Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Safety, Rescue at Sea and Legal Access

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Safety, Rescue at Sea and Legal Access

Article excerpt

Promoting human rights and protecting human dignity are among the core values of the European Union (EU), whose institutions are legally bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights where these values are enshrined. That is why saving and protecting the lives of migrants must be a priority for the EU and why the EU needs a comprehensive search and rescue operation. However, despite calls from NGOs to prioritise saving human life, the EU's answer to the Mediterranean tragedies has focused more on preventing migrants from coming to Europe than on saving lives.

Following two incidents in October 2013, Italy deployed the Mare Nostrum operation near the Libyan coast which helped to save tens of thousands of lives. Unfortunately Mare Nostrum was shut down in 2014. It has been replaced by the Frontex Triton operation which covers a smaller geographical area, has much fewer resources and focuses more on border surveillance than on saving lives. Search and rescue is mostly provided by the Maltese and Italian navies and by the commercial ships which regularly answer the emergency calls of boats in distress. NGOs such as Médécins Sans Frontières, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station and the Norwegian Refugee Council also supply their own boats for search and rescue.

However, without a structured European-wide operation, there is a huge risk that at least some boats in distress will not be helped in time and more migrants will lose their lives while trying to cross the Mediterranean. What is needed is a search and rescue operation similar to the Italian Mare Nostrum, which would cover a wide geographical area and which would benefit from enough resources. Instead, European leaders focus more on fighting smugglers and on possible military action in the Mediterranean to destroy unseaworthy vessels.

Legal and safe routes

Moreover, in order to avoid more deaths in the Mediterranean, European leaders need to think about opening up more legal and safe routes for forced migrants. There are concrete proposals on the table; in November 2014, several faith-based organisations issued a joint policy paper on safe and legal paths to protection in Europe.1 This paper calls for the development of a 'toolbox' to meet the specific needs of the different groups of persons who are forced to flee war, indiscriminate violence, political persecution and other human rights violations.

Among the 'tools' is the resettlement of refugees who have already been recognised by UNHCR. More places could be offered as an annual resettlement quota for the EU (such as 20,000 places per year by the year 2020, as proposed by the Resettlement Saves Lives Campaign2). …

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