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NGO refugee rescuers unimpressed by EU's proposals for a new migration and asylum pact

REFUGEE rescue and aid organisations have been left unimpressed by the European Commission’s plans for a new pact on migration and asylum.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen laid out its proposals to fix the EU’s ad-hoc approach for migrants and refugees at a press conference on Wednesday morning.

“We have created a complex internal market, a common currency and an unprecedented recovery plan to rebuild our economies,” said Ms von der Leyen. 

“It is now time to rise to the challenge to manage migration jointly, with the right balance between solidarity and responsibility.”

The proposals include plans to speed up decisions, improve the process of returning people whose asylum applications have been rejected and bind member states to share “responsibility and solidarity” with others under pressure.

However, no mention was made of establishing a search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean, where the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that 604 people have died while trying to cross to Europe.

“To claim that today’s Migration Pact is about solidarity is a farce. For people seeking protection in Europe, it is nothing but another catastrophe,” said German refugee rescue organisation Sea Watch.

“They say it serves the protection of human rights, but the real goal is the isolation of Europe. This Europe kills.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) international president Christos Christou said: “We will believe in a fresh start when we stop having to treat so many people who are suffering unnecessarily.”

Posting on Twitter, MSF, which with Sea Watch operates the Sea Watch 4 rescue ship that is currently detained in Italy, wrote: “For years, we have heard [the European Commission’s] promises on migration, but the reality at EU borders was more suffering and violence for those seeking safety in Europe.

“A fresh start on migration can only start with radical change. No more containment camps at EU borders. No more violence at the borders. No more abandoning people at sea. No more deals with unsafe third states. No more suffering.”

Refugee aid NGO Mare Liberum, whose ships have been prevented from sailing by the German government, said that the  proposals may have “been written on a new piece of paper, but the ideas behind them are not new at all: the defence of the European borders at all costs; violence, torture and death.”

Fellow NGO Alarm Phone, which operates a distress hotline for people crossing the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, said: “Europe defines solidarity as a ‘return sponsorship’ that will strengthen European collaborations on deporting people who seek to live in Europe in peace.  

“We define solidarity as standing with those who Europe wants to deter, deport or drown out.”

Refugee rescue organisations Open Arms, Humanitarian Maritime Rescue, Mediterranea: Saving Humans, Sea Eye and Sea Watch, along with advocacy group Seebrucke issued a joint statement to Ms von der Leyen on Wednesday, with four proposals for a European search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean.

“Under international law, people rescued at sea should be taken to the nearest place of safety where the rescued persons’ safety of life is no longer at risk and basic human needs can be met,” the joint statement reads.

“The right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement are repeated in the treaties of the European Union, which also declares that the union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.

“Rather than supporting life-saving search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean, European governments are putting undue pressure on the civil society organisations, making unfounded allegations against them and preventing search-and-rescue vessels from entering and leaving their ports.

“These actions have made it extremely difficult for search-and-rescue organisations to continue their life-saving work.”

The organisations listed four points that the EU should concentrate on:

• Establishing its own search-and rescue-programme;

• Supporting civil search and rescue operations, rather than trying to prevent or criminalise their missions;

• Ending returns of refugees to Libya and the bloc’s co-operation with that country’s coastguard;

• Facilitating an automatic redistribution system.

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