A migrant holding onto a rope during a rescue operation this month off Libya’s Mediterranean coastline. Photo Credit: Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A “Modest” Proposal to End Death in the Mediterranean

Article in The New York Times
24 October, 2016

“The surest way to shut down this dangerous transit is to stop providing transport. No one should be left to drown, but there is an alternative: Rescue them and send them back. The drownings will stop when the boats stop leaving, and the boats will stop when the traffickers can no longer convince migrants they can get across.

Sending migrants back wouldn’t require establishing an international presence in Libya. Libyan boats could be hired to tow migrants’ boats back in. In fact, the European Union is already working with the Libyan forces to intercept some boats. Smugglers will fight to protect a lucrative business, but militias opposed to them would willingly accept European backing to combat them. And naval forces already involved in rescues could provide cover, instead of doing the smugglers’ work for them.”

A very dangerous proposal, which would put countless lives at risk and push migrants towards even more dangerous routes controlled by even more reckless smuggling rings. The proposal is inspired by the Australian “Pacific Solution” of sending migrants to PNG or Nauru: Australia can boast that it has “stopped the boats”, but at what cost? Australia also benefits from its geographic isolation, which is not the case of Europe. Unfortunately, European States have already started implementing such a policy, through supporting the Libyan authorities (which ones?) arresting migrants before they board the boats and establishing detention centres in Libya. Libyan detention centres have been known to be dreadful places of corruption, racketeering and torture, often controlled by traffickers using migrants to obtain ransom from their families. Funding arbitrary detention and torture centres abroad cannot form part of a viable human-rights-based European migration policy.

My colleague Janet Cleveland has made an edifying response to the article on the dangerous “modest proposal”. She has authorised me to circulate it:

The author appears to be blissfully unaware of the connotations of the phrase ‘A Modest Proposal’, which is the title of a famous satire written by Jonathan Swift (also the author of ‘Gullivers’ Travels’) in the early 18th century.

The full title of the original satire was A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick. 

Swift (satirically) proposed that the destitute Irish population sell their children to be butchered and eaten by the British aristocracy, thereby becoming economically self-reliant and reducing overpopulation. The term ‘A Modest Proposal’ is now a catchphrase for this type of ferocious satire.

Ultimately, the title is perhaps apposite: a deceptively well-meaning proposal by a privileged elite that will in fact only increase the oppression of the most vulnerable.

To read the full article in the NY Times, please click here.

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