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Migrants: Bodeux (Caritas Europa), “the criminalization of solidarity is threatening our values and is endangering our democracies”

"People need to be disembarked in the closest port and be taken care of as soon as possible”, Leila Bodeux ,Caritas Europa officer, told SIR, urging European governments to create a predictable and solid responsibility sharing mechanism in view of the next arrivals of migrants at sea, in order to avoid negotiating agreements every time, as has recently occurred with the Sea Watch and Sea Eye ships. Caritas Europa is worried about the growing criminalization of NGOs and of humanitarian assistance. “This is shameful of EU values and must stop"

(Foto: AFP/SIR)

“The criminalization of NGOs and solidarity is threatening the very core of our values as human beings and is endangering our democracies: it must stop right now!”, said Leila Bodeux, Caritas Europe Policy and Advocacy Officer for Asylum and migration, commenting the latest incidents involving the Sea Watch and Sea Eye vessels with 49 people on board for 19 days at sea, which was the last demonstration that European governments do not intend to grant to welcome migrants and that Europe is divided on these issues and unable to find solutions, to say the least. “People need to be disembarked in the closest port and be taken care of as soon as possible”, Bodeux told SIR, calling upon European governments to create a stable, predictable and organized mechanism in view of the next arrivals at sea, in order to avoid negotiating agreements every time. In her view, that extends at European level, “it seems that no improvement in the nearer future is foreseen.” “A provisional agreement on disembarkation between a couple of Member states might be found but this would only be a partial and ad hoc agreement.” Also the prevalent externalization of EU borders in Africa, involving cooperation with countries of origin or transit of migrants, including Libya, “cannot be done at any cost and must respect human rights and human dignity.”

Leïla Bodeux, Policy and Advocacy Officer
Asylum and migration di Caritas Europa

It took days to reach an agreement on the disembarkation of migrants from the Sea Watch and Sea Eye ships. How is it possible that such situations have to be discussed anew every time? What could be the best solution instead?

Ad hoc and ping pong solution between states each time a ship is rescued is clearly not a long-term solution. It’s inefficient and disrespects the dignity and the needs of people on board who have suffered a great deal along their migratory journey.

They need to be disembarked in the closest port and being taken care of as soon as possible.

Based on a French-German proposal presented to other Member States at the end of 2018, negotiations are ongoing at EU level, steered by the European Commission. The hope is to create a predictable and solid responsibility sharing mechanism between a coalition of a few willing Member states to agree on pre-determined rules among themselves on how to quickly deal with rescued ship and how to carry out disembarkation in an orderly way. Let’s see if they can agree on something. But for Caritas Europa, we urgently need a fair and efficient solidarity mechanism for disembarkation between EU states that respects the human rights and dignity of people and that does not systematically detain all migrants rescued at sea.

Blanket detention is clearly a red line for us.

Those rescued must be quickly brought to a port of safety and their protection and humanitarian needs must be tackled quickly.

The border EU countries cannot be the only on responsible to do so and other EU countries must show solidarity to them

 and must share responsibility in participating in a fair disembarkation mechanism within the EU.

(Foto Siciliani-Gennari/SIR)

Taking in a few dozen migrants sparked off a rift within the European continent. What kind of Europe are we creating? Certainly not the Europe of solidarity and values …

As the European Commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos has highlighted, leaving vulnerable migrants stranded at sea during 3 weeks because EU Member states are not capable to show solidarity and responsibility is clearly at odds with EU values. At a time when the European project is challenged from many sides, the EU must proactively defend and apply its values of dignity, human rights, solidarity.

Otherwise, the EU institutions risk further alienating European citizens from the EU project.

In addition, worldwide, developing countries are already welcoming 85% of the refugees. It is only fair that the EU, as the wealthiest continent in the world, welcomes its fair share of refugees, in line with international obligation under the Geneva Convention on refugees.

Three years ago, in the Mediterranean, there were 12 ships of 9 NGOs at sea to compensate for an institutional vacuum in the granting of aid. Now there are only 3 but working through a thousand problems and obstacles. Is there an undeclared European intention not to have uncomfortable witnesses so as to continue with the externalization of borders? What do you think about this criminalization of NGOs?

The increased criminalization of NGOs and humanitarian helps is deeply worrying to Caritas Europa. Instead of being applauded for stepping in to plug the hole left by government in supporting refugees, NGOs are being demonized and criminalized under flawed arguments that play with public fear.

This is shameful of EU values and must stop.

The reduction of rescue ships at Sea that is the consequence of this trend is very alarming. There is almost nobody left at Sea to rescue migrants in distress or to be testimony of human rights violation by the Libyan coast guards during rescue operations. Even UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) deplored the attacks against NGOs recue ships and says that it’s impossible to know how many people are dying at sea since there is almost no testimony left…

The criminalization of NGOs and solidarity is threatening the very core of our values as human beings and is endangering our democracies: it must stop right now!

EU policies clearly seek to increase the collaboration with African countries to stop migrants from coming to Europe and to speed up the return of irregular migrants. This can lead to blatant human rights violation as it is the case with cooperation with Libyan authorities as several media and research evidenced.

Cooperation with countries of origin or transit of migrants cannot be done at any cost and must respect human rights and human dignity!

Which direction are EU migration policies and the debate on Dublin Regulation taking in your opinion?

Negotiation are very tricky since EU countries haven’t managed to find a compromise on solidarity and responsibility sharing so far. It seems that no improvement in the nearer future is foreseen.

A provisional agreement on disembarkation between a couple of Member states might be found but this would only be a partial and ad hoc agreement.

It is most probable that the reform of the EU asylum system (Dublin regulation but also other files) will be transferred to the new European Parliament after the EU elections in May.

 

European Christian Churches are showing acceptance and good practices (humanitarian corridors) and support the work of the few NGOs while governments do not. How can they be more incisive in their European institutions lobbying activity?

The Pope is at the frontline of defending migrants’ rights and this gives a strong and important message of solidarity to the world. The church and NGOs like Caritas are also supporting migrant’s needs every day and it is important that his continues to be done. Besides, an active lobby is also carried out at different political levels to ensure that the migration and asylum policies respect human and refugees’ rights. This is key as

we do not only want to treat the consequences of an unfair system, but we also want to change this system to become fairer and more humane.

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