The Malta Independent 4 December 2023, Monday
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Migration: Three MEPs from different political parties highlight need for solidarity

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 1 October 2023, 08:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Three MEPs coming from different political parties have highlighted the need for and the importance of solidarity in tackling irregular migration.

Juan Fernando López Aguilar (right), an S&D MEP who is the Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Jeroen Lenaers (left) from the EPP party and who sits on the EU Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, as well as Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield (centre) from the Greens party, who had formed part of a rule of law delegation to Malta, held spoke to this newsroom about migration.


López Aguilar believes that a European framework of search and rescue operations needs to be put in place.

A New Pact on Migration is currently being discussed within the EU institutions. Asked whether he thinks it goes far enough in terms of bringing enough solidarity among EU Member States, he said that this is the aim of the European Parliament, and that the negotiation is precisely pending on the solidarity link in the chain.

The European Commission came up with a proposal of a new Migration and Asylum Pact consisting of five regulations, they're intertwined,he said.

"We are insisting on having significant, effective, credible solidarity in the package." 

The rhetoric by some is that rescue NGOs act as a pull factor, while others say they are making up, in terms of rescues, for where the EU and countries have failed. 

Asked about this, he said that migration is a fact, and not a “threat or a menace. That is the understanding of the European Parliament, endorsed in all of our votes."

He said that migration has always been present throughout history, "more than ever, now. Why? Because we are living in a global world in which distances are no longer there. Communication, transportation have put in place a revolution in terms of migratory roads and flows. Migration has always been there, more than ever before it is unstoppable. Thirdly, we need to come to terms with facts, fighting and defeating distortions, outright lies, fake news and demagoguery. It is an outright lie that migratory routes across the world are aiming to Europe. It is not true. As we speak, at least 75 million people throughout the world are on the move, trying to make a better living some other place than where they were born. Just a tiny percentage of that migratory flow are aiming for Europe. But those aiming for Europe need a European scale of response, including search and rescue operations. That European scale of response has to be consistent with international law," as well as EU law, he said. 

Right now, he said, some member states are spending their own budget on search and rescue operations. “The cases of Spain and Italy are examples. But bound to mutual distrust, it is much too often the case that in lack of cooperation, they let by some unsafe ship on the grounds that they are aiming somewhere else (…) That results much too often in tragedies," he said, adding that this needs to stop. “We need to put a European framework of search and rescue operations in place.”

He also said that once people in despair fleeing from unliveable places are in the external borders of the EU, their aim is not necessarily to stay in that particular member state. “They are entitled to have a European response also when it comes to management, inclusion or relocation, if the case may be. So all of the elements of the puzzle are to be taken onboard in order to strike the right balance and sort out the equation. But the situation as for now is completely unacceptable.”

Asked for his thoughts on accusations against certain Mediterranean members states of pushbacks to Libya or for having ignored cases of rescues being called, López Aguilar agrees that there should be an investigation. "But investigating or bringing those who might be accountable for a certain misdemeanour or criminal behaviour when it comes to failing to accomplish their duties according to law, is not the end of the story. It takes righting the wrong and filling the gaps, building and putting in place a European system that makes sense in European terms. When I hear that such progress would enhance a pull effect or the business model of illicit trafficking of human beings, I know for sure that this is the reactionary jargon of those who do not want any progress at all. Because according to that reactionary view, everything is a pull factor. According to those views, even NGOs saving lives at sea are a pull factor. That approach is absolutely unacceptable. The only thing that makes sense is that we know that there is international humanitarian law in which saving lives is a must, is not only a moral obligation but a legal one.

Once on board, the legal obligation is to let them set foot in the first safe port of disembarkation, he saidInstead of blocking ports in the expectation that they would sail elsewhere and that somewhere else is going to take responsibility, we need to stop that mutual distrust landscape," he said, instead replacing it with a landscape of mutual trust, cooperation and good faith, abiding by European standards and laws.

A number of  Mediterranean border EU states believe there is not enough solidarity from the other EU states on migration. EPP MEP Jeroen Lenaers was asked whether upcoming New Pact on Migration and Asylum will solve this, or if there will still be issues that need to be ironed out. His response, was 'both'.

