MEPs call to address increasing migratory pressures in the Mediterranean

During a plenary debate yesterday, MEPs unanimously called on the European Commission and on the Member States to address the increasing migratory pressures in the Mediterranean, even though many of them fundamentally disagreed about the next steps to be taken. 

By Hendrik Meerkamp

14 Jan 2015

On January 13 2015, the European Parliament’s plenary met to discuss on statements by the European Commission and the Council of the EU in relation to the topic ‘Recent human smuggling incidents in the Mediterranean’. Please find a summary of the debate below. Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate. 

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, representative of the Latvian Council Presidency, issued a statement on behalf of the Council of the EU, beginning by saying that the Council is “deeply concerned” by the continuing arrival or large numbers of migrants via illegal channels across the Mediterranean – in particular in Italian waters. She also highlighted that the Council “is aware” of the new phenomenon of the so-called ghost ships – ships that carry large numbers of migrants and that are sent by human traffickers across the Mediterranean and towards Europe and then abandoned by the crew before arriving, thus leaving the ships full of migrants to their destiny off the European shores. She announced that “action needs to be taken” against this new modus operandi. It is time that more effective measures and prosecution are being taken against smugglers, traffickers, and criminal networks in the field of migration to Europe.

Ms Kalniņa-Lukaševica went on to say that EU external border surveillance needs to be stepped up, even though, she stressed, the EU’s joint migrant rescue operation in the Mediterranean, Triton, has so far been efficient and “a clear sign of solidarity” that saved the lives of many migrants.

She then said that the Council shares the view expressed on January 2 2015 by the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, in a statement on the so-called ghost ships. In this statement he had stressed the need to combat the criminal organisations which exploit “desperate people trying to escape conflicts”, and welcomed the European Commission’s announcement to develop a plan to take action to this end. She concluding by assuring that the Council will continue to monitor the migratory situation in the Mediterranean and “address this topic as a top priority on its agenda.”

Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, then delivered a statement for the European Commission. He assured that the European Commission is “determined to take action” with regards to the migratory situation in the Mediterranean, describing the current situation as “unacceptable” – especially with regards to the new strategy of traffickers to use so-called ghost ships. He explained that “in order to respond to the constantly evolving strategies of smugglers, the European Union, its agencies and the Member States have to step-up their cooperation and common action in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility”. The EU also needs to engage in a strategy with third countries that prevents current strong migratory pressures by focussing on (1) broader foreign policy considerations, (2) development assistance, and (3) humanitarian actions.

He also called for increased “financial and operational support of the Member States”, urging the Member States to fully implement the Common European Asylum System, and advocating for “a truly European programme for the resettlement of refugees.” He said that “in order to ensure that Member States share this responsibility, the Commission has set up a resettlement and relocation forum to develop, in cooperation with Member States, a fair distribution key”.

Please follow this link to read the full speech delivered by Mr Avramopoulos.

Monika Hohlmeier (EPP, DE), who spoke for the EPP group, said that the “brutal” practices of human traffickers using ghost ships must be countered. In this context, she said, it is especially important to get Turkey to cooperate on the issue of ghost ships, given that all of the traffickers came from this country so far.

Gianni Pitella (S&D, IT), who spoke on behalf of the S&D group, welcomed the Council and Commission statements. He stressed that the migrants coming to Europe need assistance, help, and protection and that just closing borders is not an option. He stressed that there is no big threat of having terrorists come to Europe via channels such as ghost ships because they use other ways of coming to the EU.  The ghost ships are filled with desperate migrants that have fled from their countries.

He highlighted the need to work together at the European level and to take joint action towards a truly European policy for immigration and underscored the role of the European Commission in this regard.

Timothy Kirkhope (ECR, UK), who spoke for the ECR group, said that “now it is time for more straight talking and proper action, not just pointing out the problems”, referring to strengthening the EU’s border surveillance but also to “[stepping] up humanitarian responsibilities to treat those arriving with dignity.” He also said that the European Commission needs to “make sure that all Member States are living up to their obligations, particularly with regard to detention conditions” and that they “must process efficiently and quickly the applications of asylum seekers who arrive, even if it means more administrative work and resources.” He admitted that “unaccompanied minors are protected and safe, and that their best interests are at the forefront of our actions”.

Mr Kirkhope concluded by saying that “we need the toughest penalties for human traffickers across the EU” and that the EU also “needs an efficient and effective returns policy through cooperation with third countries.

Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, SE), speaking on behalf of the ALDE group, said that the core problem is that there is no way for desperate migrants to get to the EU. as a consequences, they have to entrust themselves to “scrupulous” human traffickers – which therefore have “a monopoly on the market.” In this context, she said, the solution is to break this monopoly and that this can be done by creating legal methods for desperate migrants to get to Europe – for example through humanitarian visas that are issued in the areas where these people want to flee from. She stressed that this would not be the same as opening the EU external borders for mass immigration because all migrants arriving in the EU would still need to undergo an asylum process, and that, naturally, if an asylum claim cannot be upheld, migrants must return to where they came from.

Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL, DE), who speaking for the GUE/NGL group, said that the mourning of political leaders about the situation in the Mediterranean is “hypocritical” because the EU contributes to the deaths of migrants by not creating legal ways of coming to the EU and by having left the Mediterranean to the human traffickers. She also criticised ending the pan-Mediterranean operation Mare Nostrum (in favour of operation Triton, which only covers the narrow EU shore waters). In this context, strengthening the control of borders will only make the situation worse. As a solution, she proposed a new direction in asylum policy in Europe.

Ska Keller (Greens/EFA, DE), who spoke on behalf of the Greens/EFA group, agreed with Ms Ernst that terminating the operation Mare Nostrum meant that the human traffickers were left free hand in the Mediterranean and that, to reverse this again, a new coordinated sea rescue in the whole Mediterranean is needed.

She then raised doubts whether human trafficking gangs can be effectively fought in third countries, as planned by the European Commission, given that even rudimentary state structures are missing in countries such as Libya. Similarly, migrant protection is largely missing in states such as Turkey. Ms Keller declared that the only way to fight the organisers of human traffickers is to enable legal ways for migrants to come to the EU.

Gerard Batten (EFDD, UK), who spoke for the EFDD group, denounced the practices of human traffickers in the Mediterranean but condemned any considerations to have Turkey accede to the E. In his view, all that would happen is that migrants would receive forged Turkish passports and then come to the EU.

Georgios Epitideios (NI, EL), speaking for the Non-attached MEPs, said that the migrants coming across the Mediterranean are all Muslims and often “fanatical Islamists” that “want to import their brand of holy war and jihad activities.” He declared that if nothing is done against this immigration, it is likely that the recent tragic events of Paris [the shootings of Charlie Hebdo journalists] will not be the end but the start of problems in Europe. 


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