Wednesday

28th Jul 2021

EU Parliament wants Europe to take lead on sea-rescues

The European Parliament wants Europe to carry out search-and-rescues at sea, and not leave it only to NGOs.

"We need a European search-and-rescue mechanism at sea," said EU parliament president David Sassoli on Monday (14 June).

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"It is no longer acceptable to leave this responsibility only to NGOs," he noted, at an inter-parliamentary conference on migration and asylum.

The comments came as over 400 people were recently rescued by the Norwegian-flagged ship Geo Barents, a humanitarian ship operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

A possible standoff is now underway as MSF seeks a safe port to disembark. The NGO says Malta has denied their request.

Those not rescued are often returned to Libya.

A spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration says over 1,000 people were intercepted over the weekend.

"More people have been returned so far this year than in the whole of 2020," said the spokesperson, in a tweet.

This comes on top of the 557 people intercepted and returned to Libya at the start of the month.

But Sassoli's comments also follow a wider crackdown on charity and NGO vessels operating at sea.

National authorities have initiated some 50 administrative and criminal proceedings against crew members or vessels since 2018.

Figures from December showed that out of the 15 NGO assets, only the Aita Mari and Open Arms vessels were in operation. MSF has since launched its Geo Barents operation, in mid-May.

Over 800 people have died so far this year in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Sassoli's proposal comes ahead of an EU summit later this month where migration will be discussed.

But those talks are likely to narrow in on the external dimension of migration, and of shoring up support for origin and transit countries, to help prevent departures.

That includes using visas and trade as leverage to secure deals for returns, readmission and reintegration.

"The external dimension cannot be an accessory, cannot be an afterthought, it is has to be integrally interwoven at the heart of our overall thinking," said European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas, speaking at the same conference.

"It is not a coincidence that next week the leaders of the European Union and the upcoming European Council will have exactly the same discussion," he added.

German Bundestag president Wolfgang Schäuble, also at the conference, said the EU will have no choice but to partner up with despotic regimes.

"We will only make progress if we cooperate with regimes which do not meet the same democratic standards," he said, noting the EU will have to assume the associated moral costs.

"The suffering and death on these migration routes are things we should not turn a blind eye to," he added.

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