ENNHRI, which cooperates with its partners at the Fundamental Rights Agency, Council of Europe and Equinet in a collaborative Platform on Asylum and Migration, has issued a statement outlining how the EU can avoid more tragedies in the Mediterranean from a human rights perspective.
Since January 2015 at least 1,550 people have died in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean, in search of safety or a better life. Just a few months ago (October 2014), the search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum, with a budget of 9 million euros a month, was succeeded by operation Triton, carried out by Frontex, with a budget of only 3 million euros a month. After the last weeks of shipwrecks, the overall death toll has now increased and will continue to rise if proper responsibility and action is not taken by the EU and its Member States. In addition, action is needed by a number of states on the African continent and in the Middle East and their relevant international organisations.
Following this week’s disaster, the European Union’s Joint Foreign Affairs and Home Council has proposed a 10-point action plan on migration. ENNHRI takes note of this effort and acknowledges that some measures go in the right direction, including the strengthening of the joint operations in the Mediterranean, or rethinking emergency relocation mechanisms and resettlement engagements.
Nevertheless, as long as the emphasis remains on external border protection and fighting smugglers, the tragedies will continue. From 600 deaths in 2013, 3,500 in 2014 to now more than 1,550 in the first quarter of 2015, we may conclude that the EU has not adequately addressed one of the root causes of the problem: the scarcity of legal channels to Europe. Human smugglers thrive when people in need of protection or in search of a life of dignity have to resort to irregular migration channels. Fighting human smuggling should remain a priority, but focusing on the abusive and exploitative networks that make a livelihood from smuggling risks sidelining the fundamental rights of migrants attempting this treacherous journey.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights prescribes that everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own and the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries. This right to asylum is also enshrined in Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The UN Convention relating to the status of Refugees contains the principle of non-refoulement. As such, the obligation to uphold these rights needs to be respected by the EU and its Member States. Following the Hirsi Jamaa judgement of the European Court of Human Rights, it is undisputable that Member States should uphold their human rights obligations in high sea rescue operations.
By refusing people to pass the European border, if they reach the border at all, it is impossible to investigate thoroughly a migrant’s claim to protection. This could result in individuals being sent back who may await ill-treatment in the receiving country or persecution in the receiving country, in the current context, mainly Somalia, Syria, Eritrea, and Sudan.
ENNHRI comprises National Human Rights Institutions (“NHRIs”) from across wider Europe. NHRIs are state funded institutions, independent of government, with a broad legislative or constitutional mandate to promote and protect human rights. NHRIs are accredited by reference to the UN Paris Principles to ensure their independence, plurality, impartiality and effectiveness. ENNHRI has an active Asylum and Migration Working Group, and also cooperates with its partners at FRA, Council of Europe and Equinet in a collaborative Platform on Asylum and Migration.
For further information, see the ENNHRI Website