As Europe struggles to cope with the relatively large-scale
arrival of mixed migratory flows by boat from Africa, arriving mainly
through Italy, Malta, Spain, Greece and Cyprus, the surveillance
of Europe’s southern borders has become a regional priority. The
passengers are often travelling in unseaworthy vessels, at the mercy
of unscrupulous traffickers, and there have been many fatal incidents.
The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population once again
expresses its deep concern at some of the measures taken to deal
with these desperate people. Sometimes they are “pushed back” to
their country of origin, which calls into question the well-established
principle of non-refoulement, and there seem to be different ideas
about what constitutes the “place of safety” where those who are
rescued must be taken. Even joint operations run by the European
Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders
of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex) do not have
all the adequate guarantees that human rights will be fully respected.
Finally, countries on the southern borders of the European Union
are having to face a disproportionate burden in dealing with these
flows, which is unfair.
States have a clear moral and legal obligation to save persons
in distress, but beyond this they should rigorously apply international
law in dealing with these migratory flows. That means treating those
intercepted humanely, giving them a fair chance to seek international
protection when it is needed, and keeping detention to a minimum.
Frontex staff need proper training in all these matters and the
international community needs to spell out with greater consistency
exactly how maritime law should be applied.