Back Humanitarian corridors: an alternative to human trafficking in the Mediterranean

Strasbourg , 

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I am very pleased to open this side event dedicated to humanitarian corridors. Humanitarian corridors aim at providing a safe pathway for refugees with legal access to a country where they can be safe and enjoy civil and social rights. Even if they benefit a limited number of individuals, the most vulnerable, and cannot as such be the only solution to the migration crisis, they constitute an important humanitarian response. This is in particular the case when they are put in place in frontline counties in the South Mediterranean Sea; those countries that bear a heavy burden in the current crisis.

The pilot self-funded “Humanitarian Corridors” project carried out in Italy since 2016 by the Community of Sant'Egidio, in collaboration with the Federation of Evangelical Churches, the Waldensian and Methodist Churches and the Italian Governement, constitutes such an example.

It was praised by the Pope and high political figures in Italy  who qualified it “a model of solidarity efforts in today’s crisis which could be replicated in other States”. I understood that 279 people (mostly Syrian refugees) have arrived in Italy through these corridors. It appears that this initiative provides a safe pathway, in line with governmental security standards; the potential beneficiaries are pre-selected by the NGOs, then vetted by the Ministry of the Interior and finally granted a humanitarian visa - for Italy only.

I look very much forward to learn more about the functioning of the project. It demonstrates how far can civil society initiatives go, in particular when they are backed by the authorities. It would be interesting to consider how such projects could be replicated and serve as a good practice to inspire others.

It is clear that our Europe today needs all the more such initiatives of solidarity. But these initiatives cannot replace our legal obligations stemming from the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition to create legal and safe pathways, the right to seek asylum, the asylum procedures as such and the conditions of refugee and asylum seekers should be in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the Court.

I recall that in recent years, two judgments of the European Court against Italy made the headlines.

The Hirsi Jamaa case of 23 February 2012 where the Court found several violations of the Convention due to the return to Libya of 11 Somalian and 13 Eritrean nationals intercepted at sea.

In the Khlaifia and others case of 15 December 2016, the Court found violations of the Convention due to the holding, of irregular migrants, who arrived in Italy from Tunisia in 2011 following the “Arab Spring”, in a reception centre on the island of Lampedusa and then subsequently on ships in the Palermo harbour (Sicily).  

Our Court did acknowledge in Khlaifia that “the State was confronted with many problems as a result of the arrival of exceptionally high numbers of migrants and that during this period the Italian authorities were burdened with a large variety of tasks, as they had to ensure the welfare of both the migrants and the local people and to maintain law and order”. However, the Court reiterated that problems with managing migratory flows or with the reception of asylum-seekers cannot justify recourse to practices which are not compatible with the Convention or the Protocols thereto.

In order to assist our member States in addressing the problems deriving from the migration crisis and abide by their Convention obligations, we will continue to take action:

-In January 2016, the Secretary General appointed Ambassador Tomáš Boček as his Special Representative on Migration and Refugees.

His mandate is to gather information on how the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees are protected on the ground in the member States, and to develop proposals for action.

-Last month, the Committee of Ministers in Nicosia adopted  our new Action Plan “Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe”;

-We are reflecting on the way to address the smuggling of migrants which takes place with the illegal entry of a person into a country in return for payment. 90% of migrants arriving irregularly in Europe have been smuggled. The Italian authorities take steps to rescue the overcrowded vessels that smugglers launch from Egypt and Libya. An important conference “on the smuggling of migrants” was organised in the Council of Europe, last Friday.

-We are addressing trafficking with regard to recruiting, transporting or harbouring people in order to exploit them for profit, usually accompanied by force or other forms of abuse, with our Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and its Group of Experts, the GRETA.

I hope that this side event will offer food for further reflections.