Search and rescue proposals will encourage people smugglers rather than stop them

Proposals from MEPs on search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean will facilitate people traffickers operating in the area, rather than stop them, warned ECR Group home affairs spokesman Nicola Procaccini today.

The European Parliament today is set to adopt a resolution on search and rescue missions, which are an important part of Member States’ coastal activities, and certain obligations for them to follow are laid down under EU and international law. However, there are concerns that MEPs’ apparent calls for proactive search and rescue missions, the majority of which are carried out by NGO vessels in the Mediterranean, ahead of legal migration routes will only serve to indirectly encourage and facilitate people smugglers and organised crime.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Procaccini said:

“Search and Rescue missions are valued operations,rescuing those who find themselves in distress. Coastal states take these responsibilities seriously and it is concerning that search and rescue, as a key element of humanitarian assistance at sea, would be misused and turned away from its original purpose.

“Our aim should be to stop people making these life endangering journeys and our priority has to be to tackle the people traffickers and organised criminals in the Mediterranean who have such little regard for human life.”

While we recognise the right for international protection of those fleeing from war or persecution, we believe that national voluntary resettlement schemes should be prioritised as an alternative to unsafe migration pathways. Moreover, the ECR recalls that Member States are fully entitled to implement their national laws when assessing whether to authorise the entry of NGO vessels into their ports. Procaccini continued:

“People need to be encouraged to follow legal migration pathways, based on national and voluntary resettlement schemes, rather than illegal routes, and we must also consider the role of NGO vessels operating in the area, whose actions are serving as both a pull factor for irregular migrants and offering encouragement to smugglers.”

There are also concerns at the inclusion of mandatory relocation quotas in the Parliament’s draft text, which is a policy designed to distribute migrants across the EU and has already proven deeply divisive within the EU. To date it has not delivered the lasting success that its supporters hoped and has not sufficiently helped those Member States faced with the biggest burdens from irregular migration from the Mediterranean.

Concluding, Procaccini said:

“Distributing migrants if and when they arrive does not solve the fundamental problems – we have to put in place a system that deals with the root causes of illegal immigration and stops people making these dangerous crossings. Enhancing cooperation with the third countries of origin and transit is crucial in order to find long-term solutions and to address the root causes of the migration crisis.”

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