20 November 2015

The Directorate General for External Policies of the European Parliament has published the study ‘Migrants in the Mediterranean: Protecting Human Rights’, which highlights that, up to 16 October, 613,179 persons arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean this year and 3,117 of those died while attempting to cross. These figures make the Mediterranean Sea the world’s most dangerous migratory region. The majority of those arriving are refugees, fleeing war, conflict and persecution, the report stresses.

The study provides a detailed overview of the legal framework protecting the rights of migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe by boat, and identifies how these rights may be violated at various stages of their journey. During pre-departure, migrants may face exploitation and abuse by officials and bandits; and detention by authorities of transit countries, with a risk of ill-treatment, violence and torture from both. There have been reports of push-back operations in Italy, Greece and Spain; including by Frontex. These actions violate the fundamental principle of nonrefoulement.

In the absence of safe and legal channels to seek asylum in the EU, the actual crossing of the Mediterranean entails serious risks to the right to life. Once in Europe, they face human rights violations on their route to their final destination, particularly on the Western Balkans route where they are liable to trafficking, smuggling, violence and abuse by police. Refugees and migrants are forced to live in extremely poor reception conditions, with vulnerable groups like women and children not being identified.

With regards to EU policies on migration, the study finds that the respective governments’ primary aims are the protection and securitisation of their borders, rather than the development of effective strategies to protect the human rights of migrants and to save lives in the Mediterranean. It makes a number of recommendations to improve protection of migrants, including; addressing the root causes of migration, creating more legal entry channels to the EU and moving from border control to rescue operations.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 20 November 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.