European Parliament wants to put an end to the solidarity offence in Europe

A member of the NGO "SOS Mediterranean" from the Aquarius ship helping a woman getting onboard. [EPA-EFE]

Only eight EU  member states have banned the solidarity offence from their national laws. This offence is often used to prosecute citizens and organisations assisting migrants. reports.

MEPs called on the Commission to clarify rules on providing help to migrants, often misused by some member states to penalise humanitarian assistance, in a resolution adopted on 5 July.

“We need clear guidelines on humanitarian assistance. This is key in a context where individuals and NGOs work very hard to save people at sea and help them on land,” stated British MEP Claude Moraes (S&D), who drafted the resolution.

French law zooms in on solidarity offence

Helping illegal migrants can come at a cost in France where the notion of solidarity offence is currently under revision. At the European level debates on the issue have only just started. reports.

The European directive adopted in 2002 on the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence, provides for sanctions in cases of assistance for “financial gain”, a provision which targets smuggling networks. The Directive also states that member states can introduce a full exemption for humanitarian aid to protect the assistance of citizens and civil society organisations.

Humanitarian exception

However, in a number of countries, the text has been implemented without adding the humanitarian exception, which leads to the prosecution of solidarity actions. According to MEPs, this is a misleading implementation of the text and has prompted them to call for a clarification from the Commission. They also call on countries to add this exception to their national legislation, which only eight countries have implemented so far.

“European legislation provides for the exemption of humanitarian assistance from criminalisation, and so far eight member states have provided some sort of explicit exemption,” the Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told the plenary debate in Strasbourg on 4 July. The eight member states are Belgium, Greece, Spain, Finland, Italy, Malta, the United Kingdom, Croatia and Ireland.

“We do not want to prosecute citizens and organisations that provide real assistance to those who need it,” said Avramopoulos, adding that “the criminalisation of real humanitarian assistance must be avoided”.

However, there is a risk of criminalisation in various European countries. “The Commission is engaging with civil society, fundamental rights agencies, Eurojust and national prosecutors on the subject,” said the Commissioner.

Though MEPs have come to an agreement, they have not called for new legislation on the issue as the subject is still very divisive and would lead to endless discussions.

“The directive is applied differently according to the member states. It should be a regulation, but the recent events concerning the asylum package show that it is too complicated, “said Swedish MEP Cecilia Wikström.

Tougher sentences

The adoption of the parliamentary resolution follows a tougher stance on aid to migrants. In France, the case of Cédric Herrou, who was recently sentenced to prison for helping migrants, and that of Martine Landry, accused of facilitating the unauthorised entry of migrants in France, revealed the increased stringency of the law on humanitarian aid.

“The European climate is increasingly suspicious of migrants and those who help them,” stated the French socialist Vice-President of the European Parliament, Sylvie Guillaume.

In France, the recent asylum law revised the “solidarity offence” and excluded sanctions for activists providing treatment, accommodation or food to migrants without financial compensation.

In Italy, the solidarity offence is more focused on boats chartered by NGOs in the Mediterranean. In the aftermath of the Aquarius crisis, the ship Lifeline and its crew were threatened of being prosecuted for complicity in illegal migration if it were to land in an Italian port.

In Hungary, deputies have just adopted a new law sanctioning aid to migrants. The text, which is part of the “Stop Soros” legislative package, states that anyone who has assisted a person who has entered Hungary illegally from a non-Schengen country could face up to one year of imprisonment, except in cases of ‘immediate danger’.

Hungary approves ‘STOP Soros’ law, prohibits ‘resettlement of alien population’

Hungary’s parliament yesterday (20 June) approved a package of bills that criminalises some help given to illegal immigrants, defying the European Union and human rights groups.

Parliament, where Fidesz has a two-thirds majority, also passed a constitutional amendment stating that an …

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