memorandum by Ms Dumery, rapporteur
1 When, in December 2014, the
Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons tasked me with
the preparation of a report based on two merged motions for resolutions
relating to large inflows of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants
to Greece and Italy, the idea was to adopt a comprehensive approach to
what at that time seemed to be the biggest refugee and migration
challenge in Council of Europe member States.
2 Indeed, migration across the Mediterranean Sea had been steadily
growing over the last years; the numbers of arrivals and tragic
incidents were on the rise and the situation in receiving countries
was becoming increasingly alarming. The debates on the repartition
of responsibilities, solidarity, human rights of refugees and migrants,
the need to save lives at sea and to combat networks of smugglers
had only just been launched in many European countries which until
then had not felt directly concerned by this phenomenon.
3 Starting from the first half of 2015, however, the developments
in the migration area relevant to my mandate acquired an unprecedented
level of attention from political leaders and public opinion. The
main trigger of that change was the deadly incident at sea which
took place on 18 April 2015, surpassing all previous tragic records,
when over 700 men, women and children lost their lives in a single
4 Since then, the migration and refugee crisis remains at the
top of the political agenda throughout Europe. Regrettably, despite
repeated efforts of political leaders, no clear and comprehensive
consensus on the management of short-term consequences, the elaboration
of medium and long-term solutions and the means of addressing the
causes of the increased migratory flows has been agreed upon so
The Parliamentary Assembly, for its part, had been following
the question of irregular migration across the Mediterranean in
its various aspects for a long time, as reflected in a number of
including Resolution 2050 (2015)
“The human tragedy in the Mediterranean: immediate action
needed” adopted under urgent procedure as an immediate reaction
to tragic deaths at the sea. The Assembly also held two current
affairs debates on “The need for a common European response to migration
challenges” during the 2015 third part-session and on “A Comprehensive
humanitarian and political response to the migration and refugee
crisis in Europe” during the 2015 fourth part-session.
6 The committee’s past and current work directly relevant to
the subject of the present report has rendered my task particularly
difficult by obliging me to find a way to prepare a comprehensive
report without duplicating the work of my colleague rapporteurs.
I tried to carry out this task in the best possible way, by aiming
to give a well-defined focus to the report. The objective of my
work is to analyse the evolving trends of migration across the Mediterranean
Sea in a broader context of migration and refugee challenges in
Europe, define problems facing the countries of entry, identify
shortcomings in the protection of human rights of those who undertake the
journey, and finally to formulate recommendations aimed at improving
the situation in its broader context.
7 I will systematically refer to the work of my colleagues wherever
appropriate, in particular with regard to the distribution of responsibilities,
challenges faced by transit countries and the efforts undertaken
by the international community to combat criminal networks smuggling
migrants and the humanitarian plight of Syrian refugees in Syria’s
neighbouring countries, including Turkey. I invite all those interested
in a more detailed analysis of these questions to consult the relevant
8 In the process of the preparation of this report, I carried
out two fact-finding visits: to Italy (Catania and Rome, 6-7 July
2015) and to the Headquarters of the European Agency for the Management
of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member
States of the European Union (Frontex) in Warsaw (28 August 2015).
In Catania, one of the main points of entry to Europe of migrants
and refugees arriving by sea, I met all the major stakeholders involved
in the reception process, including Prefetto Maria Guia Federico, representatives
of local authorities and services, in particular the Chief Police
Officer, the Chief Commander of the Coast Guard, the Extraordinary
Commissioner of Port Authorities, the State Prosecutor, the Public Prosecutor,
the Head of Health Emergency Service, the Maritime Sanitary Trans-border
Office and the Welfare Commune of Catania Officer, as well as international
organisations including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration
(IOM), Save the Children and the International Committee of the
Red Cross. I visited the biggest reception centre in Europe, Cara
Mineo, accommodating almost 4 000 people. In Rome, I held a series
of meetings in the Ministry of the Interior with Under-Secretary
Manzione, Prefetto Mario Morcone from the Department of Immigration
and Border Police, and Prefetto Sandra Sarti from the Department
of Immigration and Civil Liberty. I would like to express my gratitude
to the Italian Delegation, and it’s Head, Mr Michele Nicoletti,
for the excellent organisation of the visit.
