried to contain escalating tensions among the European powers over which armed factions to support inside Libya.

Last week, the UN released a devastating report highlighting the horrific fate of vast numbers of refugees trapped in the civil war conditions of post-2011 Libya and exposing the forces that the EU is proposing to rely on to police refugees.

The UN reported, “Migrants continued to be subjected by smugglers, traffickers, members of armed groups and security forces to extreme violence; torture and other ill-treatment; forced labour; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; rape; and other sexual violence and exploitation. On 11 April 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) denounced the presence of slave markets in Libya, where sub-Saharan migrants were bought and sold and women were traded as sex slaves.”

Based on reports from the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), the UN painted a portrait of conditions in detention camps set up for migrants in Libya to halt and deter migration. The UN found that victims of brutal conduct from the various warring militias that rule post-Gaddafi Libya “had little avenue for redress, due to a general state of lawlessness and the weakness of judicial institutions.”

It wrote, “UNSMIL visited detention centres under the control of the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration in Gharyan, Tripoli, Misrata and Surman, where thousands of migrants have been held arbitrarily for prolonged periods of time with no possibility to challenge the legality of their detention. UNSMIL had documented cases of torture, ill-treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence. Detention centres remained overcrowded, and detainees were often malnourished, living in poor hygienic conditions and with limited or no access to medical care.”

The UN also documented the brutal conduct of EU-backed armed forces in Libya, who try to catch refugees to return them to these detention camps. Its report noted, “UNSMIL received numerous reports of dangerous, life-threatening interceptions by armed men believed to be from the Libyan Coast Guard. UNSMIL has been reviewing its support to the Libyan Coast Guard in line with the United Nations human rights due diligence policy.”

The conference issued a brief resolution late last night, calling for the EU to bring “particularly vulnerable” migrants from Libya to Europe, while relying on the armed forces of Niger and Chad and the various militias in Libya to keep refugees from reaching the Mediterranean. The conference also proposed to provide more equipment to the Libyan Coast Guard for its anti-refugee missions.

Macron said he wanted to “identify” which migrants are true refugees in Niger and Chad, before they could reach Libya on their journey north, so that others could be turned back. He blamed the terrible conditions that exist for refugees in Africa on people smugglers, declaring: “Certain trafficking groups that traffic in weapons, in human lives, and in drugs, and groups linked to terrorism have turned the desert in Africa and the Mediterranean into a graveyard. These same people are profoundly linked to terrorism.”

These are political lies, designed to falsely present a brutal EU policy of denying asylum rights to refugees based on outright armed repression as respecting human rights. It is not people smugglers or refugees that are responsible for civil war conditions in Libya, but the NATO powers, which bombed Libya and armed various Islamist militias in a war for regime change. As in imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, Libyan society rapidly disintegrated.

Wars across the Middle East and Africa have now produced the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 60 million people displaced from their homes. The reaction of the imperialist powers is not to halt the war drive or to seek to address the military conflicts and the poverty that is driving tens of millions to abandon their homes. Rather, they aim to work more closely with military dictatorships and irregular militias to prevent this unprecedented wave of migrants from reaching Europe.

Despite the European powers’ criticisms of US President Donald Trump, including his call to build a wall to block Mexican immigration north into the United States, their own policy towards African refugees is equally ruthless and brutal. As thousands of refugees crossed in the Mediterranean, EU officials sought to limit rescue operations, hoping news of refugees drowning at sea would deter migrants from trying to reach Europe.

Rescue operations encourage migration, one British diplomat explained, and “create an unintended ‘pull factor’ thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.” The solution was to eliminate the “pull factor” created by rescue measures and discourage migration by allowing refugees to drown. Since then, thousands of innocent refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean—2,400 in the first eight months of 2017 alone.

Under these conditions, the EU’s claim that it will bring “particularly vulnerable” migrants to Europe is another utterly cynical gesture. Any refugee in Libya is vulnerable due to the civil war conditions in the country, and promises to bring those that are “particularly vulnerable” only amounts to giving EU authorities the right to cherry-pick which refugees they will grant asylum.

