Ahead of the EU’s extraordinary summit of 23 April 2015, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) is calling on the 28 Heads of States and Governments to urgently reconsider the proposed package of measures to tackle the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. The EMHRN exhorts EU leaders to shift their focus away from surveillance, intelligence gathering and border controls towards a genuine human rights perspective – with the protection of migrants and refugees at the heart of their concerns.
In a deadly context of shocking magnitude, the EMHRN deeply regrets that the 10-point plan backed up by the Joint Foreign and Home Affairs Council does nothing but translate EU’s stubbornness to tackle migration challenges through the prism of tighter security and border control. The EU’s refusal to acknowledge and take into account the root cause of migration flows is particularly worrying, given that the proposed plan is a mere replica of the inappropriate one implemented in the wake of the October 2013 shipwreck off Lampedusa.
The EMHRN calls on EU Council members to seize the opportunity of this emergency summit to react to a crisis of unprecedented magnitude by offering an equally unprecedented response to meet migration challenges. As the Mediterranean Sea is turning into the deadliest moat ever for migrants and refugees, it is urgent that European leaders engage in concrete redress at the policy level, in line with EU’s principles, rather than measures which have turned the Mediterranean into a graveyard for thousands of innocent people.
Since the beginning of 2015, over 1,500 people have been reported dead or disappeared in the Mediterranean. These estimations are probably below the real figures and add up to the sad and record number of 3,200 who lost their lives at sea in 2014 (according to the IOM). If these tragedies are, sadly, nothing new, they are growing in scale. Over the past fifteen years, the EMHRN, together with other civil society organisations have steadily voiced their concerns based on documented evidence: EU’s migration policies bear a very negative impact on migrants and refugees’ rights, both in the EU – including at its external border – and beyond.
In that context, the EMHRN asks that EU decision-makers commit to:
- Setting up robust national Search and Rescue (SAR) mechanisms, rather than reinforcing Frontex’s capacities. Frontex is not a SAR agency. The EU should urgently prioritise search and rescue tasks over surveillance, and provide both financial and technical support to competent SAR authorities in all EU countries concerned.
- Opening legal channels to all migrants and stop the short-term visa policies, and ensure that refugees have access to the European territory where their individual situation should be assessed. The EMHRN insists that smugglers are not the cause but rather the consequence of migrants and refugees’ impossibility to access EU territory. Being denied the right to leave any country, including their own in a safe way, migrants are left with no choice but to use the Mediterranean route. EU leaders should, therefore, acknowledge that migrants’ and refugee’s vulnerability to abuse, inhumane and degrading treatment on their way to Europe is a direct result from political choices made in their respective countries.
- Immediate proposals to address resettlement needs of refugees fleeing conflicts in the South and East Mediterranean region as well as in sub-Saharan Africa, so as to live up to the resettlement commitment made at the UNHCR conferences, particularly as regards the Syrian crisis. A pilot project as proposed by the EU is insufficient.
- Stop conditioning access to mobility to the EU for non-EU nationals upon the signature of readmission agreements by their country of origin.
- Stop associating migration with a security threat which fuels discriminatory policies, prevents people from moving freely, paves the way to human trafficking and contradicts international law. To date, many third countries criminalise unauthorised emigration, in violation of the right to leave any country which has a binding force in international law. The EU must stop using its external cooperation – including immigration liaison officers – as a means to reinforce border controls that too often contravenes the right to leave any country including one’s own, and in many cases the right to seek asylum.
While mourning these preventable deaths, the EMHRN reiterates that it ultimately lies with EU decision-makers not to pay lip service to migration challenges but seek to address them, for the sake of those men, women and children still facing the same fate in the Mediterranean.