9 At Frontex Headquarters, I met the Executive Director, Mr
Fabrice Leggeri and his collaborators, including the Director of
the Operations Division and the Fundamental Rights Officer. Here
again, I would like to thank all involved for the very informative
and useful discussions.
10 I also used the conclusions of the ad hoc sub-committee of
the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons which,
at the invitation of the local authorities of Kos (Greece) and with
the support of the Greek Parliament, visited the reception facilities
of the island on 24 and 25 October 2015.
2 Overview of irregular migration
across the Mediterranean Sea
The phenomenon of irregular
crossing of the Mediterranean Sea has been observed for many years
but for a long time the numbers were relatively small. It has been
estimated that over the period of fifteen years, between 1998 and
2013, approximately 623 000 refugees and migrants reached the shores
of the European Union, which means an average of less than 40 000
12 The last figure, however, may be a little misleading as the
numbers have been growing steadily. In 2013, they amounted to 60 000
13 The numbers suddenly exploded in the second half of 2014.
By the end of April of that year, the Italian Ministry of the Interior
alone had registered 26 644 arrivals. By the end of that year, the
relevant number was 170 000 arrivals in Italy and this figure should
be increased by 30 000 other arrivals to Europe’s southern shores
(mainly Greece and Malta).
14 The increase in the number of arrivals was confirmed and intensified
in the first months of 2015 and in the course of the year an estimated
one million people arrived on all European shores of the Mediterranean.
15 Over the last three months, we have witnessed an unprecedented
increase in irregular crossings, particularly into Greece. The shift
in migration routes led to over 368 000 arrivals by sea on Greek
islands, particularly Lesbos, Kos, Chios, Samos and Leros between
January and the end of August 2015. The average number of daily
arrivals almost doubled from 1 600 in July to 2 900 in August. In
August alone there were around 81 000 arrivals – almost twice as
many as for the whole of 2014. In September, a minimum of 5 000
to 6 000 arrivals a day was reported.
16 The situation is evolving and at the time of preparation of
the present report, it is difficult to predict future events. Unfortunately,
until recently, the number of deaths at sea was increasing proportionally.
According to the UNHCR, in 2011 there were around 1 500 deaths;
in 2012, when save and rescue operations were intensified, there
were around 500, in 2013, the number grew to 600. There was a dramatic
increase in 2014, to 3 500 deaths.
17 In 2015, between 1 January and 8 July, there were 1 892 deaths
at sea. The number rose to record levels in April 2015, and then
dropped dramatically as of May 2015. Between January and March,
479 people drowned or went missing (as compared to 15 during the
first three months of the year before). In April alone, in a number
of concurrent shipwrecks, an unprecedented 1 380 people lost their
lives (compared to 42 in April 2014). In May 2015, the number of
drowned and missing fell to 68, a quarter of the figure one year
earlier (226 in May 2014). The downward trend continued in June
2015 (12 deaths as opposed to 305 in the same month one year earlier)
and the following months. However, the total number of deaths widely
recognised as at 31 December 2015 was 3 771.
18 The decrease in fatal accidents can be explained by the intensification
of save and rescue operations following the tragedy of 18 April
2015. However, regrettably, deaths cannot be entirely prevented
as is sadly illustrated by the sadly famous photo of a three-year-old
boy drowned between Turkey and Greece. I will come back to this
question in the next chapter.
19 The UNHCR report stated that one third of those who had arrived
by sea in Italy and Greece over the reference period were from Syria,
whose nationals were almost universally deemed to qualify for refugee
status or another form of humanitarian protection. The second and
third most common countries of origin were Afghanistan and Eritrea,
whose nationals are also mostly considered to qualify for refugee
20 Among the migrants setting off from the Libyan coast, there
are also Nigerians (3 300 in 2014 and 7 900 between January and
June 2015), Somalians (2 300 and 6 300 respectively), Gambians (3 500
and 3 500), Sudanese (730 and 3 500) and Senegalese (1 800 and 2
21 Overall, according to public statements by UNHCR officials,
the majority of those who arrive (an estimated up to 70%) can be
considered as refugees and not economic migrants, and should qualify
for some form of humanitarian protection. And according to the UNHCR
report released in July 2015, the large majority of all migrants
who crossed the Mediterranean Sea during the first six months of
2015 were fleeing war, conflict or persecution and qualified for
international protection under the 1951 Convention relating to the
Status of Refugees. In other words, the Mediterranean crisis is
primarily a refugee crisis.
22 There are several maritime routes to Europe which change very
rapidly in order to respond to external circumstances such as migration
control measures and conditions in the countries of origin, transit
23 In 2014, the main maritime route was called the Central Mediterranean
Route. The main departure points were Libya (90%) and Egypt; and
the main arrival points were Italy and Malta. Thus in 2014, Italy
received 170 100 migrants in this way and Malta and Greece 30 000
out of a total of 210 000 arrivals in Europe by sea. The Central
Mediterranean Route was used even by Syrians and other refugees
and migrants from Asia.
24 In 2015, the trend has changed and the eastern Mediterranean
route from Turkey into Greece has now surpassed the central route.
By 1 July 2015, 69 000 people had reached Italy by the sea since
the start of the year according to the IOM. As already mentioned
above, at the same time Greece received over 205 000 arrivals.
25 The majority of those arriving now in Greece are refugees
from Syria. They had first fled to Turkey, Lebanon or other neighbouring
countries and in many cases had stayed there for several years.
Turkey alone has been hosting 2 million refugees from Syria. However,
after years of increasing pressure and insufficient international
support, the economies of host neighbouring countries are struggling
to cope, making it increasingly difficult for refugees to find shelter
and jobs and get access to health care and education. This is why
some of them decide to undertake the dangerous journey across the
The overwhelming proportion of those who arrive head for northern
Europe, mainly to Germany, Austria and Sweden, transiting the western
Balkans along the routes which are adapting to changing circumstances. One
of the reasons for this is that the reception capacities of the
countries of arrival, Greece and Italy, have reached saturation
point. But there are other elements, including greater attraction
of some countries in terms of social benefits, prospects for jobs
and existing refugee communities. The rapporteur on “Transit countries: meeting
new migration and asylum challenges”, Ms Tineke Strik, prepared
an addendum to her report giving a detailed overview of these new
developments; I refer all those interested to her work.Note
27 Passage across the Mediterranean Sea is almost entirely controlled
by well-organised criminal networks. Smuggling of migrants has become
a very lucrative business. It is a commonly known fact that migrants
and refugees pay between €1 000 and €2 000 per person for a journey
to Europe. I was told by Frontex that the inflatable boats currently
used by smugglers have been imported from China. Their price, together
with a motor, is less than €1 000. This illustrates the level of
profit made by smugglers.
28 In his report on “Organised crime and migrants”, my colleague,
Mr Irakli Chikovani, analyses this phenomenon and seeks possible
solutions to combat it. I will not interfere with his work and I
refer all those interested in the subject to his report.
3 Fatal accidents – action
taken to save lives
3.1 Action taken by individual
29 Much of the loss of life in
the Mediterranean is due to the ruthless methods used by the smugglers
who organise maritime transport. To minimise costs and maximise
profits, they systematically use unseaworthy vessels which are dangerously
overloaded. They often set sail in dangerous weather. Safety equipment
is insufficient, inadequate or completely lacking. Passengers have
insufficient food and water. My interlocutors from Frontex and from
the Italian Coastguard in Sicily have shared with me dramatic descriptions
of exhausted people and dead bodies of those who have suffocated
in overcrowded holds, discovered following a rescue operation.
30 The methods of smugglers differ and they have evolved over
time. In the past, they have abandoned the vessel on the high seas
after having issued the signal of distress. Before Operation Mare
Nostrum was introduced, such vessels were sometimes floating for
a long time without anyone having the skills to navigate them; that
is why they were called “ghost vessels”. There was a period when
smugglers, running out of vessels, tried to recuperate them once
the migrants had disembarked, and cases of violence against passengers
and rescuers was reported. Smuggling boats were often simply fishing
boats bought in the days prior to a trip and kept in civilian harbours
until their departure.
31 On 23 April 2015, several days after the tragic shipwreck
of 18 April in which more than 700 people lost their lives, the
European Council stressed that the European Union would escalate
all its efforts to prevent further loss of lives at sea by increasing
rescue operations and would fight migrant smugglers and traffickers.
32 It should be pointed out that the April tragedy occurred when
the Operation Mare Nostrum, launched in October 2013 by the Italian
authorities following the Lampedusa shipwreck taking the lives of
366 people, had terminated. In the framework of Operation Mare Nostrum,
the Italian Navy had deployed a significant number of its maritime
forces with the task of rescuing migrants in international waters.
Between October 2013 and September 2014, the Italian Navy rescued
over 100 000 people and brought them safely to the Italian coasts in
33 For months, Italian authorities pressed the European Union
to take over the Operation or at least provide it with the substantial
financial contribution needed. Faced with no positive reaction,
the Italian authorities terminated Operation Mare Nostrum in November
34 The European Commission, for its part, launched its own rescue
operation in the Mediterranean, named Triton, in August 2014. The
Triton Operation was implemented by Frontex. However, at that time,
Frontex’s capacity to respond to search and rescue needs in the
Mediterranean was of an incomparably smaller level to that of Mare
Nostrum in terms of equipment as well as financial and human resources.
Moreover, its area of operation at that time was much smaller.
35 It has to be recognised that the rise in the death toll in
the first four months of 2015 was partly as a consequence of this
diminished level of search and rescue operations.
36 As already mentioned in the previous chapter, the European
Union’s decision to increase rescue operations as from May 2015
had immediate positive results. Several European navies have provided
ships to Mediterranean search-and-rescue missions under the co-ordination
of the Italian Coastguard. The budget of Frontex was tripled with
immediate effect. Humanitarian organisations like Moas, which charters
vessels, and Médecins sans Frontières also participate in save and
37 My interlocutors from the Italian Coastguard and from Frontex
described to me the modus operandi of smugglers on the central Mediterranean
route. Distress signals are emitted as soon as the vessel leaves
an 11 nautical mile-long strip of Libyan territorial waters. Increasingly,
signals are sent out even before the boat leaves the territorial
waters. There have been at least two cases of signals being sent
out before the boats left the Libyan coast.
38 Once the signal is emitted, it is received by the emergency
response control room of the Italian Coastguard’s headquarters in
Rome which has ultimate responsibility for managing the rescue response
and co-ordinating actions of the Coastguard, navy and merchant vessels
of all nationalities. With sometimes many different signals received
at the same time, the rescue operation may not be immediate and
tragic incidents cannot be entirely prevented. It has to be stressed
that the area covered by rescue operations is huge and even with
a significant number of active rescue vessels, it may sometime take
several hours before the boat in distress is reached. It is particularly
dangerous in bad weather conditions.
39 To illustrate the challenge facing the rescuers, I would like
to refer to the announcement by the Italian Coastguard made on 29
June 2015. In the previous 48 hours alone, they had rescued 4 400
migrants off the coast of Libya and taken them to Sicily. In particular,
on 28 June, the Coastguard co-ordinated the rescue of 21 vessels
in difficulty and on 29 June, eight vessels carrying 1 500 migrants
had been assisted. This is just an example of the enormous work
carried out on an everyday basis.
