The EU’s migration chief insisted yesterday (4 March) that the bloc must work with dictatorships in order to fight smugglers who traffic migrants to Europe, often using dangerous sea routes across the Mediterranean.
The comments by Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, came as at least 10 more people were reported dead after a migrant boat capsized off Sicily.
“We’re not naive. And the fact that we cooperate in the framework of the Khartoum and Rabat process (EU agreements with African countries) with the dictatorial regimes, we do not legalise them,” Avramopoulos told a press conference in Brussels.
“We do not give them legitimacy, democratic and political legitimacy. But we have to cooperate in the field where we have decided to combat smuggling and trafficking.”
He did not name the regimes to which he was referring.
The 28-member EU said Wednesday it was pushing forward the launch of a new migration policy to mid-May because of the urgency in dealing with the flood of migrants across the Mediterranean, many of them fleeing conflicts in Syria and Libya.
“There is a huge sense of urgency both in the commission and member states to address this issue,” European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans told the same press conference.
The UN says at least 3,500 people died last year out of more than 218,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean, making it the most deadly migrant route in the world.
The deaths have highlighted the limited means and scope of the EU-run Triton search and rescue mission, which took over in November from the Italian navy’s far larger Mare Nostrum operation.
Italy decided to scale back the mission after its EU partners refused to share running costs of around nine million euros a month.
More than 276,000 people entered the EU illegally last year, or 155 percent more than in 2013, according to the EU borders agency Frontex. Out of the total, 220,000 arrived via the Mediterranean.
Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International European Institutions Office, said that “without a collective and concerted rescue mission, the European Agenda on Migration remains dangerously incomplete”.
Safe and legal routes were announced as part of the agenda, but there was no direct mention of ensuring an EU-wide search and rescue mission to respond to the growing numbers of deaths at sea, following the closure of Italy’s Operation Mare Nostrum.
“Today the Commission publicly recognised that Triton was not a replacement for Italy’s Mare Nostrum. They didn’t however indicate what could or should be done to fill the gap for this much needed search and rescue mission,” said Iverna McGowan.
Since 1999, the EU has been working to create a Common European Asylum System and improve the current legislative framework.
New EU rules have now been agreed, setting out common high standards and stronger co-operation to ensure that asylum-seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system – wherever they apply.
But EU countries rejected the Commission proposal that solidarity should apply and that asylum seekers from the countries mostly affected from the arrival of migrants should be relocated in other EU members.