Mijn week bij de Parlementaire Assemblee staat in het teken van de bootvluchtelingen die van Noord-Afrika naar Europa trekken.
Gisteren nam de Assemblee een rapport aan waarin alle partijen worden opgeroepen hun internationale plicht om drenkelingen te zoeken en redden onverwijld na te leven.
Vanmiddag heeft de Assemblee mij als rapporteur aangewezen van het onderzoek naar het bootdrama waarbij 61 mensen zijn omgekomen. Ik ga praten met de overlevenden en de priester in Italië die de noodoproep had ontvangen, en daarna met de Navo, Italiaanse grenswachten en andere organisaties die weet moesten hebben van de mensen in nood op zee.
Ook vandaag staat Italië voor het Europese mensenrechtenhof. Somaliërs en Eritreëers hebben Italië aangeklaagd omdat de grenswachten hen uit volle zee hebben onderschept en teruggevaren naar Libië, zonder enig onderzoek naar hun behoefte aan bescherming.
Deze lidstaat van de Raad van Europa heeft vrijdag bovendien een overeenkomst getekent met de Libische overgangsraad, waarin deze belooft migratie naar Europa te voorkomen en migranten van Italië terug te nemen. In deze burgeroorlog kunnen de rebellen niet eens de Libische burgers beschermen, laat staan de Afrikaanse vluchtelingen die door die burgers en door Khadaffi onder vuur worden genomen. Zie voor meer informatie
Als de EU het recht op asiel serieus neemt, zal er vanuit Brussel nu toch een ferm signaal moeten worden afgegeven. Straatsburg doet dat deze week in elk geval wél. Zie hieronder ook mijn speech van gisteren, bij de presentatie van de resolutie over de plicht om drenkelingen te redden.
The “Arab Spring”, especially the on-going conflict in Libya, have again thrown people on the road and on the sea. About one million have flown Libya, almost all of them found refuge in its neighbouring countries.
Eighteen thousand out of this million have also made their way to Europe, risking their lives on unseaworthy vessels. By so doing, yet again, several hundreds (including women and children) have lost their lives in the Mediterranean. Special attention deserve the migrants from subsaharan Africa, who were stuck in Libya because Berlusconi had agreed with Khadaffi that Libya would stop migrants from fleeing to Italy, for the sum of 5 milliard euro pro year. The migrants were not safe in Libya, but Italy and the whole of the EU did not seem to care. Now these refugees from African war countries are even less safe in Libya, as they are persecuted from several sides: by Libyan citizens because they hold them for hirelings of Khadaffi, and by Khadaffi who forces them to risk the dangerous trip to Lampedusa by sea. Yet, only a few days before world refugee day, the Italian minister of foreign affairs has signed the same sort of agreement with the Libyan Transitional Council. It is however clear to everyone that they cannot guarantee an effective protection of their citizens, let alone of those refugees in the civil war which is going on in Libya. NATO has taken action because of the ‘responsibility to protect’ the citizens of Libya. Who is taking responsibility to protect these refugees? The EU should condemn this agreement between Italy and the Libyan rebels, but at the same time show their solidarity towards Italy in the reception of those rescued at sea. Solidarity with the neighbouring countries is actually even more crucial, in the form of resettlement of African refugees who are stuck in the camps of Tunisia.
During the last months almost 1500 migrants died at the Mediterranean see. In many cases this could have been avoided. If we all know that refugees are forced to go on the sea in these dangerous vessels, we should organise to pick them up as soon as possible. If not from the land, by a humane kind of evacuation, then along the coast of North-Africa. We should not wait until they have to be rescued, because we might be too late. To this end we should organise a structural overview at this particular part at sea.
But even knowing that people are in danger or are in need for help, still appears to be insufficient. We all heard about the tragic event on the 61 migrants that starved a death after a few weeks hovering on the sea. The border guards were informed, military ships passed by, a helicopter threw water and bread, but nobody helped them. I fully support the urgent call that our president of the Assembly made for a thorough investigation. Last week the Human Rights Council of the United Nations gave its full support for this resolution of the Assembly, stating that a comprehensive inquiry to the responsibility in this matter is necessary. People or organisations have to be held accountable for looking away if somebody is fighting to survive.
Sinking vessels and drowning peoples on their flight to Europe are however not a new phenomenon. As you know this irregular way of entry is the only way for these people to reach Europe. They therefore seek assistance of smuggling networks or in some cases fall prey to human traffickers.
We speak about people desperate enough to leave their own countries and to travel, often with small children, under appalling and highly dangerous conditions. I would like us to keep this in mind in our discussions because, as the President of the Assembly rightly stated in one of his recent press releases, “Each death of a boat people is one too many”. We also speak about the fact that - for obvious reasons - some states are subjected to more migratory pressure than others when it comes to rescue at sea. To my view responsibility sharing is important, but goes beyond Europe, as the regions of origin suffer the most of the reception of so many people.
This Assembly has always acknowledged the right of states to control their borders. But we emphasise at the same time that they have to do that in such a way that they comply with their international obligations. In this regard I mention the international obligation to search and rescue people at risk at sea, also if this is outside the territorial waters.
This report describes the relevant international maritime law combined with the applicable international human rights law. The aim is to clarify states’ legal obligations when undertaking maritime interception. Let’s summarize my findings.
-In all instances where states exercise jurisdiction (de jure or de facto) over intercepted vessels and persons, they must adhere to their international human rights obligations, including the protection of non refoulement. Furthermore, disembarkation of persons rescued should be made at a safe place.
As regards FRONTEX activities, there is a recent encouraging trend towards taking more and better into account the human rights perspective. This is to be welcomed but it is not yet sufficient and should be further improved. Frontex should also improve transparency on their working methods. They should refrain from deterring boats with migrants by sailing before the north-African coast.
The report also underlines that there is no lack of relevant norms. We have sufficient norms, but they need to be implemented and interpreted in an harmonised and consistent way. We hope a code of conduct will help us to do so.