40 I was also told that lack of experience of commercial vessels’
crews in rescue operations constitutes another serious risk factor.
Indeed, some tragedies could have been avoided if a boat full of
migrants had been approached in a different way. In particular,
the capsizing of the boat on 18 April 2015 which caused the death of
more than 700 people took place in the close proximity of a commercial
vessel responding to the SOS signal and was a result of migrants
hastening to one side of the boat. While one cannot blame inexperienced commercial
vessels’ teams obliged to carry out rescue operations, one has to
acknowledge that given the huge surface of the sea to be monitored,
one cannot totally discard the need to rely on their help.
41 The clear message which emerged from my discussions with the
Italian Coastguard and Frontex was as follows: there is no way to
guarantee full protection of human lives and prevent all deaths
at sea. As long as smugglers continue their activities, people will
die in the Mediterranean.
42 It is also clear that smugglers unscrupulously take advantage
of the rescue operations by increasingly using unseaworthy, decrepit
and overcrowded vessels, and fully depending on rescue operations.
Neither navy ships nor the Italian Coastguard are authorised to
enter Libyan territorial waters. I was informed of one case when
a rescue ship chartered by a humanitarian organisation entered Libyan
territorial waters and took on board the migrants with the help
of people who claimed to be the Libyan Coastguard. My interlocutors considered
it a very worrying precedent.
43 Needless to stress that while the elimination of the smuggling
process will not solve the problem of migration, it still may save
many lives. Therefore the fight against smugglers should be given
priority as a complementary measure in a common European response
to the migration and refugee crisis. In order to be efficient, it
should be carried out in co-operation with the countries of departure.
Once again I refer to the report of my colleague Mr Chikovani and
I draw attention to the recommendations he has formulated. That
said, I would like to stress that in the present situation rescue
operations are necessary and should be sustained.
44 In my discussions in Italy, I raised the delicate question
of dead and missing persons. While the Italian authorities should
be commended for their efforts to recover and bury dead bodies from
the sea, it is a matter of urgency to create a centralised data
base, a register which would enable the tracing of missing persons throughout
all European countries. I think that the Assembly should launch
an initiative to establish such a centralised register and this
recommendation is included in the draft resolution.
4 Arrivals in European countries
– a general overview
45 Last year, Italy, with 170
000 arrivals – amounting to 90% of all arrivals –, was by far the
main destination for refugees and migrants travelling across the
Mediterranean Sea. In the first nine months of 2015, 131 000 new
arrivals were noted. While Lampedusa had been a sad symbol of migration
in the past years, at present almost all refugees and migrants are
using the central Mediterranean route to arrive in Sicily.
46 During my visit to Catania, I had an opportunity to get acquainted
with different stages of the reception process in one of four ports
of disembarkation. Indeed, Catania, along with three other Sicilian
ports, namely Pozzalo, Augusta and Syracuse, receives almost all
refugees and migrants arriving in Italy. All my interlocutors stressed
the heavy burden that these mass arrivals constitute for the local
population of 5 million people in terms of its economic impact.
47 Catania, like the three other ports concerned, has had to
decrease levels of their usual economic activity. The Commissioner
of the Catania Port explained that Catania used to treat 40 million
tons of products yearly. Furthermore, as a harbour for cruises,
it receives thousands of tourists. The reception of huge numbers
of refugees and migrants inevitably hampers these ordinary activities.
As a result, the whole community contributes to the reception of
migrants against its economic interests.
