Europe: opportunity to prioritise saving lives lost

by James Stapleton | @JesuitRefugee | Jesuit Refugee Service International
Friday, 24 April 2015 13:07 GMT

Tens of thousands, many Syrians, Eritreans, Somalis, seeking safety in Europe, all risking their lives. More than 1,700 have died this year. (photo taken from a clip from the UNHCR video Desperate Rescue at Sea)

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Rome, Brussels, 24 April 2015 – The EU has yet again failed to prioritise saving the lives of people fleeing conflict and persecution. The Jesuit Refugee Service sincerely hopes last night's European Council decision to increase resources to Frontex will lead to improved 'search and rescue' of forced migrants crossing the Mediterranean. But JRS fears the consequences of the raft of measures designed to prevent forced migrants from gaining access to the protection they are so desperately seeking.

"Hundreds of thousands of forced migrants are faced with little option other than taking extremely dangerous journeys such as those across the Mediterranean. The overwhelming focus on combating smuggling ignores the fact that the vast majority of the people coming through this route are seeking protection. Preventing their arrival into North Africa will not protect them. Our focus should be protecting people, not borders", said JRS International Director, Peter Balleis SJ.

Forced migrants need safe access to protection. Suggestions of increasing voluntary resettlement quotas among EU states are welcome but it is worrying that no concrete number has been mentioned in the final statement. According to the UN refugee agency, there are currently one million refugees in need of resettlement. Yet the annual quota in industrialised nations is less than 80,000 a year.

"Measures designed to keep people in countries of transit outside the EU will not stop them from moving on in search of meaningful protection. We need substantial increases in the use of resettlement, family reunification, humanitarian visas and the temporary lifting of visa requirements if we are to stem the illegal smuggling. It is the lack of protection and access to regular migration channels which fuels smuggling".

For further information:
James Stapleton
International Communications Coordinator
Jesuit Refugee Service
Tel: +39 06 69868 605; +39 346 234 3841

Oscar Spooner
Communications Officer
Jesuit Refugee Service Europe
Tel: +32 2 250 3225

Note to editors
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) programmes are found in nearly 50 countries, providing assistance to: refugees in camps and cities, individuals displaced within their own countries, asylum seekers in cities, and to those held in detention centres. The main areas of work are in the field of education, emergency assistance, healthcare, livelihood activities and social services.

At the end of 2013, JRS employed approximately 1,400 staff: lay, Jesuits and other religious to meet the education, health, social and other needs of nearly 950,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women. Services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

The Jesuit Refugee Service continues to urge EU leaders to:

  • substantially increase use of resettlement for refugees unable to find protection in the region;
  • family reunification for refugees already in the EU; and
  • the temporary lifting of visa requirements or at the very least the introduction of visas on humanitarian grounds.

For more details on the policy proposal by the Jesuit Refugee Service, see Safe and legal paths to protection in the EU.