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EU migrant policy: Lawyers call it a crime against humanity

Published: Updated:

More than 40,000 people have been intercepted in the Mediterranean and taken to detention camps and torture houses under a European migration policy that is responsible for crimes against humanity, according to a legal document asking the International Criminal Court to take the case Monday.

The request filed with the ICC alleges that European Union officials are knowingly responsible for migrant deaths on land and at sea, as well as culpable for rapes and torture of migrants committed by members of the Libyan coast guard, which is funded and trained at the expense of European taxpayers.

The filing names no specific EU officials but cites an ongoing ICC investigation into the fate of migrants in Libya.

Officials with the European Union’s executive commission and the German and Spanish governments defended the EU’s strategy to curb migration and efforts to help migrants in Libya.

France dismissed the accusations as “senseless” and lacking “any legal foundations.”

The legal document cites public EU documents, and statements from the French president, the German chancellor, and other top officials from the bloc.

“We leave it to the prosecutor, if he dares, if she dares, to go into the structures of power and to investigate at the heart of Brussels, of Paris, of Berlin, and Rome and to see by searching in the archives of the meetings of the negotiations who was really behind the scenes trying to push for these policies that triggered the death of more than 14,000 people,” said Juan Branco, a lawyer who co-wrote the report and shared it with The Associated Press.

He was referring to the deaths and disappearances at sea, which come on top of the interceptions by the Libyan forces.

The ICC is a court of last resort that handles cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide when other countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute. It is up to the prosecutor, who receives many such requests, to decide whether to investigate and ultimately bring a case.

The EU spokeswoman in charge of migration, Natasha Bertaud, declined to comment directly on the court filing but said the EU’s overall approach to intercepting migrants was directed at saving lives.

“The EU’s track record on saving lives in the Mediterranean speaks for itself, saving lives has been our top priority and we have been working relentlessly to this end,” Bertaud said.

The first crime, according to the document, was the decision to end the Mare Nostrum rescue operation near the end of 2014. In one year, the operation rescued 150,810 migrants in the Mediterranean as hundreds of thousands crossed the sea.

The operation cost more than 9 million euros a month, nearly all paid for by Italy. It was replaced by an operation named Triton, financed by all 28 EU nations at a fraction of the cost. But unlike the earlier operation, Triton ships didn’t patrol directly off the Libyan coast, the origin of most of the flimsy smuggling boats that were taking off for Europe.

Deaths in the Mediterranean then soared. In 2014, around 3,200 migrants died in the sea. The following year, it rose to over 4,000, and in 2016 peaked at over 5,100 deaths and disappearances, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration.