AS (2014) CR 21
2014 ORDINARY SESSION
Tuesday 24 June 2014 at 10 a.m.
The “left-to-die boat”: actions and reactions
The large-scale arrival of mixed migratory flows on Italian Shores
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Ms KYRIAKIDOU (Cyprus) – For many years now, the issue of the arrival of mixed migratory flows on Europe’s southern shores has been debated by this Assembly in an effort to address this increasing phenomenon in a humanitarian, as well as an effective way. However, the fact remains that a large number of irregular migrants are still willing to risk their very lives, as well as those of their loved ones, in an attempt to escape from war-torn countries, poverty or persecution, in the hope of a better future. The increasing number of such migrants is alarming and, according to the evidence, the vast majority of them end up on Italian shores. This is mainly due to the geographical proximity of the country, even though Italy might not often be their final destination.
The numbers speak for themselves. So far this year, an estimated 50,000 people have been rescued by Italy’s navy and coastguard. Although the operation Mare Nostrum has indeed been successful so far in saving thousands of people’s lives off the Italian coast, the whole endeavour seems to have become a continuous crisis management operation for Italy – a country that, we must not forget, is also facing its own financial hardships, like the majority of southern European countries.
I therefore agree with some of the suggestions made by the rapporteur. I particularly agree with his appeal to the Italian authorities to continue their efforts in this respect – tireless efforts for which I wholeheartedly commend them – as well as with his call for greater European solidarity towards Italy. This is something I would really like to underline, because, to my mind, this issue can best be addressed by following an efficient and tireless burden-sharing policy. In this respect, I agree with a statement made recently by the Italian Foreign Minister, to the effect that Europe needs to do more to tackle illegal immigration and to prevent tragedies in European waters – tragedies, such as the one in Lampedusa last year, which shocked us all. Let us also remember the recent statement by Mrs Carlotta Sami, a United Nations southern Europe spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stressing that European Union countries should help Italy by agreeing to take in people rescued in international waters, thus absorbing a sizeable number of migrants arriving by boat from North Africa,.
The gist of this problem is solidarity and burden-sharing. I am well aware that the majority of Mediterranean countries face similar problems, as well as tremendous financial hardship, as is the case in my own country, Cyprus. It is high time, however, that other European countries also became involved in assisting affected countries in their attempts to prevent such migratory flows, as well as more sea tragedies in the Mediterranean. Otherwise, I am afraid that, in the years to come, we will again be lamenting over this issue in plenary in an effort to resolve it.
Last but not least, I congratulate our colleague, Mr Chope, on this very informative report.
Ms JOHNSEN (Norway) – I thank the rapporteurs, Ms Strik and Mr Chope, for their important reports. Discussing the large-scale arrival of migratory flows on Italian shores and how to save refugees’ lives in the Mediterranean Sea has become a matter of urgency.
It is estimated that over 20,000 refugees have lost their lives in the last 20 years in an attempt to reach the countries in the south Mediterranean. War, poverty and a lack of future prospects are the reasons behind this flow of migrants. The Norwegian Prime Minster, who visited Italy yesterday, was updated on the situation.
Two tragedies are in our hearts and minds: the first, in March 2011, saw 63 people die in a small rubber dinghy off the coast of Europe. It left many questions unanswered. In April 2012, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1872, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is responsible”. Measures were taken, but a second tragedy occurred in October 2013 when a boat with around 400 migrants sank off the coast of Lampedusa.
The loss of human lives triggered a strong call for action from European leaders and citizens. Important efforts have been made by the member States, especially Italy, which has been engaged in saving lives at sea. However, a number of concerns remain, and Europe should work towards a zero-tolerance approach to life lost at sea. The legal framework and policies should be adapted and concrete measures undertaken to close gaps in rescue operations. Measures to prevent communication and responsibility gaps when it comes to saving the lives of people in distress are important.
Some measures have been set up – for example, the Task Force Mediterranean. We must assist and reinforce dialogue with the countries of origin and transit in order to fight trafficking and criminal networks. In a press release by the Council of the European Union in February 2014, new regulations regarding the surveillance of the European Union external sea borders was set up. The regulations stipulate that member States should participate in Frontex operations, with clearer, updated and binding rules to be applied in operations. Norway has recently sent a taskforce of 35 policemen to help the European Union’s Frontex operation. We must work together with Frontex to ensure that refugees who arrive are treated better, but also to deal with the reasons for refugees seeking refuge in the first place.
Ms DUMERY (Belgium) – First, I congratulate the rapporteurs on their reports, which offer different points of view, but together form a coherent whole that challenges us, as national parliamentarians, to reflect and act.
I do not think I have to convince the Assembly of the urgency to act on these issues: we simply have no idea how many people are seeking a new future by risking their lives at sea. The rapporteurs do make an attempt to quantify this, but to this day, no documents or reports give us an accurate view of how many people have risked their lives in the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of refugees reach our shores, but many more do not live to tell the tale.
Italy’s Operation, Mare Nostrum, is a good first step to protecting these vulnerable people who have nothing but the clothes on their backs and the ample hope of a better tomorrow. Furthermore, Operation Mare Nostrum gives us a tool to quantify the problem: from January till mid-June, approximately 53 700 people were rescued by Italian officials.
Because Italy cannot do it alone, it is clear that we must all share the responsibility of bringing the death toll to a halt by working together on a solution. We must patrol the Mediterranean and intercept those vessels that traffic refugees to our continent, provide the first humanitarian aid to those in need and give a clear perspective on who can enter our territories and who cannot, in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
However, opening our borders for all to enter is, in my humble opinion, not an option. It would give people false hopes of a better life in Europe, some European social security systems would collapse, and it would not reduce the number of refugees making the highly risky crossing.
I hope that the Assembly can agree on this simple and obvious conclusion: together we can protect our borders, as well as those who try to cross them, and together we can assure the rights and dignity of all who seek our help, without letting uncontrolled migration disrupt our societies. Therefore, we must raise awareness not only in Europe, but also in the home countries from where people start their hazardous journeys. These people are victims of smugglers who promise them heaven, but give them hell. Now is the time to act. I fully support the proposed recommendations and hope the Assembly will do so too.