26 June 2015

Human Rights Watch’s recent report “The Mediterranean Migration Crisis: Why People Flee, What the EU Should Do” identifies severe human rights violations in asylum seekers’ countries of origin, forcing them to make perilous journeys across the Mediterranean to reach Europe. It also examines the deficiencies in EU migration and asylum policies that contributes to the failure to respond to the current situation.

The report is based on over 150 interviews with migrants and asylum seekers who arrived in Italy and Greece in May. In addition, it draws on Human Rights Watch research in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia; countries engaged in war and generalised violence that accounts for over 60 percent of those taking the journey. Similarly, the report cites the situation in Eritrea, a country ruled by a highly repressive government. Asylum seekers arriving from these countries have experienced recruitment by armed groups, threats from insurgent groups, such as the Taliban, Al-Shabaab and ISIS, arbitrary arrests and detention, sexual violence and other severe human rights violations that forced them to flee.

As Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, states: “The majority of those crossing the Mediterranean are taking terrible risks because they have to, not because they want to. Saving lives and increasing safe pathways into Europe should be the EU’s priorities, while ensuring that all cooperation with countries of origin and transit countries respects international human rights standards.”

The Mediterranean is identified as “the world’s deadliest migration route”. In the first five months of 2015 alone at least 1,850 people died at sea trying to reach European coasts. The EU has recently taken some positive steps with the adoption of the “European Agenda on Migration” but remains focused on preventing departures, and limiting arrivals, rather than providing legal alternatives to dangerous migration avenues.  The severe human rights violations that these people face clearly calls for drastic changes in EU’s priorities.

Human Right Watch calls on EU leaders to uphold search and rescue operations, ensuring that those rescued are brought to safe EU ports.  With the approaching EU Council on June 25-26, HRW calls on EU leaders to increase legal and safe ways for people to seek asylum in Europe, by expanding resettlement for refugees, facilitating family reunification and increasing humanitarian visas to people in need of international protection.

Taking into account the inequitable distribution of asylum seekers among EU member states, a more fair solution within the European Union is needed, based on country population, total GDP, unemployment rates and the respective number of asylum applications and resettled refugees from 2010-2014.

Furthermore, HRW urges the EU to ensure that anti-smuggling operations to tackle irregular migration – including EUNAVFOR Med operations – will be in full compliance with rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, such as the right to life and security, effective remedy and protection against refoulement.

HRW urges the EU to ensure that cooperation with sending and transit countries will not trap people in abusive situations and calls on EU member states and the EU to use their political and economic influence to address the causes of migration and focus on the human rights violations that constitute the main push factor for refugees fleeing to European countries.


This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 26 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.