European leaders: protecting life must come first

17 September 2015

Brussels, 17 September 2015 – JRS Europe calls on the extraordinary EU council meeting on 22 September to urgently take common action to protect refugees in Europe. The last Council of Ministers meeting held in Brussels on 14 September failed to embrace the hospitality shown to asylum seekers by civil society and individuals over the past few weeks. 

"Where is the common political welcome to match the grassroots welcome shown by civil society across Europe?" asks JRS Europe director Jean-Marie Carrière SJ. "We need common governance to guarantee the effective protection of people fleeing war and oppression."

Human dignity

JRS calls upon European governments to work together and refrain from taking unilateral action such as closing borders and confronting migrants with riot police and tear gas, as is currently the case on the Hungarian-Serbian border. We remind European governments of their obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and call upon them to:

1. Respect the right of individuals to asylum as enshrined in the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights and not to shift protection obligations to third countries that cannot ensure proper standards of protection.

2. Create safe and legal ways to enter Europe. Traumatised people take dangerous routes to reach Europe, often turning to smugglers and traffickers as their only survival option. We continue to call upon the EU to enact practical ways for refugees to arrive safely in Europe: including the issuing of ‘humanitarian visas’; the lifting of onerous visa requirements; more resettlement places; and the liberalisation of family reunification rules.

Relocation proposals

JRS Europe welcomes the formal agreement by the Council to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, which replaces a former voluntary commitment of 32,256 asylum seekers reached at the July summit. Relocation has the potential to enhance protection and ensure dignified reception provided that it is carried out with respect to the needs of vulnerable people.

JRS Europe is alarmed by the proposed use of other coercive measures associated with implementing the relocation package, namely detention, the use of force and threats of removal in order to obtain fingerprints. 

"The dignity of asylum seekers must be respected at all times," says Mark Provera, JRS Europe’s Policy and Advocacy Officer. "The relocation scheme should not be used as a justification to neglect a person’s human rights. So far, it appears to be mandatory for asylum seekers and it is not clear whether the consent, preferences and needs of the individual will be taken into account."

Research conducted through JRS Europe’s project Protection Interrupted revealed that if an asylum seeker’s needs and wishes are not taken into account, this can increase vulnerability and the risk of destitution and he or she may move to a Member State where they feel their dignity is best protected. The Council’s proposed use of detention to prevent secondary movements fails to appreciate the severe harm that the present system inflicts upon vulnerable children, women and men.

Save life now

Without concerted European action the situation on Europe’s borders is likely to rapidly deteriorate, jeopardizing people’s access to protection and their very chances of survival.

Further information:

  • JRS Europe in the Christian group of 7 NGOs sent a letter to MEPs showing how a humanitarian visa system would save lives. Read it here (includes testimonies at end).
  • Ahead of the last EU Council summit JRS sent a letter to the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, urging him to use his role to promote common humanitarian action. Read it here.

Where is the common political welcome to match the grassroots welcome shown by civil society across Europe? We need common governance to guarantee the effective protection of people fleeing war and oppression.