Sassoli calls for fresh EU action to tackle asylum seeker deaths in Mediterranean

The European Parliament President said, “Every day we hear of yet more tragedies and deaths and boats capsizing in the Mediterranean; it is tragic.”
Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

25 May 2021

Speaking on Tuesday, David Sassoli said that migration had been addressed at Monday’s Council summit in Brussels but it is thought that EU leaders allocated only 20 minutes to the issue.

At a news briefing on the summit, Sassoli said, “Parliament actually raised the need for a debate on the issue at the Council meeting. Our appeal was not sidestepped and, yes, it was addressed and I hope it will be on the agenda of the next Council.”

The latest tragedy happened just last month when merchant vessels and a charity ship searching the Mediterranean for boats carrying migrants found 10 bodies floating near a capsized rubber boat believed to have had 130 people on board.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 2,200 people perished at sea trying to reach Europe last year, more than a third on the increasingly busy route to Spain’s Canary Islands.

In all, 2,276 migrants are known to have drowned while 86,448 arrived by sea in Europe in 2020, IOM said in a report. A further 52,037 migrants were intercepted at sea.

The EU has struggled with the issue since 2015, when over 1 million people, most of them Syrian, Iraqi or Afghan refugees, arrived on its shores, the majority through Greece.

“Migration is a demographic, economic and human reality which Europe needs given its ageing population and the labour shortages in several key sectors” Sylvie Guillaume, S&D

A new pact to tackle the issue was put forward by the European Commission last September but a final deal has yet to be reached. Arrivals have dropped significantly to about 95,000 people last year, most to Italy, Spain and Greece.

Last week, MEPs adopted a report on ‘Human rights protection and the EU external migration policy’ which calls for the EU to support better human rights in migration.

The vote came after several reports of human rights violations surrounding the EU's migration deals with third countries, such as its cooperation with the Libyan Coastguard.

The report says that the rights of asylum seekers are inherently dependent on having human rights violations assessed by a court. It adds that a “complete, public overview of EU funding to third countries to facilitate cooperation on migration issues remains unavailable.”

MEPs, in the debate, called on the European Commission to “ensure full transparency, including by establishing such an overview.”

Members also held a plenary debate on migration, where French Socialist member Sylvie Guillaume said, “I want to send a positive message about migration, focusing on its positive effects instead of getting lost in xenophobic rhetoric.”

“According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 2,200 people perished at sea trying to reach Europe last year, more than a third on the increasingly busy route to Spain’s Canary Islands”

“Migration is a demographic, economic and human reality which Europe needs given its ageing population and the labour shortages in several key sectors. We have to keep in mind that having fewer legal avenues for migration leads to more illegal ways, and the only ones who benefit are the human smugglers.”

Greens/EFA member Tineke Strik said, “It's time for the EU to show a human face in migration policy. The EU must stop cooperating on migration with countries where human rights are violated.”

The Dutch MEP said, “There must be improved access to justice for migrants and refugees that have suffered from human rights violations, they must be able to hold countries directly accountable.”

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