The recent tragedy off Italy in which over 300 people may have died after a boat carrying African migrants sank, underlines the need for the European Union and its Member States to revisit current measures to combat irregular migration, the director of the EU's fundamental rights agency said.
"Time and time again migrants pay the ultimate price for their search for a better life," said FRA Director Morten Kjaerum. "We need to act now to find appropriate solutions that will balance the needs of border control with the needs and rights of migrants."
The FRA said fishermen and others who rescue migrants at sea should not be penalised for rescuing irregular migrants, referring to Italy's immigration laws.
"Migrants interviewed by FRA for a report on fundamental rights at Europe's southern sea borders recounted experiences of fishing vessels ignoring them. Some fishermen said that they usually avoided vessels in distress with migrants at sea. They tended not to report anything to the authorities, although they may give migrants food and water. Fishermen are often concerned that if they assist migrants they may find themselves involved in long bureaucratic legal procedures or be prosecuted for aiding illegal immigration."
The FRA said that fundamental rights' guidance should be provided to member states on how to implement the duty to punish those who help migrants cross the border in an irregular manner, as covered by EU law.
"This will help ensure that those who act on humanitarian grounds are not targeted. This includes rescuing people in distress or at risk of drowning at sea as tragically happened off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa on 3 October," Kjaerum said.
Kjaerum added that migrants should not risk criminal sanctions for irregularly crossing a border. "More than half of the EU member states have criminalised irregular entry or stay by law. Migrants who have irregularly entered or stayed in the country can be punished, and even imprisoned, in two thirds of EU member states. In other countries it is only an administrative offence. Today, criminal law often targets the migrant. The focus should shift. Efforts need to be made to tackle the root causes that drive migrants to embark on such dangerous trips."