In a new report, Amnesty International has said EU policy puts refugees and migrants at risk by preventing them from seeking asylum. The organization said this pushes refugees to take perilous risks to reach Europe.
The report "The human cost of Fortress Europe" released by Amnesty International on Wednesday is critical of European Union policy that Amnesty says emphasizes a marginally-effective effort to seal the borders to Europe rather than providing support for asylum seekers.
"The effectiveness of EU measures to stem the flow of irregular migrants and refugees is, at best, questionable," said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia director at Amnesty, in a statement. "Meanwhile, the cost in human lives and misery is incalculable and is being paid by some of the world's most vulnerable people.”
Refugees from Africa
Amnesty International says about half of refugees arriving irregularly in the EU come from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Somalia, "countries torn by conflict and wide spread human rights abuses," the group said.
Many of these refugees head for the Italian island of Lampedusa, which has seen a number of shipwrecks of unstable refugee boats that have cost hundreds of people their lives.
Reports of "push backs" – refugees that are simply turned around and sent back upon reaching the EU – are also part of Amnesty's report.
"Refugees must be provided with more ways to enter the EU safely and legally so that they are not forced to embark on perilous journeys in the first place," Dalhuisen said.
On Tuesday, EU interior ministers met in Milan to discuss refugee migration to Europe. The location was fitting: Italy shoulders much of the burden in Europe of rescuing refugees who run into trouble during dangerous boat journeys to Europe from northern Africa, often in the hands of people smugglers.
At the meeting, Italy called on the EU's border protection agency Frontex to take over the Italian naval mission, Mara Nostrum (Our Sea), which patrols for refugee boats in the Mediterranean and costs around 9 million euros ($12.28 million) a month.
The EU's Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said Frontex was too small to completely take over Mara Nostrum, but said "we must open legal routes to allow refugees to come to the European Union, otherwise they resort to illegal immigration channels."
Sharing the burden of managing refugees that arrive via boat to Italy and other Mediterranean nations is a contentious issue. Some countries such as Germany which end up hosting refugees feel they do their duty, claiming a country like Italy is content to pass the refugees on to another EU nation.
Italy on the other hand is eager for the rest of the EU to pitch in when it comes to monitoring the Mediterranean for refugees.
According to the UN's refugee agency, a record 63,000 refugees have arrived by boat on Italian shores this year already. The previous record was 62,000 refugees in all of 2011.
mz/ipj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)