Thursday

23rd Mar 2023

Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues

  • The voluntary EU guidelines come amid escalating conflict in Libya and ahead of EP elections next month (Photo: MOAS.eu/Jason Florio)

Operational EU guidelines on how to get refugees off stranded rescue boats are set to be published next month.

Romanian EU presidency sources told EUobserver that it "plans to deliver a set of guidelines on the temporary arrangements by the end of May, at the latest."

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The efforts follow repeated episodes of NGO boat stand-offs with EU states unwilling to take in people rescued at sea.

The latest one saw 64 people stuck for almost two weeks off the Maltese coast on a boat operated by German NGO Sea-Eye.

The migrants were allowed to leave last weekend after the European Commission brokered a disembarkation deal with France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Portugal.

Malta had refused to allow the boat to dock, claiming it bore no responsibility.

The EU logjams come amid the risk that escalating conflict in Libya could prompt more people to try to sail to Europe.

"There are not only the 800,000 migrants potentially ready to leave, there would [also] be Libyans fleeing this war," if warlord Khalifa Haftar continued his assault on Tripoli, Libya's EU and UN-backed prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, warned earlier this week.

At the same time, distress calls made to the Libyan coast guard are routinely ignored or not picked up, according to Alarm Phone, an SOS-signal civil society network in Europe.

Seven distress calls in the past week were also made in the Aegean Sea, including one boat that was reportedly pushed back to Turkey by the Greek coast guard.

Another six calls were made from boats heading from Morocco to Spain.

Voluntary guidelines

The EU presidency plan will remain voluntary and seeks to build on a European Commission proposal to create "temporary arrangements" as a stop-gap measure until a permanent system is put in place.

The guidelines seek to balance solidarity and responsibility, Romania indicated, in an echo of previous reforms of EU asylum law, which fell by the wayside.

Bucharest's project comes ahead of European elections at the end of May in which far-right and anti-migrant populists are polling to increase their power in the European Parliament (EP).

The latest EP projection, out on Thursday (18 April), suggested the two largest groups, the centre-right European People's Party and the centre-left Socialists & Democrats, will no longer hold a majority.

But the EU anti-migrant-in-chief, Italian deputy prime minister and interior minister, Matteo Salvini, is on course to boost his cohort of MEPs.

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