Safe passages to the EU

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”, writes Warsan Shire, a Kenyan-born Somali poet in a poem describing the desperate situation of those fleeing war. We have all seen the images on television and media of overcrowded rubber boats on the Mediterranean sea, or worse, washed ashore. Giving people fleeing war, persecution and poverty the possibility to instead seek safe ways to come to Europe would not only save lives, it would also help to fight smuggling. People that would be eligible to seek permission to come to the European Union face real barriers in accessing such safe alternatives, which leads them in desperation to resort to smugglers who put their lives at risk.

Back in 2013 Social Platform called for more ways for migrants to come to the EU, especially those in the most vulnerable situations. In 2015 we repeated our message: that safe passages have to go beyond high-skilled labour migration, and also include low-skilled and domestic worker, as well as humanitarian and family sponsored schemes for protection as well as facilitation of family reunification. If a person in need of protection would have the possibility to apply for a job scheme, it would give them the chance to come to the EU in a safe manner and their knowledge and skills would be used immediately after arrival, instead of the endless waiting that refugees have to endure before they are allowed to work.

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has developed a toolbox with options on legal ways to access Europe. For refugees there are the options of resettlement, humanitarian admission, visas on humanitarian grounds and temporary protection. For refugees and migrants there are possibilities for family reunification, labour and student mobility and medical evacuation. Few of these options are a reality though; it has proven almost impossible to convince Member States to commit to resettlement schemes, and many have also tightened their family reunification laws, despite evidence showing that reuniting family members benefits integration.

On 28 September, Member of the European Parliament Kati Piri (a member of the Socialists and Democrats political group) held a roundtable meeting to discuss how to create momentum for safe passages despite the resistance in the European Council. Member States’ engagement is limited to the financial support they receive from European Union funding. When being critical of the EU-Turkey deal that aims to resettle migrants arriving in Turkey in the EU, we also have to be critical of the human rights situation for refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. It is not safe for refugees in Turkey, but it has become safer, said Ms Piri at her meeting.

Participants heard from Hanadi Aikas, a Syrian refugee, who spoke about her dangerous journey from Damascus to Lebanon by car, and to Turkey by flight where she ran out of money and had to seek the help of smugglers who then took her on a boat to the Balkans, from where she had to walk 12 hours to get to Greece, and finally found her way to the Netherlands where she lives today.

Nikos Voutsinos from Caritas Greece spoke about the situation there where, despite the country’s economic turmoil, the Greek people are giving a lot to help to provide dignified lives for migrants. More than 60,000 undocumented migrants are stuck in Greece, and the majority are women and children. What were supposed to be hotspots for the reception of refugees, assisted and registered by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, have become closed reception centres, and if migrants are fortunate enough to find a job they are generally dirty, dangerous and demeaning, said Mr Voutsinos. Ms Piri rounded up the discussion by saying that while we should see the faces behind the number of refugees entering the EU, it is also important to recognise the great figures of volunteers supporting the crisis with clothes, basic resources and human kindness.

The European Commission has just started to evaluate and assess whether existing EU legislation on “legal migration” is fit for its purpose, and whether there are gaps. Social Platform has called for the next European Migration Forum to focus on safe passages, and next year we plan to concentrate on the economic inclusion of migrants.

Read more about our work on migration here.