19 April 2016. This week we mark the tragic anniversary of the deaths of 800 people in the biggest shipwreck yet recorded in the Mediterranean Sea. Last year, nearly 4,000 children, women and men died because the EU let them drown by not providing an alternative route to safety. People fleeing war and persecution attempt deadly sea crossings because they have no safe and legal way to reach safety in the EU.

Horrified by the events unfolding a year ago, the EU finally stepped up its search and rescue efforts to prevent further deaths at sea, a welcome development which many had called for. Nonetheless, little has been done to open safe and legal pathways to protection and the EU Member States lack of action continues to take its toll – with reports emerging this week of another shipwreck in the Mediterranean with as many as 400 people feared to have died.

EU leaders must stop shedding crocodile tears and put in place measures that provide access to protection for refugees. In recent months, their focus has been on preventing people from entering its territory, with the closure of the Balkans route and the EU-Turkey deal. But blocking one route only serves to open new and often more dangerous ones, with the side effect that organised criminal networks flourish.

“Lives are being put at risk again and again due to a lack of understanding of the risks people are willing to take, given the situation in their countries of origin. There are international and EU obligations to accept people in need of international protection. Access to EU territory must be granted,” says Catherine Woollard, ECRE’s Secretary General.  

ECRE urges the EU Institutions and Member States to provide credible options for those in need to access protection, including resettlement programmes, the use of humanitarian visas, and the application of flexible family reunification policies.

The EU-Turkey deal does not represent an answer in terms of opening safe and legal channels. Resettlement is crucial but the numbers are small compared to the needs. Second, establishing an exchange, whereby resettlement places are conditional on deportations to Turkey is morally and legally deplorable, as ECRE has already stated.

The main results so far are the forced transfer of desperate people to Turkey where they face uncertain and unsafe conditions. The deal, along with the closure of borders, has displaced smuggling activities, leading people to take more dangerous routes. Unless safe and legal pathways are opened, 2016 will be the deadliest year yet for those seeking protection in the EU.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Rita Carvalho
+32 2 212 08 20