Policy to "discourage" refugees is bound to fail and lead to further loss of life -Irish NGOs respond to meeting of EU leaders

23 april 2015

EU leaders meet in Brussels to discuss Mediterranean refugee disaster.

Irish NGOs say “discouraging” refugees won’t work unless the causes of the refugee stream are addressed.

Today EU leaders in Brussels agreed to “reinforce the assets” of the existing Operation Triton and Operation Poseidon border-surveillance operations, Irish NGOs said the policy to “discourage” refugees is bound to fail and lead to further loss of life.

“The refugee crisis on the Mediterranean is a humanitarian crisis, which has many causes but is also directly linked to EU policies,” said Hans Zomer, director of Dóchas, the umbrella group of Irish Development NGOs.

“These EU proposals ignore one of the key points of the crisis: people in need of protection have no choice but to flee, and the closing of the EU’s land and air borders means they have no option other than to take the dangerous sea route to safety,” said Zomer.

In a statement, Dóchas pointed out that the huge increase in the number of people trying to cross the Mediterranean reflects the despair felt by millions of people trying to escape conflicts, extreme poverty, human rights violations and marginalisation.

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, people have an inalienable right to seek asylum in other countries. All EU Member States are signatories to the convention and have therefore an obligation to protect refugees and asylum seekers in their territories.

Yet EU policies have made it virtually impossible for refugees to enter the EU by other routes, leaving only the dangerous sea route as an option for people fleeing their own countries.

Last year, more than 200,000 people crossed the Mediterranean in small boats, and in the last 15 years, the Mediterranean Sea has become a graveyard for more than 20,000 migrants and refugees looking for protection and a better life in Europe.

“Europe is now facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis at its borders. We need to tackle this humanitarian disaster through immediate aid to the victims and at the same time step up our work addressing the underlying causes. Poverty, inequality and human rights abuses are the main reasons why so many risk their lives, and international development aid is one of the most effective tools to help build better societies and provide marginalised people with an opportunity to live their lives in dignity in their own countries,” said Hans Zomer of Dóchas.

Dóchas members have suggested the following measures to prevent further loss of life on Europe's borders:

·         European governments must urgently launch and support a multi-country humanitarian operation mandated to save lives, deploying naval and aerial resources at a scale commensurate with foreseeable departure trends.

·         European governments should increase the number of resettlement places, humanitarian admissions and visas for people in need of international protection and ensure that refugees have effective access to asylum at land borders

·         European governments must honour the commitments they have made on human rights protection and international development aid and increase investment in inclusive development, decent work and social protection in countries of origin so that migration becomes an option, not a necessity. This includes strengthening their stated and oft-repeated commitments to the 0.7% ODA/GNI target and publish detailed action plans for the steady and consistent increase of ODA budgets towards the 0.7% target and in support of global development goals and strategies.

·         EU member states must strengthen the long-term efforts aimed at resolving the underlying causes of growing refugee numbers, investing in urgent political solutions to conflict and inclusive socio-economic development across Africa and the Middle East.

·         The European Commission’s forthcoming Agenda on Migration to be launched in May 2015 must provide safe and regular routes to Europe for refugees as part of a ‘holistic approach’ to addressing migration in Europe.


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For further information or to request interviews please contact Naomi Linehan, Dóchas Media Officer: 01 4053801 / 086 1077079

Note to Editors:

Useful resource:

For statements from individual Irish NGOs relating to the crisis please see: http://dochas.ie/blog/ngo-reactions-mediterranean-boat-crisis