The recent tragedies that took place in the Mediterranean over the past weeks, where more than 400 migrants lost their lives have led to some reactions from European authorities, namely the increase in surveillance of the EU’s external borders.
European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström has proposed to deploy an extensive Frontex search and rescue operation that would cover the Mediterranean from Cyprus to Spain. Last week the European Parliament approved the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) Regulation, which aims at increasing cooperation within and between Member States to reinforce border surveillance and to prevent and tackle serious crime, namely drug trafficking and the trafficking of human beings. The European Commission is convinced that this system will make a contribution to the protection and saving of lives of migrants trying to reach European shores by helping Member States to better track, identify and rescue small vessels at sea.
Phillip Amaral, from the Jesuit Refugee Service Europe, has stated that the Eurosur objective is to tighten borders and prevent irregular migration and that it greatly emphasises the use of satellite imagery and drones. Amaral lamented that Eurosur regulation does not clearly state which countries are responsible for migrant boats in distress and that it does not absolve fishermen from criminal responsibility when rescuing migrant boats.
Gino Barsella, from the Italian Council for Refugees, has told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin that the EU should open channels for people seeking international protection to obtain it without having to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean. As Barsella explained “the simplest way to do this would be to give people the possibility to apply for asylum in the consulate of different countries. For instance, an asylum seeker living in Libya could go to the Consulate of a Member State and be issued a visa for international protection”.
Along the same lines, ECRE has also urged EU Member States to take a real stand to prevent further loss of live and facilitate access to protection in Europe for people fleeing persecution and war through resettlement programmes, humanitarian visas and other means.