The deaths of up to 900 migrants in the Mediterranean over the weekend sparked the EU into action.
After an emergency meeting of foreign ministers on Monday (April 20), the EU set out a ten-point package of measures to tackle the crisis.
European leaders are expected to decide on the proposals on Thursday (April 23).
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the plan was a “strong reaction from the EU to the tragedies”.
But what do the people who work on refugee and migrant issues every day think? Euronews caught up with several NGOs to gauge their view on each of the ten points.
- Extending the area of rescue operations by increasing investment
Iverna McGowan, acting director at Amnesty International’s European office, said: “Thursday’s emergency summit will be the litmus test for Europe’s commitment to save lives in the Mediterranean. Words must now turn into concrete action specifically in the form of a European multi-nation and robust search and rescue operation.”
Justin Forsyth, chief executive at Save the Children, said: “What we needed from EU foreign ministers today was life-saving action, but they dithered. The emergency summit on Thursday is now a matter of life and death. With each day we delay we lose more innocent lives and Europe slips further into an immoral abyss. Right now, people desperately seeking a better life are drowning in politics. We have to restart the rescue – and now.”
- A systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers
Ana López Fontal, spokeswoman for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), said: “There’s a lot of focus on preventing refugees from coming to Europe and fighting smuggling. Smuggling is not the reason behind these dangerous journeys and that’s why fighting smuggling alone is not a solution.
“Europe’s response should not be about trying to prevent refugees from coming. Refugees are fleeing war in places like Syria and persecution in countries like Eritrea. They will continue fleeing and looking for a safe place. Europe’s response should be about giving them the possibility to come legally and in safety, so that they don’t have to put themselves in the hands of smugglers and risk their lives coming via the Mediterranean.”
- Border management agency Frontex to work with EU crime agencies to gather information on smugglers’ modus operandi
Iverna McGowan, Amnesty, said: “If any crime has been committed obviously perpetrators have to be held to account.
“But what we’ve seen – 1,000 lives lost in a week alone – the focus must be on how to stop this.”
- EU asylum agency EASO to send teams to Italy and Greece for joint processing of applications
Oscar Spooner, spokesman for Jesuit Refugee Service Europe (JRSE), said: “Deploying teams to Greece and Italy is something we would welcome.
“But that’s not the only problem in these countries – they also need support from the European Union for reception conditions. They are currently overwhelmed in Italy, we’re helping migrants living on the streets.”
- Member states to ensure fingerprinting of all migrants
Ana López Fontal, ECRE, said: “That’s not new. It’s obligatory under the current system. So they are just saying they are going to enforce the existing system.
“Refugees have to settle in the first country they arrive into and that’s why they have the fingerprints database.
“But the current system creates problems because it obliges refugees to stay in the first European country they have entered. It’s not a solution.
Iverna McGowan, Amnesty, said: “We’ve been quite critical of a broad range of European policy.
“It’s driven by security and policies to keep people out. We’d like to see a stronger focus on migrants.”
- Consider options for an ‘emergency relocation mechanism’ (moving migrants to another EU country from their place of arrival)
Ana López Fontal, ECRE: “Looking at ways for sharing responsibilities is really needed because some countries are not able to offer a dignified reception to people.
“But it depends how this takes place. We’d like the wishes of people to be respected because, if not, we’ll have the same problems all over again.
“People will move where they feel safe and where they can rebuild their lives.”
- EU-wide voluntary pilot project on offering resettlement places to persons in need of protection
Iverna McGowan, Amnesty, said: “We need to see a dramatic increase in resettlement places. Germany has come forward but other member states have not.”
- Establish new programme for rapid return of ‘irregular migrants’
Ana López Fontal, ECRE, said: “People will be returned if they don’t have legitimate reasons to stay. These returns should happen in a dignified way.
“But the word ‘rapid’ is worrying. There should always be safeguards in place to make sure people are not returned to places where their human rights will be abused.
“Again, it’s no answer to what has been happening this week.”
- Engagement with countries surrounding Libya; initiatives in Niger have to be stepped up
Ana López Fontal, ECRE, said: “If this is about helping these countries (eg. Tunisia) to increase their capacity to protect refugees, then we support this.
“But it’s often about keeping people in these countries and then saying you will resettle those in need.
“That’s problematic for many reasons. It is difficult to ensure EU standards will be met and people in need of international protection will actually be resettled. Furthermore, it shifts responsibility towards third countries.
- Deploy immigration liason officers in key third countries to gather intelligence on migratory flows
Oscar Spooner, of JRSE, said: “It’s a weak measure. We need immediate action to tackle people dying in the Mediterranean now. The long term measures about development and aid can come a bit later.”