Justice & Home Affairs Council: Time to turn the tide on the European Union’s approach to migration

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“Rather than deterring those in need, Europe’s preventative approach to migration is putting lives in danger. No matter how high we build our walls, people will always try to escape conflict and poverty.”

Amnesty International

Press Release

5 June 2014

As European Union (EU) Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) ministers gather in Luxembourg on 5 and 6 June, Amnesty International is urgently calling on them to put the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers at the forefront of EU migration and asylum policies, to save lives. As summer approaches (the peak season for boat crossings), more and more people are expected to take hazardous journeys to Europe seeking safety and refuge, risking everything including their lives. Europe must urgently strengthen its search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas to prevent further tragedies.

“Day after day, desperate people are embarking on dangerous journeys, hoping to find safety and a better life in Europe,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “Yet time and time again, EU member states are focusing on preventative migration measures, with people paying the highest human price.”

Following the October 2013 Lampedusa shipwrecks that cost the lives of over 500 people, EU leaders stood in sadness and solidarity calling for the prevention of further tragedies in the seas off its borders. Despite the creation of the Task Force for the Mediterranean in the same month, there has been little concerted or concrete action by the member states.

Instead, Europe is building its fences higher and higher to keep people out. This is forcing people to take increasingly dangerous routes.

Drownings and tragedies at sea remain tragically commonplace. The EU’s border agency Frontex’s recent risk analysis report highlighted increasing numbers of irregular boat crossings. In the first five months alone of 2014, over 200 men, women and children lost their lives in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, with hundreds still missing. Many were escaping war-torn countries including Syria and Eritrea.

“Rather than deterring those in need, Europe’s preventative approach to migration is putting lives in danger. No matter how high we build our walls, people will always try to escape conflict and poverty.”

But there are life-saving alternatives.

Italy’s operation Mare Nostrum, launched on 18 October 2013, has to date saved over 30,000 refugees and migrants (and rising). Through a significant deployment of assets in a wide stretch of the Mediterranean, and by assisting any overcrowded boat in distress, Italy has rescued those most at risk at sea. Aspects of the operation should nevertheless be clarified to assess whether it is fully compliant with human rights law, for example, the conditions in which vessels used during operations can open fire on boats. Italy must also work hard to ensure that its reception facilities and treatment of refugees and migrants are consistent with its human rights obligations.

“Italy’s efforts through the Mare Nostrum operation should be applauded,” added Beger. “But they cannot be left to carry out this life-saving work alone. Member states should jointly commit to increased search and rescue, to ensure the sustainability of this vital humanitarian intervention.”

The JHA Council will be a key opportunity for member states to commit to increased search and rescue. Member states should also examine and address why people are risking their lives in unseaworthy boats in the first place. To truly ensure a protective approach to migration and asylum policy, opening safer routes to Europe for refugees is essential. This can be achieved through more resettlement, humanitarian admission programmes, and by facilitating family reunification.  To put it in perspective, by the end of 2013, Lebanon – a country of less than 4.5 million people – had hosted 800,000 Syrian refugees. At the same time, approximately 82,000 had managed to reach the EU in search of protection. The EU as a whole must ensure that it meets its obligations to save lives, instead of talking of a humanitarian crisis.

“It is high time the EU member states realise that preventative measures aren’t working. Human mobility is a reality, especially for those in desperate situations. As such, protective measures are urgently needed” said Beger. “The JHA Council is an opportunity for the member states to finally turn the tide on migration and asylum policies before further lives are lost.”

Public Document

For further information, please contact:

Maeve Patterson
Media & Communication
Amnesty International European Institutions Office
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: +32 (0)483 680 812