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Africa

Amnesty International:'We need a fully fledged humanitarian search and rescue operation'

EU leaders sat down for crisis talks on Thursday on possible military action against human traffickers in Libya, in a desperate bid to halt the tidal wave of refugees trying to reach Europe by sea.

Deutsche Welle spoke to Iverna McGowan from the rights group Amnesty International's EU institutions office.

DW: How should the EU be responding to the crisis?

Iverna McGowan: What we need is a fully fledged humanitarian operation on the high seas - at the very least an equivalent to Mare Nostrum in assets, scope and area.

How big a mistake was it to close down Mare Nostrum?

Amnesty International's report released yesterday (22.04.2015) documents a very important point. At the time of those negotiations some states were claiming that Mare Nostrum, the search and rescue mission, was in itself a pull factor. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people coming since 2015 despite the fact of the spiraling death toll and despite the fact that there is no fully-fledged search and rescue operation on the high seas. This tell us a lot about the push factors. People are fleeing poverty, persecution, war and irrespective of those facts they are still risking their lives, taking to the boats. In response to this then what we need to see is a reinstatement of Mare Nostrum at the very least. It was a huge mistake to even think of closing it. What they should have done at the time was to increase it.

What would be the best way to solve this problem?

We need a two-tiered approach. We need a fully fledged humanitarian search and rescue operation on the high seas. It needs very specifically to have the right number of boats and the right type and size of boats in the right places. In addition to that, we need to see fixed-wing aircraft; helicopters. We also need to see the manpower to implement that. The second layer of this issue is the lack of alternatives. The current migration policies of the European Union - the fact that you cannot access asylum over land bordersis a serious issue that is driving migratory flows across the deadly Mediterranean. The dire low number of resettlement places offered by European Union countries is also another factor. We also need to look at a more liberal approach to family reunification and that is even possible under the current Dublin regime where you can actually take on a case by case basis what are the other extended family or maybe community connections that a person would have in a third country.

How can African countries participate in solving the problem?

Amnesty International is of the view that we need to look at the reality of the situation: Libya is in no fit state to help. There is not a viable government with any functioning institutions. Neither Egypt nor Tunisia has adequate or functioning asylum systems in place - that's a serious question as well. So obviously in the immediate short term, in terms of saving lives in the next days, weeks and months, it is up to the European Union and member states to immediately reinstate a fully fledged resuce operation.

Iverna McGowan is acting director of Amnesty International's EU institutions office.

Interview: Asumpta Lattus

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