S&Ds vote for binding new rescue rules following Lampedusa and Ceuta tragedies
The European Socialists and Democrats, the main progressive political group in the European Parliament, today successfully steered a new set of rules through the Parliament's committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs to improve assistance to refugees in distress at sea.
The new provisions adopted – which do not yet apply to national operations – include an obligation for operations led by Frontex (the EU's agency for border controls) to search for and rescue boats in distress. Moreover, they remove the possibility of criminal sanctions against shipmasters and fishermen who rescue migrants entering the EU irregularly via its sea borders.
Josef Weidenholzer, the S&D negotiator for the new rules with the EU governments, said:
"One in four refugees dies while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
"This new regulation is a big step forward in refugee law. In the face of the latest tragedies like the one in Lampedusa (Italy) and more recently in Ceuta (Spain), it has become very necessary to introduce mandatory rules on search and rescue measures at sea.
"Saving lives must be an absolute priority for the EU. Refugees must have access to medical staff, interpreters and asylum.
"Each person must be protected from being returned or expelled to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened. The need for international protection has to be checked on a fair and individual basis."
In recent years, some EU countries and possibly Frontex guards have reportedly sometimes turned back migrants at sea borders without providing medical assistance, identifying and allowing them to apply for asylum.
Under the new rules, EU sea-border patrols will not be allowed to block and push migrant vessels back but only to warn them not to enter the territorial waters of a member state.
With regard to the recent tragedy in Ceuta, S&D MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, chairman of the European Parliament's committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs, said:
"It is only a pity that there are no common rules and standards on this problem for national operations controlling the EU's external borders.
"The tragedy that we have witnessed over the last few days in Ceuta, where many lives were lost as they were repelled by the police forces while trying to reach the Spanish coast, shows clearly why these rules are badly needed."