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States urged to save all lives at sea, and to insist on rights if migration control is 'outsourced'

Council of Europe member States should put the protection of human life above all other considerations during sea rescues, regardless of the status of those involved, PACE has said after a major triple debate in Strasbourg on the migration and refugee crisis.

“Saving lives at sea and on land is a moral as well as legal obligation for member States,” the Assembly pointed out in a resolution, based on a report by Petra De Sutter (Belgium, SOC). It called for “clear geographical responsibilities” for international search and rescue at sea, and urged coastal states to assist commercial and non-governmental ships carrying out rescue, and to allow them to enter their ports.

In a separate resolution adopted on the eve of a key EU Council meeting, based on a report by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), the Assembly warned that the EU should “refrain from externalising migration control” to countries that could not guarantee basic human rights standards under the European Convention on Human Rights and UN Refugees Convention – including safe and hygienic reception conditions, meaningful assessment of asylum claims and freedom of movement.

The Assembly again urged EU countries to share responsibility by fulfilling pledges to re-settle refugees and to host, re-settle and integrate migrants.

In a third resolution, based on a report by Domagoj Hajduković (Croatia, SOC), PACE encouraged countries to make it possible, on an “exceptional and limited” basis, to apply for asylum or humanitarian visas at their diplomatic or consular missions abroad, so that those concerned need not “expose themselves to life-threatening journeys or human smuggling”.

Speaking in the debate, Greece’s Minister of Immigration Policy Dimitrios Vitsas called for a review of Europe’s asylum system. “We need an equal sharing between member countries – we must share our responsibilities, share our solidarity,” he said.