Militarizing the Mediterranean Sea – Putting Refugees at Risk

August 15, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria

This spring and summer, tens of thousands of refugees have again embarked primarily from Libya and taken the dangerous so-called Mediterranean route to Europe. According to the current estimates of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 111,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea so far this year, the vast majority of them arrived in Italy in overloaded and unseaworthy boats. According to the IOM’s figures, more than 2,300 have died on their journey in 2017 so far.

As a reaction to these figures and growing frustration in Italy over the lack of sharing the burden of these refugees more fairly in Europe, Italy and Libya have undertaken some significant steps to curb the endless stream of desperate refugees. For weeks, Italian authorities have raged up the rhetoric against those organizations that operate vessels committed to rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. Italy has accused these NGO to facilitate the work of the smugglers, if not openly collaborating with them and even benefitting financially from this collaboration (a claim staunchly denied by the groups assisting the refugees at sea). Italy demanded these NGOs to sign a new ‘code of conduct’ that would severely restrict their options at sea. The charities involved in the rescue missions argue that such action would put thousand of lives at risk. In early August, Italian police impounded a boat operated by the German aid organisation Jugend Rettet (Youth Rescues) based on the suspicion that, through its rescue mission, this organization has facilitated illegal migration.

At the end of last week, Libya has made the next, radical step in this push towards curbing the flow of refugees towards the shores of southern Europe. It issued a navy ban declaring that all foreign vessels assisting refugees are not allowed to enter a so-called “search and rescue zone” off the Libyan coast (the exact size of this zone is still unclear). Only some days earlier, an NGO vessel reported being shot at by a Libyan coast guard boat. As a result, Doctors Without Borders announced a temporary halt to its mission in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday. Other NGOs have already followed suit. The Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano has wholeheartedly welcomed the move by the Libyan government and declared in an interview in La Stampa on Sunday: “This sends a signal that the balance is being restored in the Mediterranean.”

For a whole range of reasons Libya and Italy – in concert with the EU’s Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) have clearly embarked on a strategy of deterrence in their attempt to curb the massive influx of refugees (in the Italian case, the looming general elections are a significant factor). Yet, clamping down on rescue operations and militarizing the governance of the border in the Mediterranean Sea is likely to have some devastating effect on those refugees whose desperation drive them to risk their lives to embark on the journey to Europe. By banning refugees from the public eye and impeding humanitarian assistance, Italy and the rest of Europe threatens to undermine their own constitutive values. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights commits all member states to the Right to Asylum (Article 18) and the EU portrays itself as vitally devoted to the protection of human rights. However, in their practical implications, the current strategy of banning humanitarian aid at sea and of addressing the suffering of the refugees with military force and deterrence will result in the outright violation of these fundamental values. For Italy, like for other liberal democracies in today’s world, the global refugee crisis poses a fundamental moral challenge, - one that will not be solved with the closing of borders.

 

 

Elisabeth Vallet: Expert on Border Fences in a Globalised World

Dr. Elisabeth Vallet, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Geography and scientific director of Geopolitics at the Raoul Dandurand Chair at the University of Quebec at Montreal, presents her research on border fences in a globalised world. She speaks about her research on the triggers for the increase of more borders/fences around the world and the impact this has for the redefinition of border lands and citizenship. See the video here.

French Presidential Election: Macron's clear mandate to govern and long term political effects for France and Europe

May 10, 2017 - Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

Watch Helga Hallgrimsdottir (Public Administration), Marc Lortie former Canadian Ambassador to France) and Oliver Schmidtke (Centre for Global Studies)  discussing the second run of the French presidential election. 

Video 1: Reflections on the electoral results: a commanding victory for Marcon

Video 2: The ongoing electoral contest: towards the Parliamentary elections in June

Video 3: An opportunity to reinvigorating the EU under a Macron Presidency

 

French presidential election: The crisis of the political establishment and the desire for political change

 

CTV interview with Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

April 23, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

A sigh of relief is palpable in Europe after the first round of the French presidential election: While the Front National leader Marine Le Pen advances, as expected, to the runoff election on May 7th, she will face Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist candidate who is widely seen as the contender most likely to beat Le Pen in the second round.

Yet, the strong performance of Macron and the likely defeat of the Front National leader in the runoff election is anything but business as usual. For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic since 1958, none of the candidates of the mainstream parties has entered the final round of the presidential race. Their contestants struggled respectively with serious corruption allegations (Republican François Villon) and with the legacy of the highly unpopular Socialist president François Hollande (Socialist Benoît Hamon). The first round of the presidential election was an anti-establishment vote driven by a deep desire for the fundamental renewal of politics. The fourth placed candidate, the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, owes his strong showing to similar sentiments. If Emmanuel Macron were elected president in two weeks, he would preside in the Élysée Palace without the backing of any party. His organization En Marche! is not a party and does not have any seats in the French Parliament. In this respect, a Macron presidency would pose entirely new challenges to how the country is governed. The presidential election and the legislative elections in June will change French politics and most likely the French political system in far-reaching and largely unpredictable ways. 

On May 7th, the French electorate will face a blunt choice with two fundamentally opposing visions for the future of the country. Le Pen’s nationalistic, Islamophobic program evokes the vision of France outside of the Euro zone and possibly the European Union as well as a country in which migrants are no longer welcome and diversity is perceived as a genuine threat to French national identity. In contrast, Macron advocates for a pro-European, cosmopolitan vision with a strong commitment to international trade and transatlantic cooperation (including CETA). In his own words, Macron promises to be a president of “patriots” against the “nationalist threat”. The runoff election in early May will show whether Macron's rhetorically powerful, albeit elusive promise of hope and change will prove appealing enough to steal the political thunder from nationalist populism.