“The Justice and Home Affairs Ministers of EU member states meeting today and tomorrow in Luxembourg should not miss the chance to steer migration policy on to a more humane and human rights compliant path,” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović.
“I welcome efforts already made to enhance responsibility sharing among member states and to ensure persons rescued at sea can be disembarked swiftly and in a place of safety, provided this is set up with adequate human rights safeguards. Discussions must now also focus on improving human rights protection in other areas of European migration policy, especially the prevention of returns to countries where those rescued at sea would face serious human rights violations.
The success of a disembarkation and distribution mechanism will largely depend on the participation and support of as many countries as possible. It should also pave the way for a long-term and more ambitious system that eases the pressure on certain member states - like Italy, Malta and Greece - while upholding the human rights of all migrants, in particular as regards fair and effective asylum procedures, guarantees of non-detention, adequate reception conditions, safeguards for family unity, and fair expulsion proceedings for those not found in need of protection.
Solving the question of disembarkation is important, but care must be taken that this does not come at the expense of human rights protection in other areas. Particularly, the welcome introduction of a disembarkation and relocation mechanism must not result in the expansion of member states’ actions that may lead to the return of people rescued at sea to places where they face serious human rights violations. Today, member states have a chance to prevent further disastrous human rights and humanitarian consequences by suspending any co-operation activities with the Libyan authorities that impact on interceptions at sea and result in returns to Libya, until clear guarantees of full human-rights compliance are in place. Enhancing transparency and accountability for the human rights impact of co-operation with third countries should be central to any further development of European migration policy.
Other crucial steps include expanding search and rescue capacity; providing safe and legal routes; co-operating constructively with NGOs; ensuring that instructions issued by member states to shipmasters do not lead to returns to places where migrants can suffer human rights violations; and preventing the transfer of responsibility for coordinating rescue operations to authorities that clearly do not respect human rights.”
The Commissioner published in June a Recommendation on the necessary steps to protect migrants in the Mediterranean: Lives saved. Rights protected. Bridging the protection gap for refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean. It is available in English, French, Italian and Spanish.