C Explanatory memorandum by Ms Jennifer
De Temmermann, rapporteur for opinion
1. I would like to begin by congratulating
Lord Alexander Dundee (United Kingdom, EC/DA) for the report which
he has prepared for the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced
Persons. I agree with him that the humanitarian situation in the
Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East is disastrous. I
also share his view that there is a need for long-term solutions
and effective responses to a situation which is set to last.
2. I acknowledge how difficult it is for member States to agree
on the subject of migration. Our countries have had contrasting
histories. They take differing approaches to this issue, preventing
the emergence of a shared vision on which to base any long-term
solutions. The relative prosperity Europe has achieved despite the
health crisis seems insignificant when compared to past events.
Migrants are vulnerable people because their rights are constantly
being put to the test. The migrant crisis has shaken our institutions.
Their resilience has enabled us to withstand the blows while showing
due regard for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. However,
I am ashamed of the image that our countries are projecting of themselves
in their response to the alarming situation of migrants in the region.
Humanitarian action is a harrowing task. Whether these people
are displaced persons, refugees or economic migrants, they took
the terrible decision one day to risk their lives in exchange for
the hope of a better life. We regret that the discussions on the
reform of the European Union’s migration policy have been deadlocked
for so very long. According to civil society, the situation of migrants
reached its paroxysm during the summer of 2020 but was greeted with
indifference. For some weeks, no more rescue boats were chartered by
the European Union, the national authorities or civil society to
go to the assistance of people in distress at sea. This perilous
situation is reported to have been caused by the preliminary agreement
reached in Valletta, Malta, in September 2019, which was supposed
to have arranged for the distribution of migrants.Note
Many unaccompanied children and minors
are boarding these boats to attempt increasingly dangerous crossings. The
pattern is well established and has endured for far too long. It
is not acceptable to let them go to their deaths. Their best interests
are being spurned and it is our responsibility to call our governments
to account in our parliaments and find an honourable exit for the
European Union’s migration policy. We owe it to past victims at
least to set up a durable European rescue system.
I agree with the rapporteur when he regrets European States’
lack of political commitment. The refusal to deal with the situation
of migrants and refugees has shown our countries in an appalling
light, revealing an intention only to deter or to slow down migration.
We are all aware that these responses are not providing any long-term
solutions, while our neighbours on the southern shore of the Mediterranean
are having to cope with yet more difficult, not to say disastrous
situations, even when their institutions have been swept by successive crises.
We must reconnect with the founding spirit of our institution and
break free from our national self-interests and, above all, our
indifference. This was also the message of the recent call for emergency
action by Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for
Human Rights, following up on her recommendation of June 2019 entitled
“Lives saved. Lives protected”.Note
There are no easy solutions. Members of
civil society organisations who rescue people in distress at sea
are not smugglers. The Assembly mainly provides a platform for dialogue,
where frank discussions can be held against a complex political
backdrop. It regularly receives members of parliament from neighbouring
countries and can be a home for constructive debate.
5. In addition to the detailed information given in the initial
report, I would like to point out that our member States are supposed
to have made clear and firm commitments in relation to the United
Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, one
of the indicators for SDG target 8.8 is whether or not migrants have
access to labour rights. With regard to SDG target 10.7, whose aim
is to “facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration”,
I call on the member States to implement clear and transparent migration
policies designed to combat inequalities.
6. I am glad that the Convention on Action against Trafficking
in Human Beings (CETS No. 197) already serves as the basis for co-operation
projects in Morocco and Tunisia and would like to thank the national authorities
for their confidence. The amendments proposed are in keeping with
the terms of reference of our committee. They ensure that the social
and economic rights of refugees and migrants are respected and they are
intended to guarantee full protection for the most vulnerable people,
particularly women and children. I have also taken the liberty of
referring to recent resolutions and recommendations by our Assembly.
7. (Amendments A, B and C) – The aim of these amendments, in
line with the committee’s terms of reference, is to draw attention
to the framework provided by major Council of Europe conventions
which protect the most fragile populations among migrants and asylum
seekers, namely women and children. These are the Convention on
Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (CETS No. 197), the Convention
on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual
Abuse (CETS No. 201) and the Convention on preventing and combating
violence against women and domestic violence (CETS No. 210).
8. (Amendments D and G) – The lack of any political commitment
to seeking a solution in North Africa and the Middle East is even
evident in the terminology used to describe situations. Not so long
ago we drew a distinction between refugees and economic migrants,
as if it was possible to differentiate between their respective
plights. The expression “voluntary return” is widely used although
it does not match what the people concerned actually want. I propose
therefore that we should add “so-called” before the expression every
time it is used.
9. (Amendment E) – As Lord Dundee points out, the Covid-19 pandemic
has further complicated the situation in these countries when some
of them were already lastingly destabilised. The member States’ vaccine
strategy should not stop at national or European borders. International
co-operation is a key factor in the action to combat coronavirus.
It is to be feared that the illness will also affect these countries.
This could also have negative repercussions in Europe because of
the increased risk of new variants of the virus emerging. The Assembly
has already given its support to the COVAX Facility; it would be
worth reiterating this with regard to its implementation in the
countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
10. (Amendment F) – At its meeting of 16 March 2021 our Committee
adopted a declaration deploring the disastrous situation of these
children once again. We cannot put up with ad hoc solutions. It
is the member States’ responsibility to ensure that these children’s
best interests are protected. Their situation is a source of concern.
The member States must repatriate their children as soon as possible.
11. (Amendment H) – Arms trading has played a considerable part
in destabilising the institutions of the North African and Middle
Eastern countries, together with the countries in their immediate
vicinity. The Assembly already alerted the member States to the
risks in 2006.