EU’s response to situation in Mediterranean fails refugees and migrants, say NGOs

Updated 17 February 2022: Each Other: Does UK Respect Rights of Missing Migrants and Their Loved Ones?

The International Organization for Migration has conducted in-depth research to understand the challenges faced by families searching for loved ones who have gone missing during their migration journey, including people lost on their way to the UK.
The Missing Migrants Project began in 2014. Since then, over 47,000 migrant deaths and disappearances have been recorded by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) project, half of them in the Mediterranean Sea.

The vast majority of missing migrants have never been found. Among those that have been, few have been identified. The aim of the research is to give a voice to the family members of those lost in the course of their migration.  According to records collected by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project and the Institute of Race Relations, nearly 300 deaths were recorded between 1999 and 2020 along the northern coasts of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, in the English Channel, or shortly after crossing into the UK. However, the number of migrants who have gone missing en route to the UK is likely to be significantly higher than the data collected suggests.

“Currently, a very small number of actors can be found in the UK that provide support services to families of missing migrants, and their work continues to be inhibited by several factors, not least the present friction in the UK between the need for humanitarian responses to migration matters and the push for more stringent immigration control approaches,” IOM’s UK country report reads. “There is still a lack of knowledge and understanding about the experiences of missing migrants and their families, within relevant sectors and the wider UK population.”

Read more: Hannah Shewan Stevens, Each Other,

25 April 2015: ECRE: Days after what appears to be the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean, where over 800 migrants and refugees died, EU leaders gathered in an emergency summit in Brussels to decide on immediate steps to put an end to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. ECRE, together with other NGOs, has expressed concern over the European Council’s response as it predominantly aims at preventing migrants and refugees from reaching Europe and externalising restrictive border control policies to countries of transit and origin.

According to the Council’s conclusions, the EU intends to “strengthen [its] presence at sea, to fight the traffickers, to prevent illegal migration flows and to reinforce internal solidarity and responsibility”.
“If one looks at the nationalities of the people who are [arriving by boat] they are Syrians and Eritreans – these are people that are fleeing for their life. They are fleeing conflicts and dictatorships and they will leave no matter what. If [the EU] tries to address smuggling and trafficking only, it is only addressing the symptoms. But if you want to put smugglers out of business you need to create the opportunity for people to come legally, stated Aspasia Papadopoulou, ECRE’s Senior Policy Officer. In terms of safe and legal access to Europe, EU Heads of State have only agreed on setting up a voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU.
“We need substantial increases in the use of resettlement, family reunification, humanitarian visas and the temporary lifting of visa requirements if we are to stem the illegal smuggling. It is the lack of protection and access to regular migration channels which fuels smuggling,
Peter Balleis SJ, Director of JRS International Director.

In contrast, EU leaders have committed to triple the financial resources for Frontex Operation in the least, allowing to increase the search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean. This will make Triton’s budget to a size equivalent to the one of the Mare Nostrum operation, which has saved the lives of over 100,000 people

“The only result of the Council is the increase of the budget of Triton. It has been brought to €9 million. The mandate of Triton has not been revised and its focus remains the control of borders and its range of action circumscribed within 30 miles from Italian coasts. Not search and rescue, stated the Italian Council for Refugees.

Earlier this week, in response to a Ten point action plan on migration put forward by the European Commission; which included actions such as the establishment of a new programme for rapid return of irregular migrants and the deployment of the immigration liaison officers in key third countries – ECRE published its Ten-point plan to prevent deaths at sea. The use of legal channels for persons in need of international protection, the launch of a European Search and Rescue Operation, as well as building protection capacity in regions of origin and ensuring true solidarity between EU Member States must be at the forefront of the EU’s response, ECRE stated.
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