48 When the rescue ship arrives with intercepted refugees and
migrants, it is a serious organisational challenge. All passengers
have to undergo a primary health check before they disembark in
order to prevent the spread of possible infectious diseases which
would constitute a threat to public health. Once the passengers
are on land, they are provided with food, drinks and clothes; they
are also given a more comprehensive health check. At this stage
those who need medical care are taken directly to hospitals. Between
January and June 2015, 61 people were taken to hospital upon arrival.
49 The registration which follows involves taking a photo and
scanning fingerprints. The whole process takes place in compliance
with humanitarian guidelines and under judicial supervision. Those
who refuse to be fingerprinted (approximately 2% of the total number)
are not forced to do so. On this point, Italy has been repeatedly
criticised by other European countries, and indeed by the Parliamentary
Assembly, for non-compliance with the Dublin Regulation’s requirements.
I recall here Mr Christopher Chope’s report on “The large scale
arrival of mixed migratory flows to Italian shores”. All my Italian
interlocutors stressed that the revision of the Dublin Regulation
was inevitable in the light of the mass arrivals and it would only
contribute to the increase in security. Indeed, if refugees and
migrants were not afraid that fingerprinting would jeopardise their
chances of submitting an application in another country, they would
not object to it. The question of the revision of the Dublin Regulation
is a subject of the report prepared by my colleague Mr Nicoletti,
so I will not dwell on it.
50 Minors, who constitute approximately 15% of the total figure,
and vulnerable people (young women susceptible to exploitation,
the elderly) are directed to specialised services.
51 Everybody has access to the asylum procedure. The UNHCR is
present at arrivals. It offers legal counselling to refugees and
migrants. Other intergovernmental and non-governmental relevant
organisations (IOM, Save the Children, International Committee of
the Red Cross) are also present.
52 The whole procedure outlined above is further complicated
if several rescue ships arrive at the same time. It is not unusual
that over 1 000 people disembark simultaneously.
53 The recognition rate is high. Rejected asylum seekers can
appeal. I was told that approximately 40% of appeals are accepted.
Deportation is very rare. Usually rejected asylum seekers qualify
for subsidiary protection on humanitarian grounds.
54 At present, there are 20 000 asylum seekers in Sicily in reception
centres. The others have been sent to other regions of Italy or
moved to northern Europe. The local population in Sicily has until
now had a welcoming attitude towards migrants and refugees. No cases
of violence or discrimination have been reported.
55 During my stay in Sicily, I visited the biggest reception
centre in Europe called Caro Minea. It is located in a former US
military camp composed of 404 buildings of 160 square meters each.
Up to 12 people are accommodated in each building, which contain
beds and wardrobes. Special protected houses are allocated to vulnerable
people (families, women). A canteen provides the residents with
meals. The whole population of the centre amounts to 3 400 people,
mainly Nigerians and Gambians. The average stay is 12 months. In
case of a negative decision, there is a six-month permit to stay
56 The residents cannot work but they can participate in different
activities, including Italian language courses and sport. They receive
a small amount of money every day which they can use for telephone
cards and cigarettes. They can leave the premises as they wish,
but the neighbouring villages are several kilometres away.
57 There has been a lot of criticism in Italy of the management
of migration centres in general, and this facility in particular.
The critics point out that centre communities are cut off from the
rest of the world and are governed by their own rules imposed by
the strongest inhabitants. In this context, there are accusations
of violence, intimidation, bullying, prostitution, drug trafficking
and black markets. Furthermore, according to some non-governmental
organisations (NGOs), tenders for services which State funding should
provide are rigged and many residents see little of them. There
is a police investigation under way on the system of corruption
in the management of migrant centres. In a wire-tap recording published
by the Italian media, the president of a co-operative consortium
that manages a reception centre near Rome is heard saying: “Do you
have any idea how much we earn off migrants? Drugs are less profitable.”
58 In Greece, a limited infrastructure providing less than 2
000 reception places means there are completely inadequate reception
conditions for new arrivals. The recent shift in the migration routes
and the flow of over 821 000 new arrivals on Greek islands in 2015,
has put an enormous strain on Greek reception capacities. The comparison
of the two above figures illustrates the scope of the problem.