According to initial reports, European officials at the conference summarily dismissed arguments by African heads of state that migration would continue so long as large parts of Africa are very poor. “The problem is poverty,” Mogherini said, but she ruled out launching “a new Marshall Plan” to devote substantial funding to create jobs in Africa. European officials are reportedly thinking of spending €6 million initially on poverty programmes, or up to €50 million in the long term—a drop in the bucket in a poverty-stricken region inhabited by hundreds of millions of people.

The summit not only reflected the EU’s militaristic and anti-refugee policy, but featured growing rivalries among the European powers over who would set the agenda and announce more ambitious plans to limit immigration to Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seeking re-election and trying to burnish her anti-immigrant credentials, announced yesterday a deal with the bloody Egyptian military dictatorship of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to limit migration to Europe.

Macron was compelled to abandon his plan to build French “hot spot” detention centres in Libya, presented in July amid sharp tensions with Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, as Paris and Rome backed rival armed forces inside Libya, led by General Khalifa Haftar and the Misrata militias, respectively.

Saving refugees from drowning, a crime?


This Associated Press video says about itself:

NGOs help rescue migrants in Mediterranean

(3 Feb 2017) The number of migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean sea surged on Friday … an NGO operating in the area said.

Doctors Without Borders said in a tweet that their rescue boat north of the Libyan coast was operating over capacity and holding 720 migrants after five rescues.

The Aquarius was receiving assistance from a another vessel operated by Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish NGO, that rescued 222 migrants, including one baby and two children, from two boats on Friday.

There were more boats in the sea, said the Proactiva Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza.

The migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were being transferred to an Italian port in Sicily, Lanuza said.

By Marianne Arens:

European Union and Italy step up pressure on organisations assisting refugees

29 July 2017

On July 25, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti (Democratic Party) ordered representatives of nine non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in the rescue of refugees to attend a meeting at his ministry. There they were called upon to sign a “Code of Conduct,” restricting their activities in the Mediterranean Sea.

As the WSWS noted two weeks ago, the new code violates “existing law”: “On the high seas international maritime law prevails, which obligatorily demands the rescue of people in distress … this is precisely what the ‘Code of Conduct’ is designed to prevent the NGOs and their rescue boats from undertaking.”

Should NGOs fail to sign the sinister, illegal code, Italy has threatened to close its ports to their ships. This is the latest disgraceful attempt by Italian authorities to rein in the activities of voluntary aid organisations and thereby reduce the number of migrants arriving from Africa. They want to restrict the NGOs and drive them out of the Mediterranean—or at least transform them into reliable adjuncts of the European Union (EU) Frontex operation and the Italian coast guard.

The migrant flight route across the Mediterranean is extremely dangerous. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), as of July 23, 2,361 people had either died or gone missing in 2017, while some 95,000 migrants had reached Italy by sea. The dead include an estimated 300 children.

Without the NGOs, the number of drowned and missing people would be considerably higher. Currently more than 40 percent of refugees rescued at sea owe their lives to organisations such as Sea-Watch, Sea-Eye, MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), Jugend Rettet (Rescuing Youth), Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, SOS Méditerranée, Proactiva Open Arms, etc.

“We are just in mid-July,” noted Timon Marszalek, the director of SOS Méditerranée Germany, “and we’ve saved as many people in the Mediterranean as we did last year. In view of the failure of the European Union, the intervention of civilian organisations like our own is indispensable to prevent the deaths of thousands of people.”

Marszalek pointed to one recent incident on July 11, in which a baby was born during a rescue operation. Mother and child were still connected by an umbilical cord when they were brought on board the Aquarius. This was the fifth birth at sea on this one rescue ship alone. “What would have happened if our team had not been there on time?” the SOS Méditerranée official asked. Such examples also show how desperate people must be to take to sea.

The “Code of Conduct” that NGOs are now being required to sign by the government of Paolo Gentiloni (Democratic Party) is a crude and deliberate attempt to sabotage rescue efforts. It establishes harsh guidelines and demands that refugees be transported directly to the Italian mainland instead of being transferred to larger ships belonging to the coast guard, merchant marine or navy. This forces the small NGO ships to undertake longer journeys and restricts their presence in the most dangerous waters where their work is most necessary.

Ruben Neugebauer of Sea-Watch told Deutschlandfunk (German radio): “What they want to achieve is obvious: they are trying to keep ships out of the danger zone because we undermine the concept of dying on Europe’s borders.”

