European Parliament resolution on the recent migrant ship tragedies in the Mediterranean

The European Parliament,

–       having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–       having regard to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,

–       having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948,

–       having regard to the Geneva Convention of 1951 and the additional protocol thereto,

–       having regard to its resolution of 23 October 2013 on migratory flows in the Mediterranean, with particular attention to the tragic events off Lampedusa(1),

–       having regard to the Commission staff working document of 22 May 2014 on the implementation of the communication on the work of the Task Force Mediterranean,

–       having regard to the debate on the situation in the Mediterranean and the need for a holistic EU approach to migration, held in Parliament on 25 November 2014,

–       having regard to its resolution of 17 December 2014 on the situation in the Mediterranean and the need for a holistic EU approach to migration(2),

_       having regard to the ten-point action plan on migration of the Joint Foreign and Home Affairs Council of 20 April 2015,

_       having regard to the conclusions of the EU Council special summit on the Mediterranean refugee crisis of 22 April 2015,

–       having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.     whereas, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with the latest tragedies, over 1 500 persons have died in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of this year, and whereas this points once more to the need for the EU and the Member States to do everything possible to save the lives of people in danger at sea;

B.     whereas up to 700 migrants are missing and feared drowned after the wooden fishing boat on which they were crammed capsized near Libya as a Portuguese merchant vessel was coming to its aid late on Saturday 18 April; whereas one of the survivors was reported to have informed the Italian authorities that there may have been up to 950 on board;

C.     whereas a similar tragedy took place earlier this month, in which around 400 migrants were reported to have lost their lives at sea when a wooden fishing boat carrying about 550 people capsized; whereas survivors of the shipwreck reported that the vessel capsized as people started moving about when they saw a rescue boat approaching them; whereas it is estimated that a third of the passengers on board were women and children who, at the moment of the shipwreck, were situated in the boat’s hold;

D.     whereas Italian maritime forces, the Italian Coast Guard, the Italian Navy and several commercial ships carried out relentless operations to rescue migrants in distress on the Mediterranean Sea, and came to the rescue of approximately 10 000 migrants in the six days from Friday, 10 April to Thursday, 16 April 2015; whereas, according to IOM estimates, as of Monday, 20 April, the total number of migrants having reached the Italian coastline since 1 January 2015 stood at 23 918;

E.     whereas, in Greece, which is part of the southern gateway for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from Africa and Asia, the total number of immigrants rescued on the Aegean Sea by the Greek Coast Guard in the first quarter of 2015 was 10 445; whereas, furthermore, according to the Greek authorities, the Greek Coast Guard rescued 1 047 migrants in distress in the weekend of 18 and 19 April alone;

F.     whereas Joint Operation ‘Triton’, coordinated by Frontex, became fully operational on 1 November 2014;

G.     whereas more than 24 400 irregular migrants have been rescued on the central Mediterranean route since the launch of Joint Operation ‘Triton’ in November 2014, including nearly 7 860 with the participation of assets co-financed by Frontex;

H.     whereas the majority of incoming migrants appear to be from Sub-Saharan Africa, Eritrea, Somalia and Syria and were, for the most part, rescued in international waters according to the IOM;

I.      whereas migrants have confirmed that they were gathered by smugglers in Libya in so-called ‘connection houses’ and that they had to wait there for up to a month; whereas, according to the IOM, they report having been systematically subjected to violence and abuse at the hands of smugglers;

J.      whereas smugglers and human traffickers exploit irregular migration and whereas such networks put at risk the lives of migrants for their own financial gain, are responsible for thousands of deaths and pose a serious challenge to the EU and the Member States;

K.     whereas smugglers’ networks operate from the territories of third countries with total impunity, generating an estimated EUR 20 billion per year in profits from their criminal activities;

L.     whereas Frontex officers and rescue teams have reported that, twice this year, armed smugglers demonstrated their ruthless and criminal approach when they fired several shots during rescue operations in the central Mediterranean to recover empty vessels after the migrants they were carrying had been rescued some 60 miles from Libya;

M.    whereas according to Europol organised criminal groups actively facilitating the transport of irregular migrants across the Mediterranean sea have been linked to human trafficking, drugs, firearms and terrorism;