"I think the migration pact is very important. We had a huge migration crisis in 2015 and 2016 which also showed that the way we had organised asylum and migration policy in the EU didn't work,” Lenaers said. He said that the implementation of the current Dublin agreement in place "really put the burden mainly on border states and in an unfair way. At the same time, you have to see this from all angles. So I understand fully that there is a lot of pressure in countries of first entry. The reality is that there are also countries of destination in the European Union, where the pressure is also very high. You can see it in Belgium. At the moment you see it in my country in the Netherlands, you see it in France. The whole purpose of the (new) pact is to bring countries of first arrival, countries of destination, and those countries in between those member states together to have a common approach to solidarity."

"In the end, we can only solve this when we do it together. People arriving in Greece or Italy, have not chosen Greece or Italy to go to. They have chosen the European Union to travel to. It's a common responsibility that needs to be shouldered in a common fashion as well."

He said that there is a mandate on most of the files that form the pact in the EU Parliament. "Negotiations in the trialogues are ongoing, and I can only call on all member states to step out of their shadow and get behind a common solution."

Principle of non-refoulement has to be respected

Asked for his thoughts about certain EU border states having taken hard lines on irregular migration in the past, accusations by NGOs about pleas for rescues being ignored and pushbacks to Libya, and whether there should be an investigation into these allegations, he said that any member state “have to stick to the law and to the international agreements.” At the same time, he said, he’s noticed many times, even in the Parliament, that the accusation of push backs and the accusation of fundamental rights violations are “very easily expressed, very easily thrown around" but without always having the proof. 

He stressed that the principle of non-refoulement has to be respected. "It's up to member states to make sure they organise in such a way, and it's also up to the member states to investigate credible allegations if it's not the case."

The EU and member states have been moving more towards working with Libya on migration, even though the country has been criticised over human rights violations. Asked whether the EU should continue moving in this direction, he said that there was recently a major debate on the EU-Tunisia Memorandum of Understanding and "a lot of the same criticism was there. As a principle I think the EU has to work together with all countries of origin and transit of migrants. At the moment, the human suffering as a direct result of the way people smugglers conduct their business is enormous. People are dying in the desert and in the Mediterranean. The only way to address this as the EU is to cooperate with the countries along these migratory routes. I agree Libya is not a safe country for migrants. At the same time that does not mean that they should let people drown in Libya's territorial waters. I think its still important that people in trouble in Libya's territorial waters are saved, and then we also try to find ways together with the International Organisation on Migration, the UNHCR, to let people return to their countries of origin in a good way,” Lenaers said

He said that if the EU wants to help migrants who are stuck in Libya at the moment, “we cannot do so without at least having some sort of cooperation with the Libyan authorities. Of course everything we do needs to be guided by fundamental rights considerations, but we cannot expect that the countries surrounding the European Union live up to the exact same standards when it comes to democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights as the EU. We do not pick our neighbours, but we need to cooperate with them.”

MEP Delbos-Corfield was asked about rescue NGOs criticising Malta for the way it handled migration, and the lack of solidarity between EU states on migration.

"I go along with the NGOs criticism, be it of Italy, Malta, even worse in Greece, but I also think it is absolutely unacceptable that, for the moment, nothing has been done at an EU scale.” 

She referred to certain countries saying they are in favour of sharing responsibility but do not do enough. 

"Apart from Germany, which has really been the good guy in this for years, we have a selfishness from EU countries. That is stupid, dangerous and criminal. Stupid as its like an ostrich putting its head in the sand as people are going to come, dangerous as its putting the lives of these people in danger, but its also putting our complete unity and cohesion together at risk (...) Its criminal because, what sort of humanity are we today? This summer it was very difficult for many people to sleep at night, as we just let people die all summer in very difficult conditions."

"On this we can go on criticising Italy, Malta and Greece for not doing the work well enough, and it is logical that the NGOs should do that as its their job. But as an EU MEP my principle criticism is for all of the others not doing their part in the work."

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