59 The Greek asylum system, which even in the past has been criticised
for its deficiencies, now has become completely saturated. Given
the countries’ economic difficulties, it is not surprising that
the situation has entirely surpassed the authorities and the population.
60 There is practically no registration of new arrivals. People
are accommodated in non-adapted empty buildings such as hotels and
schools, provided with basic food and transported to the mainland
in special ferry services in order to alleviate the burden imposed
on the local population. These dramatic conditions of reception
and frequent delays in transport to the mainland have resulted in
open hostility between refugees and migrants on the one side and
sections of the local population on the other, but also among refugees
and migrants themselves.
61 The vast majority of refugees and migrants continue their
journey across the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Serbia
to Hungary and further north. According to estimates, in early September
2015 approximately 30 000 people were transiting Greece. This new
phenomenon was the subject of the report on transit countries which
was debated in the Assembly during the 2015 fourth part-session;
I will therefore not dwell on it in the present report.
62 However, the situation seems far from being settled. New refugees
and migrants continue to arrive from Turkey, and there are no signs
of a foreseeable improvement of the situation.
63 This overview of arrivals should be supplemented with two
more figures: in 2015, 3 845 new arrivals noted in Spain and 106
arrivals in Malta.
64 There is no doubt from this picture that neither Greece nor
Italy can cope with the problem on their own and that the Dublin
Convention needs to be revised.
65 Without wishing to interfere in Mr Nicoletti’s report, I have
to mention here the efforts undertaken so far by European leaders
to address this huge challenge facing European countries. In May
2015, the European Agenda on Migration defined immediate measures
needed to prevent human tragedies and to strengthen emergency responses.
It included a mechanism called “hotspot teams” aimed at helping
in the processing of asylum requests and returning of irregular
migrants. As part of “hotspot teams” rolled out in Italy and Greece, experts
from Europol, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex
deploy on the ground facilities for registering, fingerprinting
and interviewing the migrants to make sure that all asylum requests
66 The first hotspots have just become operational in Italy and
Greece. However, a hotspot cannot be considered as a solution in
itself to the massive migration crisis. At best, it can help to
manage an increasingly out-of-control situation.
67 At the European Council meeting on 26 June 2015, the emergency
relocation of 40 000 asylum seekers was agreed. The distribution
mechanism was supposed to begin only in the autumn. The Commission’s proposal
to set obligatory quotas on member States was rejected and replaced
by voluntary commitments by States on the number of people to be
taken. European Union leaders also agreed to resettle 20 000 currently living
in United Nations camps in third countries, essentially countries
68 At the European Council meeting on 14 September 2015, the
majority of member States were in agreement with a wider relocation
proposal involving 120 000 people, but a final consensus on it could
not be reached. There is an ongoing discussion on the system of
distribution of migrants, possibly involving quotas, and their voluntary
or obligatory nature.
69 On 15 October 2015, the European Commission reached an agreement
with Turkey on a Joint Action Plan to step up their co-operation
on migration management in a co-ordinated effort to tackle the refugee
crisis. It identifies a series of urgent measures aimed at supplementing
Turkey’s efforts in managing the large number of people in need
of protection in Turkey. Later that day, the European Summit, while
endorsing the Joint Action Plan, committed to increasing its political
engagement with Turkey, providing Turkey with significant financial support,
accelerating the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation road map
and re-energising the accession process with Turkey.
70 I would like to share several reflections on prospects and
71 It is clear that only a common
European response can address the present refugee and migration
crisis. Individual measures by individual States, including generous
gestures, will not solve the problem and may result in more chaos,
suffering of refugees and migrants misled by false hopes, and tensions
between States. Similarly, individual restrictive measures with
regard to access to the territory will not solve the problem in
the long term and may have disastrous effects on the future of European
72 European migration policy is hampered by structural and institutional
limits for co-operation between member States. This is particularly
significant when the challenge is so serious and requires a comprehensive approach.
