The humanitarian crisis at Europe’s borders demands a humanitarian answer.
Share the demands of our network for a humane migration policy with your family, friends, local politicians on World Refugee Day!
All the demands we outline here – as NGOs involved in alleviating suffering and rescuing persons in distress in the Mediterranean – chime with our fundamental belief that safe passage must be established for people suffering from the consequences of war, terror and other factors which drive them to leave their homes. Only safe and regular passage will save their lives!
The current plans of European states to outsource control over large parts of the Mediterranean to the Libyan Coastguard (LCG) is unacceptable. Libya is by no means a stable and safe country for refugees and migrants, neither legally nor in practice. Even worse is the track record of the LCG, which has often endangered lives. The European Union must assume responsibility and comply with its obligations under international law. Otherwise, even more people will die.
We urge the EU to stop human rights violations in the context of maritime migration and abandon the criminalisation, securitisation and militarisation of access to asylum. Our demands to national administrations and the EU are:
● Support and decriminalise NGOs rather than demonising them
● Harness the EU’s naval capacity towards proactive search and rescue at sea
● Uphold the non-refoulement principle and stop ‘push/pull-backs’
● End violence against refugee and migrant boats, as well as NGOs
● Suspend the creation of MRCC Libya until human rights compliance is guaranteed
● Train the LCG to respect international human rights law and the law of the sea
● Develop an independent and impartial monitoring system for the Mediterranean
● Guarantee effective remedies for human rights abuses at sea
● Open up pathways for safe and regular access to Europe
1. The NGOs who conduct search and rescue deserve support on all levels. All EU and national authorities should abstain from unjustified accusations (such as systematic collusion with traffickers): these unsubstantiated claims distort the true situation in the Mediterranean. The EU legal framework against facilitation of unauthorised entry should be reformed to decriminalise the assistance by civil society of persons in distress at sea.
2. Instead, sufficient naval capacity of EU members must be made available to perform active search and rescue whenever needed: in recent times, official EU naval capacity has too often been conspicuous by its absence when most required. The EU should put in place a demilitarised, proactive SAR system in the Mediterranean and release the NGOs currently bearing the burden from their responsibility.
3. Push-backs to Libya are not an option for any actor in international waters, as established by the Hirsi judgement of the European Court of Human Rights. The fact that Libya is still in no way a safe haven is borne out by recent reports of systematic rape and torture from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, and the official positions of many European governments. The safety and well-being of those at sea is the primary aim of any SAR-related activity. Rescue operations only end with delivery to a ‘place of safety’ in line with human rights obligations. The principle of non-refoulement as outlined in Article 19 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is absolute and applies to everyone without exception.
4. Violence against refugee and migrant boats or NGOs by any actor must never be accepted. Recent instances of LCG boats opening fire during rescue operations threaten the lives of those on board, as well as the NGOs trying to help them, and must be condemned and thoroughly investigated.
5. The establishment of an MRCC in Libya is not an option so long as there is no legitimate democratic government in place which respects all relevant international instruments, including the 1951 Geneva Convention. This abdication of responsibility by the EU and its member states has no basis in international law and will increase deaths at sea caused by the dangerous methods of the LCG, and human rights abuses in Libyan detention centres.
6. Training and operation of a LCG with the support of the EU has to respect international law and the rules of the sea including non-refoulement and lines of communication (such as radio contact). It is the EU’s responsibility to establish a proper monitoring system and a mechanism that punishes abuses, if necessary by ending cooperation.
7. This monitoring system should be independent, impartial, and apply to the EU whether acting alone or in cooperation with third countries. It should comprise commonly-agreed tools, processes and standards which comply with human rights and SAR obligations. At a minimum, transparent data collection, reporting of SOLAS events and their prompt public release should be guaranteed.
8. The EU and its Member States must guarantee the availability of effective remedies to redress any human rights violations. This could be achieved by either creating new appeal channels and/or by enhancing existing enforcement mechanisms, for example by better equipping the Fundamental Rights Officer of Frontex, the EU Ombudsman, and the Fundamental Rights Agency. Capacities must be commensurate with the size and importance of their duties.
9. The EU and its member states, in consultation with civil society, must develop safe and regular pathways to access safety in Europe. This will reduce the number of deaths at sea, end the need for smuggling and trafficking and help those who face gross human rights abuses in countries of origin and transit.