- By Chris Kremidas Courtney
Thousands of people fleeing conflict, persecution and violence are trying to reach safety in Europe. Many travel by sea, despite the risks of the journey across the Mediterranean, which has claimed 3,500 lives in 2014 alone. 137,000 people crossed the sea in the first half of 2015. To avoid further catastrophes and deaths in the Mediterranean, we need a radical shift in the priorities of EU asylum policies. A shoot first and ask questions afterwards policy is obviously wrong. The EU needs to effectively address the root causes of the crisis in the Mediterranean, not just its symptoms.
The EU must:
- Establish a proper European humanitarian search and rescue operation
- Provide safe and legal access to the EU
- Safeguard the right to spontaneous applications for asylum at the EU’s external borders and address the root causes of irregular migration which lie in the lack of prospects due to armed conflicts and poverty
- Replace the Dublin system with a fair system of solidarity and responsibility sharing for asylum seekers in the EU.
1. A fully-fledged permanent European search and rescue operation
Like the Italian humanitarian search and rescue operation ‘Mare Nostrum’, which saved some 140,000 lives between October 2013 and when it was discontinued the end of 2014, a fully-fledged permanent European research and rescue operation should operate in the high seas and not just off the Italian coast. It would be devoted to proactively saving lives by searching for and rescuing migrants in distress, whereas FRONTEX has a more limited mandate. The operation should have the explicit goal of saving lives – distinct from the purpose of FRONTEX, which is border control. All member states should contribute, both financially and with equipment and assets. The EU should fund the operation, which should be civilian in nature.
We strongly oppose the planned EU-military operation to search for and destroy vessels used by smugglers. Such an operation would amount to a militarisation of migration policies and raises a number of serious legal questions and practical concerns. The EU is not at war and migration management is a humanitarian question.
2. Providing safe and legal access to the EU
Refugees and migrants should be able to reach shelter in Europe without having to resort to criminal smugglers and dangerous irregular border and sea crossings. Estimates suggest that 90 percent of asylum seekers enter the EU irregularly. More than 43 percent of those who travelled across the Mediterranean in 2014 were prima facie refugees. According to FRONTEX, Syrians and Eritreans accounted for 46 percent of the 170,000 people who reached Italy by boat in 2014.
The EU is not at war and migration management is a humanitarian question
The EU and its member states must drastically increase the number of humanitarian admission places, in particular from crisis situations such as the Middle East. The European Commission must set up a common European programme with binding obligations for member states to take in refugees according to a fair distribution key which would take into account the size of the population, economic indicators as well as the number of refugees already taken. While UNHCR is calling for 370,000 Syrian refugees to be sheltered in Europe, EU Member States have so far only provided 37,000 places. 13 Member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) have not provided a single place.
Member states must make full use of the already existing possibilities to issue humanitarian visas. The EU and its member states must allow visa-free travel for refugees from Syria and similar situations to Europe.
In addition, the Greens fully support the call by UNHCR and NGO’s to make full use of further possibilities to ensure safe and legal access to the EU such as extended family reunification, private sponsorship programmes as well as study and labour migration schemes.
3. Spontaneous applications for asylum at the EU’s external borders
The EU must safeguard the right of people in need of protection to apply for asylum at the EU external borders spontaneously. Proposals by EU member states to set up European asylum centres in third countries are highly problematic. As long as member states are not willing to accept and resettle refugees, there is a real danger that such centres serve to prevent refugees from reaching Europe. Likewise, the proposal to involve North African countries in European search and rescue operations, which have the aim of intercepting refugees and bringing them back to the African shores, serves to keep refugees away from Europe and undermines the right to asylum.
4. Replacing the Dublin system with a fair system of solidarity and responsibility sharing
All member states must take responsibility for asylum seekers. It is a shame that they could not even agree, as a first step, to a European programme for relocating refugees from member states which are at the limit of their reception capacities such as Italy and Greece, to others less exposed to the arrivals of refugees and migrants.
It needs to be acknowledged that the ‘Dublin system’ has failed its purpose as the legal base for deciding the EU member state responsible for an asylum claim. Serious concerns have been documented about the shortage of reception places, overcrowding and poor-quality (or no) accommodation in Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria, not to mention Greece. Detention of asylum seekers is a mandatory feature in other member states (Malta and Hungary), while there are also frequent and credible reports of systematic mistreatment, most recently from Bulgaria. Member states at the EU’s external border have also been guilty of multiple instances of refoulement. The assumption by the Dublin system of equivalent human rights and refugee protection standards does not reflect the reality on the ground. In addition, the Dublin system appears to be highly ineffective and costly, both financially and in human terms.
The EU and its member states must allow visa-free travel for refugees from Syria
We therefore call on the Commission to make a proposal for a system of solidarity and responsibility sharing which needs to be fair to both member states and asylum seekers. Asylum seekers should be able to apply for asylum in a member state where they already have family ties, community links or better employment prospects, which would in turn greatly improve their integration prospects. This would also significantly reduce irregular secondary movements within the EU as well as the need for coercive measures such as the detention of asylum seekers for the purpose of transferring them back to the member state responsible. A distribution key could be used to develop a fair allocation of funding among member states and to allocate asylum seekers who have no strong reasons for preferring a particular country. In addition, the Commission must bring forward proposals to allow for the mutual recognition of positive asylum decisions and the transfer of international protection status within the EU.
- By Jamie Shea
- By Hannah Scheuermann & Birte Brecht-Drouart
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