N.     whereas on 17 March 2015 Europol launched its Joint Operational Team ‘Mare’ to tackle the organised criminal groups who are facilitating migrants’ crossing of the Mediterranean Sea to the EU by ship;

O.     whereas the instability in Libya provides an ideal environment for the criminal activities of traffickers and smugglers;

P.     whereas the rapid expansion of IS and Daesh in neighbouring conflict areas will ultimately have an impact on the mass influx of migrants and flows of displaced people;

1.      Regrets the recurring tragic loss of lives in the Mediterranean; urges the European Union and the Member States to do everything possible to prevent further loss of life at sea; calls on the EU and the Member States to provide the necessary resources to ensure that search and rescue obligations are effectively fulfilled and therefore properly funded and staffed in the short, medium and long term, under the coordination of Frontex;

2.      Reiterates the need for the EU to step up fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity towards Member States which receive the highest numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in either absolute or proportional terms; calls on the Member States to standardise legal, financial and reception conditions;

3.      Considers it necessary to immediately strengthen EU border policy and security and to improve the functioning of Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO); calls on the Member States to continue to show solidarity and commitment by stepping up their contributions to these agencies’ budgets and operations; undertakes to provide those agencies with the resources (human and equipment) needed to fulfil their obligations through the EU budget and its relevant funds;

4.      Calls on the Member States to further consider the option of an EU-UN military naval operation off the Libya’s coast in order to stop human trafficking, dismantle smugglers’ networks, and ultimately save lives; considers that this operation should also enable the systematic capture and destruction of all the vessels used by the smugglers;

5.      Recalls that the Member States should lay down strong criminal sanctions against human trafficking and smuggling both into and across the EU, and also against individuals or groups exploiting vulnerable migrants in the EU;

6.      Call on the Member States to work closely with Europol, Frontex, EASO and Eurojust to fight against human traffickers and criminal networks of smugglers and to detect and trace their funding; stresses that the cooperation of third countries, in particular those surrounding Libya, is indispensable if such criminal networks are to be successfully dismantled;

7.      Welcomes the Joint Operational Team ‘Mare’ launched by Europol to fight against organised criminals and smuggling networks which abuse the vulnerability of migrants;

8.      Calls on the Commission to adjust the existing asylum system by setting up a binding quota for the distribution of asylum seekers among the 28 Member States once a clear threshold is surpassed in a Member State, on the basis of specific criteria;

9.      Reiterates its support for all UN-led efforts and diplomatic activities towards re-establishing government authority in Libya and its commitment to stepping up efforts to address conflict and instability in Libya and Syria as key push factors of migration;

10.    Calls for closer coordination of EU and Member State policies in tackling the root causes of migration; underlines the need for a holistic EU approach, that will strengthen the coherence of its internal and external policies and, in particular, its common foreign and security policy, development policy and migration policy; calls for EU cooperation with partner countries in the Middle East and Africa to be strengthened in order to promote democracy, fundamental freedoms and rights, security and prosperity;

11.    Emphasises that the root causes of violence and underdevelopment need to be addressed in the countries of origin in order to stem the flow of refugees and economic migrants; points out, in this connection, that significantly enhancing governance structures by building effective and inclusive public institutions, establishing the rule of law and fighting endemic corruption at all levels, as well as promoting human rights and further democracy, should be the main priorities of all governments in the countries of origin; strongly supports the choice of peace, security and regional stability as focal sectors of EU development aid in the countries of origin;

12.    Stresses the need to reframe EU cooperation with third countries, including Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, in the field of law enforcement where appropriate; stresses the need for third countries to respect international law with regard to saving lives at sea and to ensure the protection of refugees and respect for fundamental rights;

13.    Calls on the Commission to inform populations in third countries, particularly in the MENA region, of the risks and dangers posed by illegal migration networks;

14.    Underlines the fact that cooperation with Turkey must constitute a priority in the fight against organised crime, human trafficking and smuggling;

15.    Call on the Member States to consider the possibility of swift processing in collaboration with safe third countries of transit and origin and of return for those who do not qualify for asylum and protection in the EU, ensuring that resources are best utilised for those who require protection; stresses the need to encourage voluntary return policies, while guaranteeing the protection of rights for all migrants and ensuring safe and legal access to the EU asylum system;

16.    Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.