Brussels has lukewarm response to complaints of migrant pushbacks

MEPs complain of lack of solidarity to help frontline states like Malta and Italy facing migration pressures

Home Affairs European Commissioner Ylva Johansson
Home Affairs European Commissioner Ylva Johansson

The European Commissioner responsible for migration gave a brief note on concerns by some MEPs about pushbacks of migrants rescued in the Maltese search and rescue area, to Libya.

Ylva Johannson said she expected the Maltese authorities to investigate allegations of pushbacks of migrants, but showed no appetite in taking to task Malta on its refusal to take rescued migrants in.

“This really is scary, and one of the most important tasks is to save lives at this time. This is something that concerns me and I count on the Maltese authorities to investigate what happened in this case.

“Frontex is carrying our surveillance. They inform the Malta rescue centre when they see boats in the SAR area… but search and rescue is a national competence,” Johannson said.

Malta yesterday sent a note verbale to the Libyan government to take steps against human traffickers sending migrants out at sea.

Johannson did however call for greater solidarity between member states to help Malta, Italy and Spain. “We are reaching out to member states all the time… It is not easy, we are doing the best we can.”

Various MEPs in the LIBE committee criticised the use of pushbacks to send migrants at sea back to Libya, as well as member states like Malta who were leaving migrants stranded at sea for days before effecting rescues.

German Green MEP Erik Marquardt said Malta was refusing to take rescued migrants into port, and instead passing the back to the Libyan coast guard to take the migrants back to Malta.

Many called for meaningful European solutions for frontline states like Malta and Italy and for a European solution on search and rescue.

Spanish socialist MEP Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said such countries needed binding solidarity and migrant relocation solutions. “The Commission needs to include a European solution to search and rescue, so that we stop these fragmented and ad hoc relocations where prime ministers are calling each other for solutions. We need to frame this response at a European level and make sure that relocation is included.”

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie In’t Veld did not spare criticism for European member states, as well as the Dutch government, for not lending more support to frontline states on the EU’s borders.

“The lack of support of some member states is deeply, deeply shameful at a time when solidarity is the word on everybody’s lips, and at a time when some political parties claim they are the defenders of our common values but in reality have no conscience about what member states on the frontline are doing. I regret that my own country is not showing any more solidarity.”

Italian far-right MEP Nicola Procaccini suggested that the EU needed a presence in Libya to filter departures and stop non-asylum claims, while Swedish Left Party MEP Malin Bjork hit out at the “shameful” tactic of leaving stranded migrants out at sea for days on end.

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola, who has authored the EPP’s policy on migration, reminded the European Commission of the need to secure European borders with 10,000 guards.

“We have long been calling for meaningful solidarity and an EU framework for relocation [but] every member state must share responsibility,” she said.

“We must also tackle smuggling and traffickers; we must ensure that nobody dies at sea. But this means that safe ports on either side of the Mediterranean should take responsibility for disembarkation – this is after all a global issue that requires a global response.”

Metsola also advocated for the return of people who do not qualify for protection to their countries of origin in full respect of their rights. “This means investing more in relationships with third countries, and this means more money and cooperation on migration-related issues.”