Monday, May 2, 2016
Last week, the UN's World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden, and the University of Genoa co-hosted a symposium on Migration at Sea. Topics ranged from the role of merchant ships in rescue operations to refugee reception procedures in the Mediterranean to smugglers in Africa and information hubs in Singapore. A highlight was learning more about a new organization, Human Rights at Sea, founded by a British maritime barrister in 2014. Among other things, Human Rights at Sea takes on the treatment of refugees on the seas, labor rights of seamen, and business and human rights issues raised by unsustainable fishing practices.
Though many of the presenters were focused on migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean, the US Coast Guard was represented at the conference as well, with a knowledgeable speaker who discussed US operations in the Caribbean. The US had a number of "best practices" to share, including bilateral agreements with source countries that ensure open lines of communication when problems arise. Still, after a day of European speakers talking about refugee rights, and refugees' exploitation by smugglers and traffickers, there were quiet gasps in the audience when the US Coast Guard speaker clicked through to a slide labeled "The Migrant Threat," with the insignia of US Department of Homeland Security in the corner. The conference moderator quickly pointed out the clear difference in orientation between the US and the other countries represented at the meeting.
For Americans in the audience, it was a reminder that Human Rights at Home in the US must include US practices at sea.