October 20, 2014

The urgent need to create legal routes to Europe for refugees


Nearly a year ago, a boat carrying migrants from Libya to Italy sank outside of the Italian island of Lampedusa. The confirmed death toll was 360 persons.

According to the High Commission of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 130, 000 people have

already arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea since January 2014, more than twice as many as in 2013.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with the recent shipwreck of a boat out from the coastline of Libya, the number of migrants who died or were lost at sea this year is approaching 3,000, already nearly four times the appraisal of 2013 estimated at 700 deaths. The Mediterranean is turning into a sea of death.

Europe can not be a fortress. We can not close our eyes to this humanitarian crisis on our borders. We must respect our international commitments and allow those who suffer real persecution to find refuge in our area of freedom, security and justice.

However, how is it possible for an asylum seeker to ask for our international protection if there are no legal and safe ways to reach our borders?

How can we strengthen the European external borders control in the Mediterranean Sea and in the same time conduct a strict policy against irregular immigration if we are offering no possibility to legally enter the European territory?

The Committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs will soon look into the revision of the EU Visa Code proposed by the Commission. It must be the opportunity for a real debate on the creation of a Humanitarian Schengen Visa allowing those seeking for our protection to request this protection through EU diplomatic services, with the participation of Member States and the cooperation of the European Asylum Support Office.

Creating legal routes to the EU is the only way to combat the smugglers that are taking a lot of money for a dangerous journey. If there are legal and safe options, the smugglers will run out of business and we can prevent more deaths in the sea.

At the same time, more EU Member States should take part in the UN Resettlement programme and allow the most vulnerable refugees a safe journey to safety. Today 6 Member States takes 80% of the asylum seeker to the EU. That means that 12 Member States could do more and together we can help many more people to a future in safety and that is the Europe we believe in.

After the tragic incident outside Lampedusa last year, several heads of States deplored the tragedy and said that we must do everything to prevent this from happening again. But these words have remained only words. The deaths in the Mediterranean keep rising. It is time for action in order to make those words come true. It is time to create legal and safe routes for asylum seekers to access Europe.


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Cecilia Wikström European Parliament, Rue Wiertz 60, 1047 Brussels, Belgium Tel Brussels: +32 (0) 2 28 45622 Tel Strasbourg:+33 (0) 3 88 1 77622

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