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Create New Europe-Wide Migrant Rescue Mission, EU Parties Implore

A broad coalition in the European Parliament on Monday called for an EU-wide search and rescue operation to prevent the loss of more lives in the Mediterranean migration route.

The three largest parties — the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the center-left Socialists and Democrats and liberal Renew — along with the progressive Greens and The Left backed a joint text that will see a vote on Thursday. This show of unity comes after a migrant shipwreck off the coast of Greece in June that killed hundreds and put a spotlight on the topic.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson last week called for more coordination among member countries on search and rescue, warning that “it is just a question of time” before a similar event repeats.  

The text in Parliament calls for the “establishment of a comprehensive EU Search and Rescue mission implemented by the Member States’ competent authorities and Frontex,” according to a draft document seen by POLITICO. The ambiguous wording appears to be a nod to Operation Sophia, the EU-led naval mission to break up smuggling routes in the Mediterranean that ended in 2020 — although an EPP official declined to confirm that.

Given the EPP’s recent cozying up to the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) in light of next year’s European election, its signing up to a text that calls for greater migrant solidarity came somewhat unexpectedly, pouring cold water over talks of greater cooperation with the ECR.

The parliamentary motion also took on hostile policies toward nongovernmental organizations, for example on the part of Italy’s right-wing government, by appealing to EU member states to “maintain their nearest safe ports open to NGO vessels” and not criminalize such groups.

The document also calls on the Commission to verify whether migrant pushbacks are in line with European and international law. Pushbacks are the practice of forcing migrants back across a border without any processing, and have been carried out extensively by Greece’s center-right government.

EU parliamentarians urged the bloc to “find ways to apply the transparency and accountability principles laid out in EU rules when investigating shipwrecks,” although they refrained from mentioning the ongoing Greek probe into the migrant shipwreck.  

Additionally, EPP leader Manfred Weber left the door open to an international investigation into this event, which the Commission has repeatedly ruled out. “The tragedy happened outside of Greek territory, so that’s why it is an international responsibility,” Weber told a press conference in Strasbourg on Tuesday, referring to recent “similar events” in Lampedusa, Italy, and Ceuta, Spain.

“The Left in this house didn’t initiate an investigation [into these cases]. We need a serious management, and not a party political management, of these issues,” he added.

Members of European Parliament also used strong words regarding the actions of the coast guard of Libya, which was once again subject to scrutiny after it fired shots on an NGO vessel rescuing people in distress on Friday. The text accused Libyan authorities of detaining migrants in “inhumane conditions” and carrying out “torture, rape and arbitrary killings.”

Source : Politico

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