NGOs are also forbidden to enter Libyan territorial waters, even if refugees’ lives are at stake. They must look on as people drown, without being able to intervene. NGOs must also accept Italian police accompanying their vessels to track down smugglers among the refugees. This can only lead to a worsening of relations between the rescue teams and refugees.

The “Code of Conduct” is not merely the work of the Italian authorities. It was agreed upon at a meeting of EU ministers in Tallinn, Estonia in early July. At that meeting German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière repeated his slanderous claim that NGOs were working with so-called people smugglers.

German newspapers have also run articles accusing NGOs of collaboration with smugglers. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung claimed, for example, that the rescue organisations were “involuntarily becoming an important element in the smugglers’ strategies.”

The Berliner Zeitung scandalously asserted that the NGOs’ role was not rescuing those in need at sea, but rather “assisting refugees and the transfer of emigrants.” The newspaper referred disapprovingly to Sea-Watch, based in Berlin. That organisation, which has not signed the “Code of Conduct,” rightly argues that there is already an International Law of the Sea, which obliges every boat owner to assist in sea rescue when necessary.

The Berliner Zeitung complains, however, that while it is “self-evident” that shipwrecked persons be saved, “this does not answer the question as to where to land those rescued. Sea-Watch 2 does not return the stranded to Libya, but brings them all to Europe.”

This slanderous article and the steps taken by the various EU interior ministers against the NGOs reveal there is a concerted campaign to drive private organisations out of the seas along the Libyan coast.

This campaign is bound up with unprecedented military deployment taking place in the Mediterranean off the North African coast. Taking part in the operation, which has been ongoing since June 2015 under the innocuous name of “Operation Sophia” (formerly known as Eunavfor [European Union Naval Force] Med), are the navies of Germany, Italy, Great Britain and other European countries.

On the same day the NGOs were summoned to the Italian Interior Ministry, the EU decided to extend the “Sophia” mission to the end of 2018. Officially, the remit of the operation is to combat “smuggler criminality on the Mediterranean” and thus prevent deaths at sea. In fact, the combined navies are responsible for just 8 percent of sea rescue operations.

In reality, mission “Sophia” is an important part of Europe’s plans for imperialist intervention in Africa. The Great Powers regard Africa as a strategically crucial area, with huge oil and natural gas deposits and other resources. With the war against Libya in 2011 and the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the new colonial “scramble for Africa” entered a new phase.

For the past six years the imperialist powers have been trying to install a new, reliable and loyal regime in Libya, which is key for access to Africa as a whole. This explains the background of a third important meeting in Paris on July 25: the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, invited the two main rivals in the Libyan civil war, Fayez al-Sarraj, the unelected head of the Western-backed Libyan Presidential Council, and Khalifa Hafter, [unelected] head of the so-called Libyan National Army and an “asset” of the CIA since the 1980s. The two men subsequently agreed to suspend their armed struggle and hold parliamentary elections in the spring of 2018. On Wednesday, Sarraj visited Italian government officials in Rome.

The EU has committed itself to continue financing the Libyan coast guard and equipping it with weapons. The European Union is supporting an organisation notorious for trafficking in human beings, torture and murder. At the request of the EU, the Libyan coast guard forces refugees into Libyan prisons, where around 300,000 people are currently being held under appalling conditions.

For their part, NGOs must decide whether or not to cooperate with the Italian government and sign the “Code of Conduct.” The NGOs rely on private donations and young volunteers. Their efforts demonstrate a widespread willingness to assist and defend refugees.

This readiness was confirmed a few weeks ago in a poll carried out by the European Broadcasting Agency. Almost 1 million young people between the ages of 18 and 35 were interviewed. Nearly three quarters (72 percent) said they were willing to actively support immigrants. Some 78 percent of respondents in Germany said they noticed growing nationalism, and considered it a bad thing. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of young people in Germany and the overwhelming majority of young people surveyed said they were not ready to fight in a war.

The poll demonstrates the abyss between the vast majority of the population and establishment politics. Millions of workers and young people express their solidarity with the refugees and are ready to help them, while the political elite and governments are permitting thousands to drown in the Mediterranean.