06 June 2014

NGOs have urged EU countries to open legal access routes for refugees and step up safe and rescue efforts to prevent deaths of people attempting to reach Europe. The message is directed at EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Ministers, who met this week to review the work of the European Commission-led Task Force Mediterranean, which was established in October 2013 to identify measures to prevent migrant deaths at sea.

With the notable exception of the Italian Mare Nostrum operation, which has rescued more than 30,000 people, Human Rights Watch has underlined that the majority of the EU’s policy responses have focused on border enforcement and removal.

Pro Asyl called on EU countries to step up its resettlement commitments to help refugees fleeing Syria. “Europe’s shameful denial and indifference in the face of the greatest humanitarian crisis of this century must end”, said Karl Kopp, Director of European Affairs at Pro Asyl. The NGO regretted that “as yet, there are no signs that the EU resettlement conference for refugees fleeing Syria, demanded by the German Parliament on 8 May, will be organised”.

Together with the need to open safe routes to Europe for refugees, Amnesty International emphasized that the JHA Council was an opportunity for Member States to commit to increased search and rescue. Italy’s efforts through the Mare Nostrum operation should be applauded ( …) “but they cannot be left to carry out this life-saving work alone. Member states should jointly commit to increased search and rescue, to ensure the sustainability of this vital humanitarian intervention,”said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“Without stronger collective EU action, this summer risks being the Mediterranean’s drowning season (…) EU justice and home affairs ministers should give financial and material backing to Italy’s vital efforts to save migrants’ lives at sea.” said Benjamin Ward, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

Over 100 organisations, including Pro Asyl, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and ECRE, along with over 10,000 citizens of Europe, are calling on the political leaders of the EU to finally take action, by opening safe routes to the EU for refugees fleeing Syria, stopping push-backs at the EU borders, and facilitating family reunification.

EU Commissioner Malmström has also reiterated the need for EU countries to accept more refugees through resettlement and humanitarian visas.

The JHA Council took note of the report from the Commission about the state of the implementation of initiatives linked to the recommendations of the Task Force Mediterranean, and recalled that the European Council will return to the issue of asylum and migration at its next meeting on 26-27 June, when strategic guidelines for further legislative and operational planning in the area of freedom, security and justice will be adopted.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 06 June 2014.
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