Being saved in the Mediterranean should not be a 'ticket to Europe'

MEPs were unanimous that steps must be taken to stop the deaths at sea

Humanitarian assistance in the Mediterranean, NGOs' operations and the diverging positions of Member States were the topics of a heated debate, held on Wednesday in the EP plenary in Strasbourg with the Council and the Commission. Lawmakers deliberated whether the rescue activities of NGO vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, taking in people 20 miles from the Libyan coast and bringing them hundreds of miles away to Italy, is a crime or not. 

Some of them stated that being saved in the Mediterranean should not be a “ticket to Europe” and elaborated on the issue of solidarity. However, MEPs were unanimous that steps must be taken to stop the deaths at sea and that comprehensive solution is needed to manage migration.

Notwithstanding a substantial drop in the overall figures, migrants and asylum-seekers continue trying to come to Europe undertaking risky journeys in the Mediterranean Sea. Just from the beginning of this year, 682 people have died or gone missing, the IOM reported. The shipwreck that took place two weeks ago caused the drowning of 83 people off the coast of Tunisia, which was the second deadliest incident at sea this year.

We have to realise that the current way in which we are working in the Mediterranean, despite all good intentions, is not only helping to save lives but, at the same time, it unfortunately helps the smugglers who put those lives at risk in the first place, Jeroen Lenaers, from the EPP Group, asserted. He called for approach that focuses on better protecting the external borders, on returning illegal migrants who have no right to stay and on making agreements with third countries of transit and of origin.

Miriam Dalli, S&D Group vice-president, labelled what is happening in the Mediterranean Sea as a “disgrace”. We cannot have a situation where certain national governments continue blocking increasing EU search and rescue missions and blocking reforms of the EU asylum system, she stated, noting that a majority of the S&D Group voted in favour of Ursula von der Leyen “partly because of the commitments she gave us on fixing the EU asylum system”.

Now we are actually talking about criminalising saving people, stressed Sophia in 't Veld, from the Renew Europe Group, adding that she actually thinks it is a criminal act to let somebody drown. “Those who are in favour of criminalising it say, 'these NGOs who are saving people in the Mediterranean are creating a pull factor'. Well, sorry, what they want is a deterrent.”

Tytti Tuppurainen, Finland's Minister for European Affairs, stressed that in 2019 less than 10% of migrants who arrived in Italy had been rescued by NGOs. The vast majority of migrants arrived directly in Lampedusa and Sicily or they were rescued by vessels of the Italian authorities.

In his statement, Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said on the most recent atrocious killing of migrants at the Tajoura Detention Centre that it was “a strong reminder of the need to continue to pursue the EU's efforts to protect the most vulnerable and to put an end to the Libyan arbitrary detention system”.

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