Mirjam van Reisen | Credit: be.linkedin.com - Photo: 2015

The Mediterranean Catastrophe Calls For An International Response

By Mirjam van Reisen* | IDN-InDepthNews Viewpoint

BRUSSELS (IDN) – Despite one of the largest humanitarian disasters of recent years unfolding on their doorstep, and another 700 deaths on April 19, the EU and its Member States seem totally paralyzed and incapable of providing an urgent and appropriate response. The deaths of men, women and children only seem to promote further rounds of discussion. These will – in due course – no doubt result in yet another political declaration and yet more empty promises.

The urgency of the situation demands action, not words.

After several years of intense debate, the EU seems further away from providing any tangible and effective response to the crisis than ever before. Europe has proved totally incapable of agreeing to anything that could halt the loss of life in the Mediterranean. While the diplomats and politicians talk interminably the death toll is increasing remorselessly. The deliberate downscaling of search and rescue operations, and the blunt refusal to respond to even the most basic requests for international protection, have caused the death and suffering of some of the most vulnerable and desperate people.

This deliberate refusal to act will come to be seen as one of the biggest humanitarian scandals in recent European history.

The war in Syria is creating the worst global refugee crisis in decades, while the conflicts and crises in Africa have resulted in an ever-increasing flow of people seeking international protection. The scale of the problem combined with the continued paralysis has produced a situation that is spiralling out of control. Almost any response by the EU would now be insufficient. The lack of political will and political leadership has meant that a far wider response is now required.

With no end of the crisis in sight, and to prevent any further deterioration in the situation, the EU should immediately issue a call for an international Mediterranean Summit.

The Summit should enact a range of concrete, emergency measures to halt the deaths of so many people at sea and to provide international protection to the millions desperately seeking safety. The Summit should bring together all the EU’s Member States as well as all the countries of North Africa, other African counties receiving large numbers of refugees from the Syria conflict, the African Union, Turkey, the USA, Canada, Australia and representatives from the Council of Europe and civil society.

Proposed measures to confront the crisis

The package the Summit devises should be comprehensive, covering all aspects of the crisis.

– A multi-annual resettlement program should be agreed that would resettle a minimum of 200,000 people over the next three years, in close cooperation with the UN agencies and the International Organisation for Migration.

– As a matter of priority the 11,000 vulnerable refugees, that are on the UNHCR priority list and have already been screened by the refugee agency and do not pose a security threat, should be brought to safety in EU member states.

– The U.S., Canada, Australia and EU Member States should boost the international protection capacity of a number of African countries. With sufficient effort and humanitarian support, it would be possible to provide shelter for 2 million people in need of international protection in a number of African countries, including those in the Horn of Africa. Efforts should be made to assist those countries that already host large numbers of refugees, in particular the countries surrounding Syria. The humanitarian efforts should be stepped up to ensure sustainable support for the nearly 4 million refugees present in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

– A support programme for North Africa should be designed to help these countries cope with the large inflow of migrants and assist them to repatriate stranded migrants to their countries of origin. The international community and especially the EU should step up its engagement with Libya, even if the security situation would still be both complex and difficult. North African countries should be given the means to patrol their harbours and territorial waters, by providing them with rapid patrol boats and search and rescue equipment. In order to avoid further large-scale tragedies, a search and location operation should be launched in all countries bordering on the Mediterranean to track all out-of-use vessels that could be used by traffickers. Merchant ships and fishing boats that take on board refugees should be given financial compensation and public praise and support for such actions.

– Those refugees who do make it to the EU should receive appropriate support. The pressure on the Italian and Greek reception centres is enormous and their systems are close to failing, with catastrophic implications for the refugees.  Therefore the EU should immediately send teams to start processing of asylum seekers to ensure that these vulnerable individuals and families are properly registered and their claims are be fairly and expeditiously processed. The European Asylum Support Office has sufficient expertise and capacity to assemble joint processing teams within four weeks.

The European Commission should immediately present proposals for a voluntary reallocation scheme, which would involve ALL EU Member States so as to allow for the fair distribution of refugees and asylum seekers. Financial compensation for the Member States that increase their reception capacity should be granted by activating the existing EU resettlement program that is totally underused.

These are just the first suggestions for concrete measures, but they could make a real difference. One can only hope that the 700 people who have died over the weekend will mark the tipping point for the international system, which will finally start dealing adequately and appropriately with people fleeing war and other crises, and in desperate need of assistance. Prevarication and procrastination will be unforgivable in the face of such a catastrophic humanitarian disaster.

*Prof. Dr Mirjam van Reisen is Professor International Social Responsibility, Tilburg University, Director Europe External Policy Advisors (EEPA), Member of the Duch Government Council on International Affairs and Chair of the Development Cooperation Commission. She is author of the “Human Trafficking Cycle, Sinai and Beyond”, 2014, Wolf Publications. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 April 2015]

Photo: Mirjam van Reisen | Credit: be.linkedin.com

The writer’s previous IDN articles:

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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