Amnesty: EC migration plan ‘welcome shift, must not be undermined’

Amnesty International says new Agenda for Migration shifts ‘Fortress Europe’ attitude towards refugee crisis

New proposals by the European Commission (EC) on asylum and resettlement represent a welcome shift in approach towards the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, Amnesty International said.

The human rights organisation said it the plans could result in small but important steps forward in tackling the global refugee crisis.

“Today we have seen the European Commission take a first step in shifting its Fortress Europe attitude towards the refugee crisis, but it will need to be implemented expansively and with the full backing of all EU member states,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International Director for Europe and Central Asia.

Dalhuisen said the agenda on migration not only contains a clear recognition of the need for effective search and rescue operations to save refugees and migrants from drowning at sea, “but also acknowledges that alternative safe and legal routes are essential to reduce the number of people forced to put their lives in the hands of smugglers in order to reach safety in Europe.”

The agenda recognizes the need to step up search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, restoring them to the level provided under Italy’s defunct Mare Nostrum operation.

But Amnesty said the agenda fails to explicitly make clear how far the operational area of Triton will be extended to ensure that it will cover those areas in the high seas where most refugees’ and migrants’ boats get into difficulties. Nor does it make clear whether vessels performing multiple functions outside Triton, including law-enforcement and military functions, will have the necessary explicit mandate to prioritize search and rescue duties at all times.

The Agenda also accepts that vulnerable people who cannot safely stay in their own countries should not be left in the hands of smugglers and that safe and legal routes must be provided for them to reach Europe.

“Proposals for an EU-wide resettlement scheme involving all member states, in addition to existing national resettlement schemes, are a good idea but are currently inadequate in scale with only 20,000 places proposed over the next two years.

“This number compares unfavourably with the 380,000 refugees from Syria alone that the UNHCR recommends be resettled by the end of 2016. Amnesty International calculates that EU countries should be looking to take around 100,000 of these refugees but have so far only pledged just more than 40,000 places.”

Amnesty said that it was essential that numbers in member states’ existing national resettlement schemes do not go down and that the EU scheme is increased to reflect the enormity of the global refugee crisis.

In addition to resettlement, the Agenda encourages member states to use other legal avenues to assist refugees, including sponsorships, humanitarian permits and family reunification.

The EC is also proposing a new scheme to be triggered in emergency situations to redistribute asylum seekers who have arrived in EU member states which have already received large numbers of asylum seekers.

“If implemented properly, in much larger numbers and accompanied by national resettlement programmes, a centrally administered EU-wide resettlement scheme could reduce the flow of refugees taking these perilous journeys. This, taken together with the proposed internal EU relocation scheme, would contribute to ensuring that the burden of a global refugee crisis is shared more equitably between EU member states and between the EU and other regions of the world,” said John Dalhuisen.

Amnesty also said that the Agenda makes several proposals to cooperate with third countries to control migration flows which could effectively create “first lines of defence for Fortress Europe as far afield as Niger.”

“Many of these proposals still need to be developed. However, any external ‘multi-purpose centre’ would need to respect essential safeguards to ensure the needs and rights of individuals are met and protected, in particular with respect to standards that guarantee a fair and efficient asylum procedure and access to effective remedies.”

More in World