Faced with another Tragedy at Sea, EU Evades its Responsibility Again

Europe, Impunity/Accountability, Libya, Migration and Asylum, Statement, Syria

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Amid public shock and anger at the tragic death of more than 900 people including refugees fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Libya, the EU Council held an ”emergency” summit. Following a moment of silence to mourn these preventable deaths, EU leaders went back to business as usual.

The Euro- Mediterranean Human Rights Network deeply regrets that its recommendations were not addressed in the Council’s conclusions which fall short, both politically and morally.

In the face of human tragedies, the EU seems more determined than ever to tighten its control, carry out deportation operations and even increase military cooperation. Instead of reinforcing existing search-and-rescue (SAR) mechanisms across all the Mediterranean to save more lives, EU leaders tripled the budget of its border management agency Frontex, not a SAR agency, to operate its Triton and Poseidon joint operation, without defining the areas covered.

Oblivious to the real reasons that push desperate people to risk their lives at sea, EU leaders vowed to crackdown on ‘traffickers’ and destroy their boats. However, smugglers are not the cause but the consequence of the lack of legal channels to reach the EU. Migrants’ and refugee’s vulnerability to abuse and death is thus an outcome of the EU’s failure to live up to its legal and moral commitments.

Despite calls from the European Commission, the UN, the European Fundamental Rights Agency, the Council of Europe and other international organisations on the EU to increase legal migration channels, resettle more refugees, including by activating the 2001 Temporary Protection Directive to deal with emergency crisis situations like Syria, the European leaders pledged to collectively resettle only 5,000 refugees. This falls far short of the humanitarian needs, and pales in comparison to the number of refugees hosted in other countries, such as Turkey which alone hosts 1.8 million refugees from Syria.

The death toll at sea has risen to 1,800 this year alone, compared to fewer than 100 who lost their lives by the end of April in 2014 while making the same journey. By framing a humanitarian pressing issue in security terms and refusing to offer legal safe channels to those fleeing wars, the EU evades its responsibility toward its plagued neighbors and woefully leave them perish in the sea.

With each tragedy, the EU’s hollow rhetoric of solidarity and human rights is further exposed. It is high time the ‘no more excuses’ declared by its High Representative was translated into actions that save lives.