Avramopoulos and NGOs against criminalising solidarity

On 26-27 January the European Migration Forum took place in Brussels on the topic of ‘Safe routes, safe futures: How to manage the mixed flows of migrants across the Mediterranean’. Social Platform played an active role as rapporteur of one of the workshop discussions on ‘A comprehensive approach to counter migrant smuggling’. Participants agreed on conclusions in line with our position not to punish givers of humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants – a position endorsed by European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in his closing remarks.

The workshop formed part of the Commission’s consultation for its work on developing an EU Anti-Smuggling Plan (to be presented around summer 2015). The plan intends to focus on 1) enhanced prevention of smuggling, 2) protection and assistance of vulnerable migrants, 3) enhanced knowledge and intelligence about smuggling and improving cooperation between different bodies and institutions, and 4) enhanced cooperation with third countries.

Michele LeVoy, Director of our member PICUM, opened the workshop with some food for thought: since the EU established its common migration policy in 1999, focus has been on fighting irregular migration, such as through criminalisation, border controls etc. This has led to the protection of rights of EU citizens being emphasised over rights for all residents. In order to shift this approach we need to move from a security- to a rights-based approach and create access to Europe.

Motivated by the need to reduce the risk and harm migrants are exposed to when finding themselves in a situation of irregular migration and targeted smuggling activity that is clearly dangerous to migrants, participants of the workshop agreed on seven recommendations:

  1. Respect the rights of migrants in an irregular situation, in the drafting and implementation of an EU plan against smuggling
  2. Develop and implement (additional) regular migration channels to the EU for protection, employment and family reunification
  3. Create a firewall between immigration control and access to justice and services for migrants
  4. Revise the Facilitation Directive to exempt humanitarian assistance from criminalisation
  5. Consider circumstances of aggravation and mitigation when prosecuting smugglers
  6. Put in place an Implementation Plan for the EU and member states comprising all European regulation protecting migrants, irrespective of status
  7. Debunk myths and misinformation about migration

Download the complete conclusions from the workshop (PDF).

Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, responsible for migration, home affairs and citizenship, concluded the conference by agreeing that humanitarian assistance should not be criminalised and migrants’ human rights should be respected. He explained that smuggling is dangerous and often sees migrants forced to risk their lives, and emphasised that civil society organisations can play a crucial role in helping debunking the myths about smuggling and irregular migration. He announced that he intends to launch an EU-wide campaign against racism, xenophobia and populism in Europe to improve the narrative on migration, and welcomed civil society to contribute to this work. Read the Commissioner’s full speech.