Drowning refugees, migrants, and shame at sea: The EU response: Part II

Cathryn Costello and Mariagiulia Giuffré - 27th April 2015

In our previous post we highlighted how the Statement of the European Council in response to the crisis situation after the death of more than 750 people in the Mediterranean is disappointing for its failure of ambition in meeting the extent of the refugee crisis. In this post we present several alternative measures that should be enacted in order to adequately address the crisis.

Many of the means proposed frustrate the right to seek asylum and the right to leave any country, including one’s own, which are enshrined within universal and regional human rights instruments binding all EU Member States. The EU’s own Fundamental Rights Agency has just set out the range of options to allow greater safe access to protection. For instances, EU Member States could process humanitarian visa applications in their embassies, or extend other visa categories to those fleeing. There are many ways we could meet at least some of the demand for refuge, thereby reducing demand for smuggling. If the Carriers Sanctions regime was adapted or suspended, those seeking refuge could simply board planes and ferries to reach Europe.

There is no mention of temporary protection. For those fleeing conflict, temporary protection is often suitable. Many will want to return home once the war has ended. EU Member States responded to the Balkan Wars with temporary protection. We have a legal instrument, the Temporary Protection Directive, which could be employed to provide such protection.

Refugee resettlement is also mentioned, but only in passing. The EU will ‘set up a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU, offering places to persons qualifying for protection.’ Resettlement refers to providing protection for those who have fled immediate danger and are already recognized as refugees. It is the usual way to offer more secure protection to the vulnerable in an orderly way, and to support countries of first asylum. We don’t need a ‘pilot’ to figure out how to do it. We need international cooperation to increase resettlement places. The Statement is feeble, in light of the scale of the current displacement crisis.   In contrast the UNHCR Special Representative on the Human Rights of Migrants has urged that: “We could collectively offer to resettle one million Syrians over the next five years.” We can point to some remarkable historical precedents where acts of enlightened self-interest led to international cooperation to resettle millions of refugees. The EU should be leading here. A clear commitment to resettlement could dampen the demand for smugglers’ services, and offer hope to those who have fled Syria and are in difficult circumstances.

For those who are not refugees in the legal sense, we could also be asking bigger questions about offering greater opportunities to migrate to the EU and using different ways of regulating migration, as Francois Crepeau has urged.

It is naïve to think that the EU can prevent mobility in Africa and the Middle East, and prevent refugees from seeking protection. Welcoming refugees has huge benefits, not only for them, but also for us. Our elected politicians let us down when they fail to acknowledge our direct role in this tragedy in failing to provide safe access. They also let us down when they pretend to have capacities they clearly lack. We can make efforts to reduce loss of life and to support protection where most refugees live. However the EU is willing to engage in extensive and costly external efforts to thwart refugee mobility, at the expense of refugee protection. Rehashing old EU policies in the face of a refugee crisis of the magnitude we are seeing at present, pretending we can end human mobility and the movement of those seeking refuge, demeans us all.

Author profile

Dr Cathryn Costello
Andrew W Mellon Associate Professor in International Human Rights and Refugee Law
Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford University


Cathryn Costello and Mariagiulia Giuffré ‘Drowning refugees, migrants, and shame at sea: The EU response: Part II’ (OxHRH Blog, 29 April 2015) <http://humanrights.dev3.oneltd.eu/drowning-refugees-migrants-and-shame-at-sea-the-eu-response-part-ii/> [Date of Access]

Dr Mariagiulia Giuffré
Lecturer in Law, Edge Hill University
Visiting Research Fellow, Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford University

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *