By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 19 2023 – Make no mistake: European States are complicit in the death of thousands and thousands of human beings on their shores, land borders and at home. The massive drowning of hundreds of migrants close to Greece shores on 14 June is just a new chapter in Europe’s long series of continued violations of all international human rights laws.
So far, 10 worldwide known humanitarian organisations have strongly reacted, in a joint denunciation statement, asking the European Union (EU) to ‘end rights violations at Europe’s borders.’
In their Joint NGO statement: The EU must not be complicit, launched on 16 June, organisations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, OXFAM and Save the Children, among others, warned that once again, dozens of lives have been lost at Europe’s borders “due to the EU’s failure to allow people seeking protection to reach Europe safely.”
Hundreds are missing and presumed dead after the latest tragedy close to the Greek coast, with reports that amongst the dead are many women and children who were held below the deck of this overcrowded fishing vessel.
European States were “informed”
Organisations have advocated relentlessly with the European Commission, Member States and European policy makers to adopt measures to end human rights abuses and senseless deaths at EU borders. Instead, some EU states have drastically reduced search and rescue (SAR) capacity at sea, and restricted civil society SAR operations, which means that prompt and effective assistance cannot be provided to migrants in distress, in blatant disregard of international SAR obligations
These human tragedies are playing out at Europe’s land and sea borders on a daily basis. The first quarter of this year marked the deadliest  in the central Mediterranean in six years, adds the statement which was also signed by Danish Refugee Council, HIAS Europe, International Rescue Committee, Missing Children Europe, and SOS Children’s Villages International.
The joint humanitarian organisation statement goes on reporting that human rights watchdogs, civil society organisations, the United Nations and countless investigative journalists as well as major media outlets have documented the human rights violations, pushbacks and systematic failures to engage in search and rescue that have now become the EU’s de facto migration management policy.
Europe urged to end rights abuse, senseless deaths
Hundreds of reports and evidence submissions have been published, including those based directly on witness and survivor testimonies.
Organisations have advocated relentlessly with the European Commission, Member States and European policy makers to adopt measures to end human rights abuses and senseless deaths at EU borders, it adds.
“Instead, some EU states have drastically reduced search and rescue (SAR) capacity at sea, and restricted civil society SAR operations, which means that prompt and effective assistance cannot be provided to migrants in distress, in blatant disregard of international SAR obligations.”
More pushbacks and more deaths
Furthermore, on 8 June European Union’s Member States agreed on a reform of the European asylum and migration system, which is built on deterrence and systematic detention at EU borders, that will most probably incentivise more pushbacks, and deaths at sea, while the border monitoring mechanisms established so far are neither independent nor effective.
“This will only push people fleeing war and violence into even more dangerous routes and cause more unnecessary deaths. Meanwhile, EU Member States continue to rely on untransparent deals worth billions with third countries, in an attempt to rid themselves of their asylum responsibilities.”
In their joint statement, the human rights watchdogs urge a full investigation into these deaths, specifically into the role of EU Member States as well as the involvement of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which supports the management of the EU’s external borders and the fight against cross-border crime.
An ‘open graveyard’ at Europe’s borders
“We urge the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, to finally take a clear stand on the open graveyard at Europe’s land and sea borders, and to hold Member States accountable.”
“We call for a European asylum system that guarantees people the right to seek protection in full respect of their rights. The EU should abandon the narrative of blaming shipwrecks on smugglers and stop seeing solutions solely in the dismantling of criminal networks.”
“A recipe for more abuse at EU borders”
“European governments pave the way for further abuse,” reported Sunderland, Human Rights Watch’s Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division.
A June 8 agreement among European Union countries on asylum procedures and migration management is “a recipe for more abuse at EU borders,” she warned.
Interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg endorsed policies that “will entrench rights violations, including expedited procedures without sufficient safeguards, increased use of detention, and unsafe returns.”
The deal creates an expedited “border procedure” for anyone applying for asylum following an irregular entry or disembarkation after a rescue at sea, she adds.
The procedure would be mandatory for asylum seekers coming from countries whose nationals have a less than 20 percent rate of being granted some form of protection and anyone authorities say withheld or used false information, Sunderland further reports.
Asylum seekers likely to be “locked up”
“In practice, many if not most people will be channelled into these sub-standard accelerated procedures with fewer safeguards, such as legal aid, than the normal procedure.”
People are also likely to be “locked up” during the procedure, which could take up to six months, with few exemptions for people with vulnerabilities, families, or children.
According to the human rights defender, imposing this procedure in conjunction with detention or detention-like conditions is directly linked to the twin interests of many EU countries in preventing people travelling further into Europe from countries of first entry and in deporting people as swiftly as possible.
The agreement would allow each country to determine what constitutes a “safe third country” where people can be returned, based on a vague concept of “connection” to that country. This could lead to people being sent to countries they have merely transited or where they have a family member but have themselves never been, and where their basic rights cannot be guaranteed.”
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“EU countries have rejected a mandatory relocation scheme, instead aiming to allow countries who won’t take asylum seekers to pay into a common fund that would be used to finance unspecified projects in non-EU countries, presumably focused on preventing migration.”
When the European Commission presented its proposal for a Migration Pact in September 2020, more than 70 organisations warned the proposal risked “exacerbating the focus on externalisation, deterrence, containment, and return.”