Europe cannot remain indifferent to what happened in Lampedusa

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Photo by: Marilisa Della Monica /Caritas Agrigento

The European Union and its Member States must make a paradigm shift in regard to migration policies, writes Jorge Nuño Mayer.

Jorge Nuño Mayer is Secretary General of Caritas Europa.

The image of the volunteers hugging and helping the survivors of the Lampedusa tragedy a year ago is still fresh in my eyes. I recall the Caritas volunteers in Lampedusa, who are among the poor of Europe, welcome the poor of Africa, by providing them blankets, liquids, and comfort following the deaths of hundreds who perished off the coast.

On October 1st last year, at least 366 people, searching for safety for their families in Europe, lost their lives at the shores off Lampedusa, a small Italian island between Malta and Tunisia, and also a frequent destination for many migrants fleeing conflict, persecution, or poverty. Sadly, this incident could have been avoided. Even more disturbing is the fact that there have been a series of similar tragedies over the last year in those same waters.

We, at Caritas Europa, have repeatedly called for more humane migration policies by the EU and its Member States, requesting, for instance, procedures for the standard organization of migrant resettlement or the implementation of humanitarian visas. We likewise support the oft-heard call for humanitarian corridors to North-Africa, as Caritas Italiana reminds, Lampedusa is not an isolated problem for just Italy.

The European Union and its Member States must make a paradigm shift in regard to migration policies. Beyond the unnecessary loss of lives, the Lampedusa tragedy also highlights Europe’s difficulty to respond adequately to the recent migrant inflows from North Africa across the Mediterranean. This becomes especially apparent considering how many among these new arrivals actually have legitimate asylum claims. This reality further raises the question of Europe’s responsibility to comply with the promises made in signing the Geneva Convention for Refugees, and to come up with sustainable solutions, with shared responsibilities by all the EU Member States and not just those bordering the Mediterranean.

Quoting Pope Francis during the last World Migrant and Refugee Day, “Working together for a better world requires that countries help one another, in a spirit of willingness and trust, without raising insurmountable barriers. (…) No country can singlehandedly face the difficulties associated with this phenomenon, which is now so widespread that it affects every continent in the twofold movement of immigration and emigration.”

Such a shared EU response to the recent migrant and asylum flows should not, however, lead just to stricter border controls, realised through a particularly restrictive entry visa system imposed by EU Member States. Rather, options for more simplified and legal channels to access the EU are necessary, also to reduce the number of irregular migrants and the consequent increase in deaths along the Mare Nostrum route, which has incidentally been renamed for this reason as both Mare Monstrum and Mare Mortum.

We are clearly dealing with an unprecedented humanitarian emergency, which raises the question to governments about appropriate measures of response, needing to be embedded in international solidarity, to adopt and comfort millions of people fleeing their homeland. As thousands of refugees, shocked by war zones, are forced to undergo long, dangerous and expensive travel routes, the moral question is why should we not save them in overfilled boats, precariously crossing the waters, enroot to protection and safety? Or better yet, why not grant them the opportunity to reach a safe country, sparing them treacherous crossings, which may potentially turn into tragedies?

In the last 30 years, the European Union has been protagonist and promoter of an increasing process of migration “management” focusing on its security aspects. The European borders are moving quickly beyond the real Member States’ boundaries because of a migration policy shaped on the development of the so called “external dimension”. This means transferring the control of entry into the EU to private actors, since transport/carrying companies, candidate countries enter the EU, or simply EU Member States strategically present on the migration routes to Europe (e.g. Greece or Bulgaria) are tasked this responsibility.

Caritas’ experts in migration policies appreciate the European Parliament’s resolution in which it is well highlighted that “EU legislation provides some tools, such as the Visa Code and the Schengen Borders Code, which make it possible to grant humanitarian visas” and that “legal entry into the EU is preferable to a more dangerous irregular entry, which could entail human trafficking risks and loss of life”. Moreover, they call on the EU institutions to provide and support save and legal entry to seek international protection for refugees all across the EU to reach Europe without risking life and/or to be trafficked.

Europe cannot remain indifferent to what happened in Lampedusa. Because this was not the first time and will not be the last in the near future. The EU and its Member States must allow people from North Africa to enter the EU by other means than by risky and dangerous boat trips. Last year’s accident was, unfortunately, not the latest in series of similar tragedies. Over the last year, thousands of civilians have lost their lives in similar attempts to enter the EU. The Union must intervene in order to stop these disasters in the Mediterranean.

There are many Lampedusas happening along our borders. Some people may be less aware of these tragedies due to the minor scale in terms of death tolls, but they are happening nonetheless. People are dying and we can strive to end this.

Our politicians must be courageous and visionary enough to challenge anti-migrant attitudes. They must propose a vision of Europe based on solidarity and subsidiarity – and that will put an end to the “globalisation of indifference,” as Pope Francis put it after visiting Lampedusa. Let us learn from the actions of the volunteers, who provided comfort and support to the migrant survivors of Lampedusa, in solidarity with those need.


Caritas Europa: Italy remembers migrant boat tragedy (1 Oct. 2014)

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