In September, as Chair of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee, I had the honour of speaking at the Canary Islands Migration Forum. As I took the floor, I was keenly aware that a fire was engulfing the Moria refugee camp in Greece; a tragedy foreseen by many in our Committee debates. The drama unfolding in the Greek Islands, Cyprus, Malta and southern Italy is regularly discussed in Parliament.
However, all too often, the rapid growth of the route from north-west Africa to the Canary Islands goes unnoticed. I always point out that the Canary Islands are a stark expression of the contrast between our expectation of a common, European, solidarity-based response and the paucity of genuine support.
During Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson’s address to the LIBE Committee following the Moria disaster, I announced that she would travel to Mauritania with the Spanish Minister of the Interior in an effort to tackle this worrying resurgence of trafficking to the Canary Islands. Indeed, in recent months we have witnessed the shocking images of hundreds of African migrants rescued at sea from overcrowded boats.
Rescue is then followed by their emergency accommodation in hotels vacated by the pandemic. There, they wait for the obligatory (and still pending) expression of solidarity by the rest of Spain and the entire EU, in redistributing responsibility for their humanitarian care. The Canary Islands experienced what was called the “Cayuco crisis” at the beginning of this century: between 2000-06 almost 30,000 sub-Saharan residents arrived on the islands every year, crammed into fragile wooden boats (cayucos), chartered in Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry.
“The lack of solidarity shown by Member States in this era of crises that started with the Great Recession in 2009 makes us question the raison d’être of the EU as a community of citizens subject to European law”
However, there is a considerable difference between the situation then and now: at that time, there was no Treaty of Lisbon in the EU; there was no Area of Freedom, Justice and Security (AFSJ), with binding European legislation for Member States; there was no Frontex, and no European Asylum Support Office (EASO). The Spanish government at the time - in which I served as Minister of Justice - tackled the problem with national resources (Maritime Rescue, Civil Guard of the Sea), and in order to tackle it at source we launched the Africa Plan.
Now, in 2021, the regulatory landscape has completely changed. As well as the Treaty of Lisbon, the Charter of Rights, the AFJS, there is the Migration Package (European Visa Code/VIS; Schengen Code/SIS, and the Blue Card, Posted Workers and Temporary Workers Directives, and the controversial Returns Directive).
There is also the Asylum Package (Reception and Accommodation Directives, Qualifi cations Directive, Common Procedures Directive, Eurodac Regulation, Dublin Regulation, and Re-housing and Resettlement Programmes). Parliament is also committed to a New Migration & Asylum Pact, pledged by Commission President von der Leyen at her investiture.
Its presentation to LIBE was postponed several times by Commissioner Johansson. We in the LIBE Committee demand compliance with European law and a European Search & Rescue Mechanism (S&R). We also seek an increase in the AMIF (Asylum and Refugee Fund), from €7.3m to €14m in the next MFF and European funding of up to €10,000 for each unaccompanied minor in remote regions with vulnerable borders such as the Canary Islands, Lampedusa and the Greek Islands.
In addition there should be adequate budgetary coverage for the European agencies (EASO, Frontex, Eurojust, EuLisa and Europol) and the European Justice & Values Programme. However, the lack of solidarity shown by Member States in this era of crises that started with the Great Recession in 2009 makes us question the raison d’être of the EU as a community of citizens subject to European law.
Thus, the notorious Visegrád Group, led by illiberal regimes, not only denies solidarity to those affected by the obsolescence of the current Dublin Regulation (Spain, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Greece, etc.), it also blocks any solution based on a reliable commitment to European law and mutual trust.
It is also true that the von der Leyen Commission has opened numerous cases of infringement of Article 258 of the TFEU against those who have failed to comply, despite the fact that cases of defying European law are increasingly flagrant. But it is also true that this situation deals with pathologies and Gordian knots that require an advanced stage of questioning within the European Union.
For all of these reasons, I expressed my full support and commitment to the conclusions and proposals of the Forum. This includes a combination of short-term (urgent rehousing, starting with the most vulnerable people: unaccompanied minors, women with dependent children... ); medium-term (the New Pact) and long-term solutions (looking at the root causes).
Over the years, I have fought for a European Search & Rescue, with the opening of legal channels including corridors and humanitarian visas. For me, the conclusion is clear: there can be no more indifference to the exploitation of migrants nor the absence of regular and safe channels for those who would otherwise put their own lives, and those of their loved ones, in the hands of unscrupulous criminals in their desperation to escape catastrophe, hunger, insecurity or certain death.