Laurent Hini



(Brussels 20 March)The lives and rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees are being threatened by European Union (EU) member states’ restrictive border control policies, Amnesty International said today at a protest outside the offices of the European Council in Brussels. Supporters and activists will dump four tonnes of sand on the concourse (freedom of expression zone) to create a reconstructed beach, and call on European leaders to end member states’ deplorable migration and asylum policies and practices.

“The member states are failing miserably to meet their EU and international obligations to protect migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing poverty, conflict and human rights abuses,” said Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“As Europe raises its barriers, many have no safe or legal ways to access Fortress Europe. That is why we are outside the European Summit today, to urge EU government leaders to take a hard look at the impact of their “fight against irregular migration” on the lives of men, women and children.”

Today’s beach protest in Brussels serves as a reminder that five months on from the tragic shipwrecks off Lampedusa, which resulted in the deaths of over 500 people, little comprehensive or coordinated action has been taken to ensure these events no longer repeat themselves. Instead, EU policies continue to favour prevention policies and practices over protection measures, forcing an increasing number of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to take dangerous routes to try to break through Fortress Europe’s barricades.

Amnesty International has spoken to people who lost their families at sea, suffered push-backs, violence and ill-treatment by border guards, and extended detention in deplorable conditions. Others were picked up and detained in countries which EU member states have outsourced their migration control practices to, many with poor human rights records. And too many know of people who lost their lives at sea.

Limited offers of resettlement and humanitarian admission are resulting in many undertaking these risky routes, often impacting on those who have lost everything but their lives. As of mid-February, for example, EU countries have only offered places to approximately 15,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria – the majority by Germany. About 80,000 had applied for asylum in the EU by the end of 2013. This clearly is a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million people who have fled the war-torn country.

Amnesty International is urging EU governments to protect people before their borders, through three key measures. Just as Italy has in recent months, member states can increase and support the establishment of better search and rescue operations, to stop people drowning and dying adrift at sea. By ensuring safe and legal ways to enter the EU, people will refrain from resorting to dangerous journeys. Finally, EU member states must not allow countries with shocking human records to act as their border guards. They must revoke bilateral migration control agreements signed with countries with poor human rights records, and end the outsourcing of migration control measures.

The April EU-Africa Summit will be an opportunity to address these outsourcing practices. EU government leaders will also be able to tackle this issue in the context of their work on home affairs priorities for the next five years (the post Stockholm programme).

“The Guidelines that will be adopted at the June Summit will provide a unique opportunity for member states to change EU migration and asylum policies and practices. Leaders must show boldness in their work and concretely put human rights at the heart of EU migration and asylum measures,” said Nicolas Berger.

Ahead of the European elections, Amnesty International is also urging candidate Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to pledge to protect the rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees through their work. The incoming (and outgoing) Commission must also practice what it preaches: the recent post-Stockholm Communication failed to acknowledge the urgent need to shift the EU’s approach to migration from prevention to protection.

“Member states’ migration and asylum practices have made a mockery of the EU’s role as a human rights actor. 2014 provides member states with the opportunity to redeem themselves, save lives and finally put people before borders,” said Nicolas Berger.

Background information

Amnesty International’s European campaign SOS Europe highlights and works to end ineffective, inhumane and dangerous migration and asylum practices at Europe’s borders. It aims to tackle the worrying and dangerous trend whereby EU member states are favouring prevention policies and practices over protection measures.

Supporters and activists will gather on 20 March in Brussels on a reconstructed beach (with four tonnes of sand against a four metre by seven metre beach backdrop) outside the EU Summit. They will call on European leaders to end member states’ deplorable migration and asylum policies and practices. This protest will be replicated by Amnesty International offices across Europe.

Amnesty International will also launch a European elections’ pledge for candidate MEPs to sign to put human rights at the heart of their work on migration and asylum. In addition, the public can join a digital action that will run from March to June (ahead of the June Summit where leaders will agree the EU's five year migration strategy) to urge their leaders to put people before borders.

For information on human rights abuses in the context of EU member states’ border control policies and practices, please see:

“Cyprus: Abusive detention of migrants and asylum seekers flouts EU law”, 18 March 2014

“Spain: Accountability urged for ‘appalling’ migrant deaths in Ceuta”, 14 February 2014

“Greek government must carry out a transparent and thorough investigation into the loss of life in the Aegean”, 22 January 2014 

“Fortress Europe: Syrian refugee shame exposed”, 13 December 2013

“Bulgaria: Refugees in Bulgaria trapped in substandard conditions”, 13 December 2013

“Frontier Europe: Human rights abuses on Greece’s border with Turkey”, 9 July 2013

“EU must ensure protection for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya", 20 June 2013

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Maeve Patterson
Media and Communications
European Institutions Office
Amnesty International
Tel: +32 (0) 2 548 2773
Mobile: +_32 (0)483 680 812
[email protected]

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