During a plenary debate yesterday, MEPs unanimously called on the European Commission and on the Member States to address the increasing migratory pressures in the Mediterranean, even though many of them fundamentally disagreed about the next steps to be taken.On January 13 2015, the European Parliament’s plenary met to discuss on statements by the European Commission and the Council of the EU in relation to the topic ‘Recent human smuggling incidents in the Mediterranean’.
Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, representative of the Latvian Council Presidency, issued a statement on behalf of the Council of the EU, beginning by saying that the Council is “deeply concerned” by the continuing arrival or large numbers of migrants via illegal channels across the Mediterranean – in particular in Italian waters. She also highlighted that the Council “is aware” of the new phenomenon of the so-called ghost ships – ships that carry large numbers of migrants and that are sent by human traffickers across the Mediterranean and towards Europe and then abandoned by the crew before arriving, thus leaving the ships full of migrants to their destiny off the European shores. She announced that “action needs to be taken” against this new modus operandi. It is time that more effective measures and prosecution are being taken against smugglers, traffickers, and criminal networks in the field of migration to Europe.
Ms Kalniņa-Lukaševica went on to say that EU external border surveillance needs to be stepped up, even though, she stressed, the EU’s joint migrant rescue operation in the Mediterranean, Triton, has so far been efficient and “a clear sign of solidarity” that saved the lives of many migrants.
She then said that the Council shares the view expressed on January 2 2015 by the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, in a statement on the so-called ghost ships. In this statement he had stressed the need to combat the criminal organisations which exploit “desperate people trying to escape conflicts”, and welcomed the European Commission’s announcement to develop a plan to take action to this end. She concluding by assuring that the Council will continue to monitor the migratory situation in the Mediterranean and “address this topic as a top priority on its agenda.”
Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, then delivered a statement for the European Commission. He assured that the European Commission is “determined to take action” with regards to the migratory situation in the Mediterranean, describing the current situation as “unacceptable” – especially with regards to the new strategy of traffickers to use so-called ghost ships. He explained that “in order to respond to the constantly evolving strategies of smugglers, the European Union, its agencies and the Member States have to step-up their cooperation and common action in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility”. The EU also needs to engage in a strategy with third countries that prevents current strong migratory pressures by focussing on (1) broader foreign policy considerations, (2) development assistance, and (3) humanitarian actions.
He also called for increased “financial and operational support of the Member States”, urging the Member States to fully implement the Common European Asylum System, and advocating for “a truly European programme for the resettlement of refugees.” He said that “in order to ensure that Member States share this responsibility, the Commission has set up a resettlement and relocation forum to develop, in cooperation with Member States, a fair distribution key”.
Gerard Batten, denounced the practices of human traffickers in the Mediterranean but condemned any considerations to have Turkey accede to the EU. In his view, all that would happen is that migrants would receive forged Turkish passports and then come to the EU. He also shared the view that tougher criminal sanctions are needed against human smugglers.