Bearing in mind that:
Since May 2015, the European Union has adopted 21 packages of measures aimed at addressing the unprecedented migration and asylum flows faced by the EU Member States for the last three years.
While the Mediterranean Sea is by no means a new site of migratory flows, it has nonetheless been particularly prominent during the current migration and humanitarian crisis and has played a critical role in framing the EU's migration policy. According to Frontex, the number of migrant arrivals (by boat) rose from 221,590 in 2014 to 1,039,332 in 2015, remaining relatively high at 363,660 in 2016.
During the same time period, the numbers of deaths at sea increased, rising from 3,279 in 2014 to 5,098 in 2016. While Italy (through the central Mediterranean route) and Greece (through the Aegean route) are the frontier countries for the reception of the newly arrived migrants, all EU Member States are now facing the impact of migratory flows.
The European Agenda on Migration presented in May 2015 includes key measures which aim at an improved management of migration flows, saving lives and securing external borders, as well as reducing the incentives for irregular migration by taking concrete actions against smugglers and traffickers and enhancing cooperation with third countries to ensure the effective return of irregular migrants.
Concerning border management, the reinforcement of Frontex and the establishment of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency in October 2016, as well as all ongoing initiatives aimed at improving the interoperability of IT systems is a significant step towards a more effective and secure management of the external borders of the EU.
Although irregular crossings in the central Mediterranean are not a recent phenomenon, the ship wreckage off the coast of Lampedusa on 16 October 2013 (which cost the lives of 366 Africans) drastically changed the way that countries handled these types of situations. It marked a change in the dynamics at a European level and, in the aftermath of this tragedy, the Italian government launched a first major “Search and Rescue operation in Central Mediterranean zones", a military-supported humanitarian and border surveillance operation called "Mare Nostrum". As a concrete follow-up and first coordinated "EU anti-smuggling” action, the EU Foreign Ministers launched in June 2015 the "EU NavFor MED Operation”, known as EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia. During 2016, missions and operations have continued as a response to the growing frequency of arrivals in Italy due to Libya's political landscape and the sizeable reduction in the number of sea arrivals in Greece since the entry into force of the EU-Turkey Memorandum of Understanding in March 2016 and the closing of the Western Balkan route.
The geographical origins of most arrivals (among others from Nigeria, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Sudan) clearly reveals that a majority of irregular migrants rescued in the Central Mediterranean are most likely not refugees in the sense of the Geneva Convention (only one in three asked for asylum in Italy).
The growing diversity of actors involved in Search and Rescue operations has made the work of police, coast guards and army forces more challenging in regards to the identification and registration process of irregular migrants and refugees and in terms of securing the external southern sea borders of the European Union.
However, despite the efforts of numerous European and international actors involved from ad hoc rescues in the high seas to institutionalised surveillance operations closer to the African shores, new practices among smugglers have made crossing the Central Mediterranean not only cheaper and more frequent, but riskier at the same time.
At the political level, the European Union has reaffirmed several times since 2015 – and more recently in February 2017 at the Valetta Summit – the need for closer cooperation with third countries, promoting the Country Partnership Framework and Compacts, which starts with selected priority countries.
To complement this, a new package of actions aimed at reinforcing and facilitating the effective return of irregular migrants was adopted in March 2017.
In a global context, the adoption in September 2016 of the New York Declaration for refugees and migrants by 193 States was an important step towards increased solidarity among states, as all participants share concerns for the large number of people who have lost their lives in migration transit and took full commitments to protect the human rights of all migrants and refugees, supporting the countries affected by large movements of people and actively working for a more equitable sharing of responsibility.
In this context, and having in mind the previous Resolutions adopted by UEF in 2015 and 2016 in the area of Asylum, Migration, Border Management and Security,
the Federal Committee of the Union of European Federalists, meeting in Madrid on 18 June 2017, commits itself to taking all necessary actions at its level:
- to underline the need for a strong and common European Union position and leadership in the framework of the ongoing negotiations at the UN level on the Global compact on Migration and Refugees, recalling the political priority to save lives, protect human rights, and share responsibility on a global scale by promoting safe, orderly and regular human mobility;
- to call for a colloquium on Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean, exploiting synergies between the European Union Institutions and agencies, the EU Member States, NGOs and private sector actors, defining the legal framework of action and coordination at the EU level, considering the use and integration of high technology in sea surveillance, ensuring a better connection between policy makers and practitioners in a more permanent structure, and stressing the need for all actions and initiatives in this area to respect human rights and international humanitarian commitments, promote European values, and reinforce solidarity among EU Member States.