To the Heads of State and Government ahead of the European Council summit on 24 and 25 October 2013

In the wake of the shipwreck that saw more than 300 people drown off the shores of Lampedusa on 3 October, the Migreurop network, together with several organisations based in the north and the south of the Mediterranean, has questioned the responsibility of European states and their partners in the implementation of the EU’s migration policy (see below the opinion column “ Murderous Europe” on 4 October 2013), and has also expressed its concern to the European Parliament on the role played by the European border agency, Frontex, during this incident (see below the press release “ Frontex : controlling or saving lives ?” on 9 October 2013).

Ahead of the European Council summit, Migreurop calls on the heads of State and government to abandon security-oriented and repressive asylum and immigration policy.

More than 400 people died in the two recent shipwrecks of vessels transporting migrants near the Italian coasts. These incidents have opened the debate on the nature of European asylum and immigration policies, with officials from the European Commission and member states calling for their reform.

Civil society organisations involved in defending migrant rights are concerned by the desire of European policy makers to further empower Frontex. This solution is not appropriate. Frontex is not mandated for search and rescue or the protection of migrants’ rights. The number of deaths at sea has kept increasing despite growing means given to this agency. Frontex is emblematic of European policies that criminalise migration (for example, that irregular stay is considered a penal offence; administrative procedures are prioritised over the need for international protection, etc.).

The European Summit on 24 and 25 October offers the EU the opportunity to lay the ground for a new European asylum and immigration policy.

Sanctioning international migration: an approach at odds with reality

For more than ten years, the closure of legal entry channels to the EU has been accompanied by the adoption of stringent pieces of legislation that prevent migrants and refugees to access the European territory. Between January 1993 and March 2012, over 16,000 people died [1] at the EU’s borders. Today more than ever, the EU has to take responsibility and should reform its migration policy.

The European Union is not threatened by migration flows – often assumed to only be going from South to North. Over the past 50 years, the proportion of international migration has remained stable [2], at around 3% of the world’s population. Only 1/3 of international migrants have moved from a developing to a developed country and of the 15 million refugees worldwide, 4/5 of these are in developing countries [3] Sub-Saharan Africa alone is hosting 25% of the world’s refugees while the the European Union is hosting 15% of these. Based on misconceptions, the European Union’s unrealistic goal of having perfectly sealed borders has been the main factor shaping its migration policies since 2002.. However, the absence of legal entry channels into Europe has only served to strengthen human trafficking networks. The externalisation of migration controls has meant the relocation and outsourcing of European border controls to neighbouring countries, without any guarantees in terms of the respect for the human rights of migrants and refugees.

Cooperation with non-EU countries has too often been synonymous with conditioning development aid - used to fund migration controls - upon the signature of readmission agreements. EU member states have not hesitated to sign such agreements with dictators, for instance with the former regimes in Tunisia or in Libya. The Frontex agency was established in 2005 to coordinate border management at the EU’s external borders. As its budget has increased, so has the number of deaths in the Mediterranean (source : Migreurop). Frontex has a legal personality and can thus sign agreements with non-EU countries without prior approval by the European parliament. These agreements aim to facilitate removals to these countries and, in fine, to detect undesirable migrants as early as possible. This has meant serious violations of migrant rights in these countries [4] : breach of the right to claim asylum and of the principle of non-refoulement ; detention without any legal basis ; no access to a lawyer and no effectiveness of access to rights ; as well as inhuman and degrading treatment, leading to the deaths of numerous migrants.

Towards a new paradigm for European migration policy

There is an urgent need to act at the European level to reaffirm the intangibility of international law. EU member states are signatories to the Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees: only the effective implementation of this convention, especially through the issuance of visas, will help avoid tragedies in the Mediterranean. The UE should not shift their responsibility towards refugees to non-EU countries that do not provide them with any effective protection. This has pushed those escaping conflicts, such as refugees from Syria or those in Tunisia’s Coucha camp, to undertake perilous journeys by sea at the risk of losing their life in the process. Member states should instead focus on strengthening solidarity mechanisms within the EU rather than let member states at its external borders be solely responsible for the reception of refugees.

The role of the Frontex agency should also be questioned: Frontex is not a search and rescue agency but an instrument established to stop migrants and refugees from entering Europe. The means given to the agency do not ensure the protection of people at sea, although this is an obligation stipulated by several international conventions. Cases of non assistance to person in distress have been reported while the complete lack of clarity in terms of procedures to be applied when persons are intercepted by Frontex and how to guarantee their access to an asylum procedure raises serious concerns. Frontex is one of the causes of deaths at sea: vessels try to avoid the agency’s patrols by using longer and increasingly dangerous routes.

Support provided to south Mediterranean countries should not be conditioned by migration control considerations. Instead, cooperation should take place on equal footing between countries that have shared, throughout history, a common geographical area where human, cultural and economic exchanges have always been the norm. Instead, the Mobility Partnerships proposed to several countries in the region in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are highly skewed in favour of the EU’s interests. Another perspective on cooperation with its south Mediterranean neighbours must be brought forward.

The need for a new perspective is urgent. We therefore hope that these concerns will be voiced during the European Summit on 24 and 25 October, calling for a European asylum and migration policy that is based on the respect of the rights of migrants rather than on their repression.

Key figures

 In June 2009, 75 boat people intercepted by the Italian coast guards - with the support of a German helicopter deployed for the Frontex operation Nautilus IV - are handed over to the Libyan authorities ; Italia is condemned by the European court of human rights.
 In 2011, according to the UNHCR, at least 1,500 persons died in the Mediterranean despite the heavy presence of NATO vessels in the area.
 Frontex’s budget increased from €19 million in 2006 to €118 million in 2011. Although the budget decreased in 2012 (€89 million), it is still the most funded EU operational agency.
 Between 3 and 11 October 2013, at least 400 people died in the Mediterranean.
 4/5 of refugees in the world are based in developing countries ; France is hosting 500 Syrian refugees, Lebanon 1,3 million (30% of its population).

Annexes  :
Inter-associative Forum : « Lampedusa : Europe murderous » - Libération October 4, 2013 ; Press release : « Frontex : Controlling or Saving Lives? » - October 9 2013