Europe must open borders to migrants, UN official says

Europe must open borders to migrants, UN official says

Europe needs to create meaningful refugee settlement program that will put human smugglers out of business, says special rapporteur

February 16, 2015 Europe needs to embrace the migrants appearing on its shores and create a meaningful refugee settlement program that will put human smugglers out of business and save countless lives, says the United Nation’s special rapporteur on human rights of migrants.
European Union attempts to “sealâ€_x009d_ borders will continue to fail and more migrants will lose their lives at sea if fleeing refugees aren’t given the right to settle where they want, François Crépeau said.

“I don’t see any other solution for Europe,â€_x009d_ he said. “They need to open the borders.â€_x009d_
The Mediterranean Sea has become a graveyard of desperate migrants on the run from poverty and conflict, looking for a better life. Last year, more than 3,000 died making the crossing from Africa to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.

In the latest tragedy, it is feared 300 people drowned in the Mediterranean earlier this week. Four rubber boats headed toward Italy from the Libyan coast, but the overcrowded dinghies were ill-equipped to handle the punishing eight-metre-high waves. One boat vanished; another capsized. The survivors piled into two of the boats and drifted for days before being rescued by Italian authorities.

No one knows for certain how many lives were lost or who the victims were. Italian rescuers were relying on the memories of traumatized survivors to determine who was on the other boats. It is believed the refugees were from Syria, Iraq and Mali.

Crépeau, who is also an international law professor at McGill University, said if Europe wants to stop the human suffering it must put its faith in regulated openness and mobility. “European states need to create an operation where saving lives is the first objective.â€_x009d_

After the Lampedusa tragedy, Italy decided that saving lives was more important than anything else. In October 2013, 366 died when their boat capsized en route to the Sicilian port of Lampedusa. The Italians started the life-saving Mare Nostrum program to proactively patrol international waters.

“Lampedusa was an electroshock to Italy,â€_x009d_ said Crépeau. “They really felt responsible. The people who died in Lampedusa were given posthumous Italian citizenship.â€_x009d_

But last October, Italy suspended Mare Nostrum because it could no longer afford to keep it operating alone. The program cost about 9 million euros ($12.8 million) every month.

The EU border agency Frontex took over and their operation is called “Triton.â€_x009d_ However, it is a scaled-back version of what Mare Nostrum was. Last year the Italians rescued nearly 170,000.

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles, a pan-European body made up of 85 non-governmental organizations, said Triton will only be active within about 50 kilometres off the Italian coast. It also has a smaller budget of 3 million euros ($4.28 million) each month.

Joel Millman, a press officer for the IOM in Geneva, said Europe needs to accept and manage migration.

“We appreciate border security is a shared responsibility. We don’t think everybody should be allowed in — not terrorists or pedophiles. But you can’t ignore certain truths here. Europe is close to massive conflict zones,â€_x009d_ he said.

“Libya is a day away from Europe. To say, ‘This must stop and we won’t tolerate it,’ well, fine, but what is the answer? You can’t ignore it. How can you ignore people fleeing Boko Haram in Nigeria?â€_x009d_ Millman asked.

“We need to open up the channels of legal resettlement,â€_x009d_ he said.

Many migrants know exactly where they want to go. They have family in Germany or in Northern Europe. “We think the capacity is there. If you start with people who have relatives and who are willing to take people in, there is a start,â€_x009d_ he suggested.

“The EU can’t escape it. This is their future. They should actually embrace it,â€_x009d_ Millman said.

Crépeau wants the EU in partnership with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to commit to resettling 1 million refugees over five years. He suggested a starting point would be Syrians living in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

“If Europe does that for Syrians, you won’t see these families paying 30,000 euros to smugglers. They won’t do that,â€_x009d_ he said, adding instead the Syrians would spend the money in their new home countries to resettle and start contributing to those economies.

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