24 April 2015

Days after what appears to be the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean, where over 800 migrants and refugees died, EU leaders gathered in an emergency summit in Brussels to decide on immediate steps to put an end to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. ECRE, together with other NGOs, has expressed concern over the European Council’s response as it predominantly aims at preventing migrants and refugees from reaching Europe and externalising restrictive border control policies to countries of transit and origin.

According to the Council’s conclusions, the EU intends to “strengthen [its] presence at sea, to fight the traffickers, to prevent illegal migration flows and to reinforce internal solidarity and responsibility”.

“If one looks at the nationalities of the people who are [arriving by boat] they are Syrians and Eritreans – these are people that are fleeing for their life. They are fleeing conflicts and dictatorships and they will leave no matter what. If [the EU] tries to address smuggling and trafficking only, it is only addressing the symptoms. But if you want to put smugglers out of business you need to create the opportunity for people to come legally,” stated Aspasia Papadopoulou, ECRE’s Senior Policy Officer.

In terms of safe and legal access to Europe, EU Heads of State have only agreed on setting up a voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU.

“We need substantial increases in the use of resettlement, family reunification, humanitarian visas and the temporary lifting of visa requirements if we are to stem the illegal smuggling. It is the lack of protection and access to regular migration channels which fuels smuggling,” stated Peter Balleis SJ, Director of JRS International Director.

In contrast, EU leaders have committed to triple the financial resources for Frontex Operation Triton in the least, allowing to increase the search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean.  This will make Triton’s budget to a size equivalent to the one of the Mare Nostrum operation, which has saved the lives of over 100,000 people.

“The only result of the Council is the increase of the budget of Triton. It has been brought to €9 million. The mandate of Triton has not been revised and its focus remains the control of borders and its range of action circumscribed within 30 miles from Italian coasts. Not search and rescue,” stated the Italian Council for Refugees.

Earlier this week, in response to a Ten point action plan on migration put forward by the European Commission –  which included actions such as the establishment of a new programme for rapid return of irregular migrants and the deployment of the immigration liaison officers in key third countries –  ECRE published its Ten-point plan to prevent deaths at sea. 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 stated.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 24 April 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.