human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

New disembarkation agreement

we welcome this first step towards more solidarity among states

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Caritas Europa welcomes the agreement on the disembarkation and relocation of asylum seekers rescued in the Central Mediterranean Sea reached in Malta on 23 September by France, Germany, Italy and Malta. This agreement will be presented to the EU ministers of interior and migration at the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 7-8 October in Luxembourg. Caritas Europa calls on the other EU Member States to sign up to this agreement.

Whilst some important gaps still remain, the agreement represents a first step towards more solidarity and responsibility-sharing among Member States in trying to quickly disembark and relocate asylum seekers rescued at sea to a place of safety. We hope that this new relocation mechanism will put an end to the shameful display of political bargaining among states each time a vessel with desperate people on board looks for a port to disembark.

Vulnerable migrants, including children and pregnant women, who often endured inhumane conditions in Libya before embarking on the dangerous travel to Europe, should never again be stranded on board of a rescue ship for weeks because of lack of solidarity among EU Member States. We hope that many states will join this new relocation mechanism, showing that providing shelter and protection to people in immediate need prevails over political games.

Maria Nyman, Secretary General of Caritas Europa.

At the same time, we are concerned by some elements of the agreement, which might lead to harmful practices. Rescue vessels should dock at the closest safe place, and under no condition should they be returned to Libya, which currently cannot be considered a safe place for them to return to, as repeatedly reiterated by UN agencies.

Upon disembarkation, migrants should have access to dignified reception conditions and to a fair and efficient asylum procedure. They should not be detained arbitrarily. Return procedures must also comply with international standards regarding safeguards and procedural guarantees.

Caritas Europa reminds that saving lives at sea is a moral and legal obligation. NGOs and individuals contributing to saving lives should never be criminalised under ambiguous smuggling legislation. Instead, solidarity towards migrants should be lauded and supported. And most of all, states should rise up to their responsibilities and establish appropriate and efficient rescue operations at sea.

This new agreement is a welcomed step. But further efforts are necessary to achieve permanent and durable solidarity and responsibility-sharing on asylum across Europe. The most essential way forward now is to overhaul the deficient Dublin system.