European Union leaders meeting in special session in Brussels to discuss a response to the crisis around the series of deaths of several hundred migrants trying to reach European shores have agreed to strengthen the bloc’s presence at sea, fight traffickers and to prevent illegal migrant flows.
EU leaders agreed to rapidly reinforce EU Operations Triton and Poseidon by at least tripling the financial resources for this purpose in 2015 and 2016 and reinforcing the number of assets, thus allowing to increase the search and rescue possibilities within the mandate of FRONTEX.
“The situation in the Mediterranean is a tragedy,” a statement by EU leaders after the special European Council meeting on April 23 said.
“The European Union will mobilise all efforts at its disposal to prevent further loss of life at sea and to tackle the root causes of the human emergency that we face, in co-operation with the countries of origin and transit. Our immediate priority is to prevent more people from dying at sea.”
The statement said that given that instability in Libya creates an ideal environment for the criminal activities of traffickers, the EU would actively support all UN-led efforts towards re-establishing government authority in Libya.
“We will also step up efforts to address conflict and instability as key push factors of migration, including in Syria.”
EU leaders committed to “fighting traffickers in accordance with international law”.
This would be done, they said, by disrupting trafficking networks, bringing the perpetrators to justice and seizing their assets, through swift action by EU member state authorities in co-operation with Europol, FRONTEX, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Eurojust, as well as through increased intelligence and police-cooperation with third countries.
The EU said that it would undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers.
At the same time, the EU’s foreign policy chief was asked to immediately begin preparations for a possible Common Security and Defence Policy operation to this effect.
The EU leaders said that Europole would be used to detect and request removal of internet content used by traffickers to attract migrants and refugees, in accordance with national constitutions.
Regarding preventing illegal migration flows, the EU leaders said that they would increase support to Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Mali and Niger, among others, to monitor and control the land borders and routes, building on current CSDP operations in the region, as well as on regional co-operation frameworks (Rabat and Khartoum processes); step up dialogue with the African Union at all levels on all these issues.
The EU said that it would enhance political co-operation with African partners “at all levels” in order to tackle the cause of illegal migration and combat the smuggling and trafficking of human beings.
“The EU will raise these issues with the African Union and the key countries concerned, with whom it will propose the holding of a summit in Malta in the coming months.”
The bloc said that it would step up co-operation with Turkey in view of the situation in Syria and Iraq.
EU leaders committed to deploying European migration liaison officers in key countries to gather information on migratory flows, co-ordinate with national liaison officers, and co-operate directly with the local authorities.
The bloc said that it would work with regional partners in building capacity for maritime border management and search and rescue operations, and launch Regional Development and Protection programmes for North Africa and the Horn of Africa.
EU leaders said that they would ask the European Commission and the bloc’s foreign policy chief to “mobilise all tools, including through development co-operation and the implementation of EU and national readmission agreements with third countries, to promote readmission of unauthorised economic migrants to countries of origin and transit, working closely with the International Organisation for Migration”.
The EU said that it would “while respecting the right to seek asylum”, set up a new return programme for the rapid return of illegal migrants from frontline member states, co-ordinated by FRONTEX.
The European Council called for “rapid and full transposition and effective implementation” of the Common European Asylum System by all participating EU countries, thereby ensuring common European standards under existing legislation.
Leaders committed to increasing emergency aid to frontline EU member states and considering options for organising emergency relocation between all member states on a voluntary basis.
They agreed to deploy EASO teams in frontline member states for joint processing of asylum applications, including registration and finger-printing.
They said that they would set up a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU, offering places to persons qualifying for protection.
“The EU institutions and the Member States will work immediately on the full implementation of these orientations. The Presidency and the Commission will present next week a roadmap setting out work up to June.”
The European Council said that it “looks forward” to the Commission Communication on a European Agenda for Migration, in order to develop a more systemic and geographically comprehensive approach to migration.
“The European Council will remain seized of the situation and will closely monitor the implementation of these orientations. The Council and the Commission will report to the European Council in June.”
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that he intended drawing the attention of other EU government leaders to the fight against migrant traffickers.
“Bulgaria is working on the problem, we are quite ahead, and I will propose a system [against migrant traffickers] to my colleagues.” Borissov said.
He added that there was the issue of financial support towards land and maritime borders but it was more important to stop the bloodshed forcing people to flee.
”We are currently witnessing the aftermath. The reason is different – we used to rejoice that a number of countries became democracies, but in fact that did not happen, only murderers arrived.
“Now we must make sure that conditions are created in these countries so that people can have a normal start, not flee. When someone is standing behind you with a weapon, you will run – be it sea, ocean, or border you have to cross.” Borissov said.
He said that a possible increase of migration flows would be worrisome and put Bulgaria at risk.
“About 2 million (people) are waiting at the Turkish border. Imagine a million people crossing into Bulgaria. You cannot stop refugees with any amount of funding. These are people. The question is not about money,” Borissov said.
(Photo, of the minute of silence at the European Council for the hundreds of would-be migrants who died trying to cross the Mediterranean: EC Audiovisual Service)