23 April 2015. ECRE calls on the EU Heads of State gathering in Brussels today to show leadership and political courage and commit to measures that prioritise saving lives and ensure access to protection for refugees.
Today, migrants and refugees often have to resort to ruthless smuggling networks and risk their lives in the Mediterranean because they have no other choice. The most effective way to put smugglers out of business is to give refugees and migrants a way to reach Europe in a legal and safe manner. The use of legal channels for persons in need of international protection, the launch of a European Search and Rescue Operation, as well as building protection capacity in regions of origin and ensuring true solidarity between EU Member States must be at the forefront of the EU’s response.
ECRE therefore calls on the EU institutions and the EU Member States to:
- Launch a European Search and Rescue Operation in the Mediterranean, which should, at a minimum, be the size of Italy’s Mare Nostrum Operation, which saved over 100,000 people. Such an Operation could be coordinated by the EU Border Agency Frontex as search and rescue is an inherent part of border surveillance according to the Frontex’ Maritime Border Surveillance Regulation.
- Significantly increase the numbers of refugees admitted to Europe through resettlement programmes and humanitarian admission.
- Give refugees the possibility to apply for safe entry and international protection through EU embassies in countries neighbouring refugees’ regions of origin. Make use of the possibility to grant humanitarian visas in accordance with Article 19 and 20 EU Visa Code to help those in need of international protection to leave areas of conflict in a safe and legal manner.
- Facilitate family reunification for people in the region who have family members living in Europe so that they can easily join their loved ones. In particular, family reunification should be granted to all beneficiaries of international protection under the same conditions. States should apply a broader definition of family members to include non-nuclear family. Flexibility should also be applied to the amount of documents required to prove family links and with regards to travel documents.
- Expand legal channels for migration beyond highly skilled workers.
- Develop a comprehensive cooperation agenda with countries of origin and transit to build resilient protection systems in close cooperation with UNHCR, enhance efforts to address root causes of refugee flight and support migration and mobility through development cooperation.
- Implement a crisis management action plan with regard to arrivals at sea. This should include the deployment of EASO support teams to assist EU countries where asylum seekers are disembarked with the processing of asylum applications and the relocation of those granted international protection within the EU with the consent of the individuals concerned. Such a plan should also foresee the possibility to allocate responsibility for asylum seekers to Member States other than the Member State of disembarkation with the consent of the persons concerned, where the number of arrivals exceeds their processing and reception capacity.
- Provide professional medical and psychological assistance to the refugees and migrants who survived the journey in coping with their often traumatizing experience and take the appropriate measures to ensure the respectful treatment of those who lost their lives at sea
- Show genuine solidarity with the Member States of disembarkation. By making an effective use of the discretionary clauses in the recast Dublin Regulation, Member States can reunite family members and examine applications of asylum seekers for humanitarian reasons. European countries should facilitate mutual recognition of positive asylum decisions and the swift transfer of protection statuses within the EU so that refugees can settle where they have more integration prospects.
- Invest significantly in voluntary return programmes that assist those whose claim for international protection was unsuccessful in a fair asylum procedure and other migrants without a right of residence to return to their countries in safety and dignity.
ECRE acknowledges that the challenges are complex and that there are no miracle solutions but this cannot be used as an excuse to continue with an approach that predominantly focuses on preventing refugees from reaching Europe.
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Senior Press & Public Information Officer
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The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is a pan-European alliance of 87 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.