PUBLIC STATEMENT BY AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Time for action: Three things the EU must do following the Lampedusa tragedy
(Brussels, 8 October 2013) As the Justice and Home Affairs Council meets in Luxembourg and ahead of President Barroso’s visit to Lampedusa tomorrow, Amnesty International calls on the European Union (EU) and European governments to take robust action to prevent further loss of life in the Mediterranean sea and protect the human rights of migrants and refugees.
The latest tragedy of the shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa highlights again the need for a fundamental change in European migration policies. States have consistently failed to put the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees at the centre of their policies. Resources have increasingly been committed to policing the EU external borders, rather than protecting people and saving lives.
The EU and European countries must review how they address challenges posed by migratory flows, to include an analysis of the human rights impact of current policies countering irregular migration. Conflicts, human rights abuses, political instability and huge inequality are key factors in encouraging people to flee or migrate from all the regions of the world. Restrictive migration policies that solely focus on preventing arrivals to Europe do not stop people from trying to reach Europe. They only force people to taking riskier routes, increasingly pushing people into the hands of smugglers and traffickers.
It is time for the EU and European governments to acknowledge their responsibilities. Amnesty International calls on the EU and European governments to take swift action in the following three areas:
1. Frontex-coordinated operations at sea:
The EU is currently negotiating rules for Frontex (the EU border agency) interception operations conducted at sea. These rules seek to enhance search and rescue obligations for Frontex-coordinated operations, and safeguards for migrants and asylum-seekers intercepted at sea during these operations. States must swiftly agree to the new interception rules for Frontex-coordinated operations at sea in order to achieve effective and coordinated rescue measures at the EU level and to ensure that operations are conducted in full compliance with relevant international human rights and refugee law and standards, and obligations under the Law of the Sea.
2. Cooperation on migration control with third countries:
The European Union and European countries are cooperating with third countries on migration control, while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses suffered by migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in those countries. For example, despite well-documented evidence of abuse against migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya, the EU and European countries such as Italy are cooperating with Libya to stem migration flows to Europe. Amnesty International has consistently urged the EU and European countries not to cooperate with Libya on migration control until Libya has demonstrated its respect for the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, including establishing a satisfactory system for assessing asylum claims.
More generally, human rights must be the cornerstone of any cooperation in the sphere of migration control with third countries; agreements must be transparent, enshrine adequate protection standards, and fully respect the rights of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants.
3. International solidarity:
Safe routes to Europe must be created through meaningful resettlement, humanitarian admission programmes and lifting visa restrictions for refugees. The EU is failing to take in its fair share of the world’s refugees – the number of refugees invited to Europe must be over and above the numbers accounted for by the current and weak refugee resettlement programmes. Serious efforts must be made to resettle thousands of refugees; not just token numbers.
With regards to Italy, Italian authorities must ensure swift transfer of people from Lampedusa to the Italian mainland; and ensure that all available reception facilities are operational and suitably equipped to provide assistance to migrants and asylum-seekers, with particular attention to vulnerable groups, such as women and girls at risk, survivors of violence or torture, and older refugees. All those who reach Italian shores must receive assistance in open centres and have access to fair and effective asylum procedures. Safeguards must be established to ensure that, in compliance with human rights and refugee law, people are not collectively expelled from Italian territory or before having the opportunity to challenge their removal, if they so wish. Amnesty International also calls on the Italian authorities to repeal legislation which makes entering or staying irregularly in Italian territory a criminal offence; and to increase their search-and-rescue capacity.
Moreover, these discussions on the necessary changes to European migration policies must form an integral part of the EU’s work on strengthening human rights and the rule of law in the EU.