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The horrific shipwreck off Cutro, southern Italy, claimed the lives of 85 people while at least 17 are still missing since it took place on February 26.

The tragedy came as a stark reminder of how the Mediterranean remains the deadliest known migration route in the world.

Over 26,000 people have disappeared in the Mediterranean since 2014, according to data collected by the International Organization for Migration.

The coffins of the people who died in the shipwreck symbolize the image of Europe’s failing migration policy.

Preventable tragedies and the flood of political hypocrisy

Recent revelations in the media suggest that this tragedy could have been prevented.

In a futile game, Italian authorities and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, continue to avoid their responsibility for the lack of search and rescue services.

According to Frontex, Italian authorities ignored its warnings, based on reconnaissance signals and “thermal reaction” from the boat, which indicated that the vessel was carrying a large number of people.

Italian authorities did not classify Frontex’s notification as an “emergency” and mobilized a “law enforcement operation” instead of a search and rescue operation.

To make matters worse, while search and rescue and disembarkation operations are currently not covered by a common EU legal framework, search and rescue operations carried out by non-governmental organizations are heavily criminalized by member states.

In early February, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) sent a letter to the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, expressing strong concern about the further restrictive rules applied to civilian search and rescue vessels introduced by the Italian far-right government.

It hasn’t even been a month and the bodies of men, women and children are washing up on Italian shores.

Whenever such tragedies occur, the flood of political hypocrisy is hard to digest.

That’s not what “acting together” is supposed to be about

In a letter that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sent in response to the Italian Prime Minister, she wrote, “migration is a challenge that we are struggling to meet and that requires fundamental and global solutions. These can only be achieved by acting together .”

Von der Leyen was “deeply saddened by the terrible shipwreck” on her social media, but she took the opportunity to push her migration proposals: the Pact on Migration and Asylum and the Action Plan for the Central Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, her political group, the European People’s Party (EPP) and many EU member states are redoubling their efforts to strengthen “Fortress Europe”, demanding EU funds to build walls and fences at the Union’s borders and leading a crusade against NGOs , criminalize their life-saving work.

That is not what we mean by “acting together”.

We must say it loud and clear: the Mediterranean is becoming Europe’s graveyard, not by chance or by unfortunate circumstances.

It is the result of conscious political choices pursued at any cost, including human life.

A matter of fundamental rights and human dignity

When it comes to migration policy, the EU’s only concern is to prevent people on the move from reaching safety in Europe.

Be it by striking agreements with third countries with dubious human rights to prevent departures, hiding illegal strikes or pushing a migration policy that systematically undermines fundamental rights, in particular the right to asylum.

Seeking safety from conflict or oppression and seeking a better life for you and your family is normal.

But until we have uncomplicated, safe and legal routes into the EU, people will have no choice but to get on boats, put their lives in the hands of smugglers and embark on one of the most dangerous journeys in the world.

People have a right to asylum. This is a matter of fundamental rights and human dignity.

It is high time for EU leaders to stop the political games at the cost of countless lives and act: a humane EU migration policy that ensures safe and legal routes so that people can come to Europe with dignity and without risking their lives.

We cannot let humanity drown.

Cornelia Ernst (Die Linke, Germany) and Pietro Bartolo (Partido Democratico, Italy) are Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Both serve as members of the Committee for Civil Liberties and Rights and Legal and Home Affairs (LIBE).

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