73 Indeed, the challenge largely exceeds the issue of relocation
of a few hundred thousand people which seems to be the ultimate
goal of many political leaders. With an estimated rate of new arrivals
in mid-September at 6 000 a day (5 000 through the eastern Mediterranean
route and 1 000 through the central Mediterranean route), the proposed
figures seem to be completely inadequate. Therefore, the debate
should not focus on quotas and their compulsory or voluntary nature.
While it is necessary to address the immediate humanitarian emergency
without further delay, long-term measures and solutions should be
identified and implemented as soon as possible.
74 We should call on European leaders to adopt a comprehensive,
multifaceted approach. Saving lives of refugees and migrants at
sea should continue to be a priority.
75 This approach should be accompanied by the immediate creation
of large-scale emergency facilities in Greece and Italy to receive,
assist, register and screen incoming people with a view to identifying
people in need of protection. In order to achieve this objective,
not only should a major increase in specific financial and human
resources support for the Greek and Italian authorities be implemented,
but also institutional solutions which would allow for the implementation
of this unique procedure. The involvement of all relevant European agencies
including EASO and Frontex as well as national authorities, international
organisations (UNHCR, IOM) and civil society would be essential
in this process.
76 The above measures should be enhanced by reducing the incentives
for irregular migration, and in particular by investigating, disrupting
and prosecuting smugglers’ networks and securing external borders. When
deemed necessary, effective return practices should be established
for those who do not qualify for international protection and strengthening
the role of Frontex could be given consideration in this respect.
77 The process of relocation of 120 000 refugees from Greece
and Italy, as already agreed by the participating European Union
countries, should be stepped up. Further relocations should follow
without any further delay.
78 Furthermore, there is an urgent need to substantially increase
the opportunities for Syrian refugees hosted in countries neighbouring
Syria. This will require fresh major financial support for Turkey,
but also for Jordan and Lebanon. After five years of worsening living
conditions there is no other way to prevent people from risking
their lives to get to Europe.
79 It is imperative to increase access to legal migration channels
to Europe, including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admissions,
and the implementation of existing legislation concerning family reunification
and humanitarian and student visas for refugees from countries neighbouring
80 This way of identifying people for legal entry to Europe would
save the lives of many potential candidates for illegal crossing
of the sea. It could be considered as a step towards external processing
of requests for protection. I fully realise that the establishment
of a unique status determination procedure outside European borders
requires serious institutional and policy changes both in member
States and at a European level, and cannot be decided in a hasty
manner. However, a considerable increase in the selection of people
eligible for legal entry based on humanitarian grounds could be
a big step in this direction.
81 In this context, the idea of the establishment of hotspots
outside Europe should be given serious consideration.
82 Tackling the root causes of the Mediterranean crisis is the
most important and unavoidable long-term measure which has to be
introduced as quickly as possible. This implies adequate development
of co-operation between Europe and countries of origin, including
not only financial support but economic projects which will contribute
to sustainable development. The peaceful settlement of the hostilities
in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is a necessary condition for ending
the human exodus from these countries.
83 It is important to engage in a meaningful and comprehensive
dialogue with the African countries of origin and transit in order
to jointly manage migration and asylum flows in a spirit of shared
responsibility. The European Union’s recent decision to set up an
Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of
irregular migration and displaced people in Africa is certainly
a move in the right direction.
84 In this context, I also welcome the recent decision of the
Council of Europe Development Bank to create a new “Migrant and
Refugee Fund” to finance transit and reception centres in affected
countries. I also commend the Cypriot Government which was the first
contributor to the fund by offering €100 000.
85 A comprehensive response to refugee situations requires diplomacy,
political will and concerted action for the prevention as well as
the resolution of conflicts that force populations to flee. We cannot
afford to fail this time.