EU member states fail to display solidarity over Mediterranean

Written by Claude Moraes on 13 May 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

EU governments cannot afford to ignore the migrant crisis on Europe's doorstep, argues Claude Moraes.

The humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean shows the clear need for a common EU asylum policy and the sharing of responsibility for refugees between the member states.

In fact, the European parliament, and myself as chair of the civil liberties, justice and home affairs (LIBE) committee, have repeatedly said during this crisis that the building blocks of a common policy are already in place.

However, there is an unfortunate track record of member states being unwilling to implement EU asylum policies or take part in responsibility-sharing activities.


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For some years now a number of building blocks, including the establishment of the European asylum support office in 2010, the revised asylum procedures directive and the revised receptions conditions directive in 2013, have been in place.

The inability of all member states to commit to strengthening these mechanisms highlights the obstacles to securing a common EU asylum policy.

According to figures from the UN high commissioner for refugees, there have been more than 1700 deaths and almost 40,000 attempts to cross the Mediterranean so far in 2015. This is an appalling number and has led to horrific stories of people perishing at sea.

A common EU asylum policy is desperately needed as it would signal a step towards collective responsibility, as well as preventing further loss of life at sea. Europe has a moral obligation to take action and react in a compassionate manner by showing solidarity with the member states who are receiving these large numbers of refugees.

Responsibility has been placed solely on the shoulders of a few; most recently with Italy and smaller member states such as Malta suffering disproportionately. In terms of responsibility sharing, there is an unacceptable disparity between member states stepping up to the plate on refugee resettlement.

The council has shown a great deal of commitment to driving military action by striking at vessels used by smugglers in Libya. However, this commitment does not extend to establishing a permanent system for receiving refugees and asylum seekers among member states.

EU governments have failed to display solidarity in response to this humanitarian crisis on Europe's borders.

The European agenda on migration is a step in the right direction and moves us closer to a common asylum policy. It includes proposals for the compulsory reception of refugees and asylum seekers arriving at the EU's southern border for all member states.

In addition, it notes the importance of creating safe transit routes to help fight human trafficking and tackle irregular migration in Europe. It is welcoming to see an increasing political will to address the EU's humanitarian crisis and construct legal avenues of migration into Europe.

However, the continued reluctance from the council draws attention to the obstacles preventing shared responsibility. Member states cannot ignore the migrant crisis and it is time for the EU to adopt a proactive stance as opposed to a reactive one.

We must also develop a common asylum policy which supports the integration of refugees in the EU. Integration is key to the resettlement process as member states need to work together to provide adequate support for refugee assistance programmes.

This will help in facilitating the integration of newly arrived refugees and ensure that fundamental rights and European values are enjoyed by all. Moreover, the EU must give additional support for countries on Europe's periphery with regards to the processing of new asylum applications.

Putting in place a streamlined fast-track procedure to respond to the increasing number of refugees will help alleviate pressure on severely over-stretched reception centres in Italy, Greece, Spain and Malta, while preventing delays. The EU must work to ensure that those seeking asylum are not caught in a legal limbo.

Unfortunately, as seen before, there is a danger that once the media spotlight on the Mediterranean has diminished, member states will continue to drag their feet with regards to responsibility sharing.

This can be seen in the decision to end support of Mare Nostrum in October 2014 as it was deemed as a 'pull-factor' for migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The LIBE committee is in the process of producing a report on the Mediterranean situation and the need for a holistic approach to migration.

As chair of the committee, I will continue to keep asylum high on our agenda and argue the case with the commission and council for a truly common EU asylum policy.

About the author

Claude Moraes (S&D, UK) is chair of parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee

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