NATO operation must put saving lives in the Aegean first

Italian Navy vessel Virginio Fasan, performing search and rescue activities in the Central Mediterranean as part of the Mare Nostrum operation, August 2014. ©Amnesty International

Any NATO ships that witness a boat in distress must provide immediate life-saving assistance



Brussels – 11 February 2016

NATO forces about to begin working in the Aegean Sea must operate in line with international law by carrying out search and rescue operations for people in distress, and not illegally return refugees back to Turkey, says Amnesty International.

Hundreds of refugees, including many children, have already died this year attempting the treacherous journey across the Aegean. Any NATO ships that witness a boat in distress must provide immediate life-saving assistance,” said Iverna McGowan, Head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

In no way must NATO forces become yet one more barrier between refugees and the international protection they are legally entitled to. Intercepting refugees attempting to reach Europe and pushing them back to Turkey – where 2.5 million are already hosted – would be a serious violation of their right to claim asylum, and would fly in the face of international law.

Europe should immediately implement and scale up plans to resettle refugees from Turkey. Offering legal and safe alternatives would be the only measure likely to deter people from dangerous and irregular sea crossings.

NATO today announced that it was sending three naval ships to the Aegean to help “stem the flow” of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe, and will carry out surveillance of human traffickers, criminal networks and irregular crossings to Greece.

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