Rethinking Fortress Europe

LONDON – There is something rotten about the European Union’s debate on migration. The continent’s political leaders, paralyzed by the rise of anti-immigrant populism, are turning their backs on desperately vulnerable people fleeing war, human-rights abuses, and economic collapse.

Nowhere is the human cost of European policies more visible than in the Mediterranean Sea. The waters between Europe and Africa are the world’s deadliest migration route. Roughly 300,000 people are estimated to have made the crossing in 2014 – more than twice as many as in 2013. Some 3,000 died from drowning, hunger, exposure, or asphyxiation.

Most migrants set out from Libya, which has emerged as the center of a multi-million-dollar human-trafficking industry. Until recently, most migrants setting out for Italy made the crossing on small vessels. But, in a new twist, Italian authorities at the beginning of this year rescued hundreds of migrants, including pregnant women and dozens of children, aboard an aging steel-hulled freighter. The crew had jumped ship.

Given its close proximity to a deadly conflict in Syria and countries marked by extreme poverty, human-rights abuses, and weak or collapsed states and economies, the EU is inevitably a magnet for migrants and asylum-seekers. That is why it needs a migration policy that reflects the values on which it was founded. Unfortunately, respect for human life has taken a back seat to baser political calculations.