Two Catholic human rights organisations, Caritas Europa and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe, have blamed Europe’s “restrictive approach to migration” for the thousands of migrant deaths that have occurred in the Mediterranean Sea over the past months.
“Policies focused on deterrence, including the agreement with Turkey, are not stopping people from trying to reach our countries,” they said in a statement. “Instead, they prolong suffering and push people into the hands of smugglers and traffickers, who find even more dangerous entry routes.”
Over the past year, a number of European countries, including Macedonia, Austria, Switzerland, France and Hungary, have beefed up border controls in order to curtail the vast waves of migrants wishing to enter their countries.
The two organisations have declared that restrictive European Union (EU) migration policies “force desperate people to take deadly routes.”
So far this year some 204,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agency said last week.
Late Thursday, more than 700 migrants were aboard a vessel that capsized off the coast of the Greek Island of Crete, and rescue operations only managed to save 340 lives, with hundreds presumed dead.
Prior to Thursday’s disaster, some 2,510 lives had been lost in the Mediterranean in 2016, compared to 1,855 in the same period in 2015.
“The odds of being among the dead are currently one in 81,” said William Spindler, spokesperson for the UNHCR.
The route from North Africa to Italy is proving to be considerably more perilous than the other Mediterranean routes, with 2,119 of the deaths reported thus far in 2016 resulting among people making that journey.
Europe is currently undergoing its worst migration crisis since World War Two, with well over a million migrants entering the continent last year and similar projections for the year in progress.
“Like Pope Francis, Caritas dreams of a Europe that acknowledges the necessary contribution of migrants to our societies and commits to respecting the dignity of every human being,” said Jorge Nuño Mayer, Secretary General of Caritas Europa.
According to Jean-Marie Carrière, Regional Director of JRS Europe: “Europe has the power to save and protect people. It’s a just question of political will to provide safe ways for people to enter Europe without risking their lives.”
Caritas Europa and JRS Europe are urging EU member states to adopt a series of measures to make immigration into Europe simpler and safer. These include opening safe and legal channels of entry into the EU, the introduction of an easily accessible “humanitarian visa”, extending the humanitarian admission programmes, and lifting visa requirements when justified on humanitarian grounds.
Last month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for “a comprehensive and collective response” to Europe’s migrant crisis, as well as “expanded legal pathways” for migrants to enter Europe.
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