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EU must develop innovative mobility solutions now to stop deaths at sea – UN experts

20 avril 2015

GENEVA (20 April 2015) – Repression of irregular migration clearly cannot be the only solution to the recurrent grave problem of masses of people drowning at sea, the UN experts today warned the European Union. The independent experts said they were encouraged by the decision to hold an EU summit on the issue and urged States to use the summit to tackle the issues in a holistic, systematic, regulated way in order to comply with their international human rights obligations.

The Special Rapporteurs spoke in response to over 1000 deaths at sea of irregular migrants that have occurred in the past week.

“Irregular migration continues to occur because of persistent and increasingly aggressive push factors, such as war, conflict, persecution, poor governance and extreme poverty, and because of durable pull factors such as underground labour markets in Global North countries. These push and pull factors haven’t changed in the recent past and are unlikely to change in the upcoming months and years. The unnecessary deaths over the past few days are just the beginning. Europe must act innovatively to save lives,” Crépeau said.

“Frontline States like Italy cannot be left to bear the sole responsibility of saving lives. Italy’s maritime border is a common European external border. Having a common border implies a common responsibility.”

Last year, in response to the unprecedented number of irregular migrants arriving by sea, Italy launched its naval search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum which saved over 160,000 lives. Due to lack of human and financial support from the EU, Italy was unable to sustain its bold initiative. Mare Nostrum was replaced by EU Frontex operation Triton, which however is limited to defending Italy’s maritime border and therefore does not have the same reach as Mare Nostrum did.

“We are talking about people dying unnecessarily when States have the capacity to save lives,” Crépeau said. “If Europe is to witness a significant reduction of human suffering at borders, it must bank on regulated openness and mobility. Otherwise the number of migrants risking their lives on unseaworthy vessels over perilous sea routes can only increase.”

“Increasingly restrictive and exclusionary immigration policies contribute to increasing the risks for migrants fleeing conflicts or seeking a job to support their families. Saving their lives is the first imperative. Moreover, those surviving their perilous journey find themselves in a situation of social vulnerability and often fall prey to unscrupulous or criminal recruiters or employers, exploiting them in slavery-like conditions,” cautioned Ms. Giammarinaro, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

In an open letter to European States in October 2014, the two Special Rapporteurs stressed that Europe needs “less repression of survival migration and more harm-reduction policies taking as a central concern the well-being of migrants.”

“Europe needs to create innovative mobility avenues that will incentivize migrants to avoid having recourse to smugglers. On the one hand, it should adopt a massive resettlement policy over the coming five to six years to respond to the needs of all the Syrians and Eritreans in need of durable solutions for themselves and their children, just as was done for many Indochinese three decades ago. On the other, it must acknowledge its low-wage labour market needs and quickly open many more legal migration avenues for a much greater number of migrants at all skills levels.”

“Europe must bank on mobility across the Mediterranean and within its territory, as a dynamic factor of economic and social development. Opening, over a period of time, safe legal channels for migration and mobility on a much bigger scale would allow for, inter alia, the registration of all migrants, for identifying protection needs, for providing information on labour markets and the risks of irregular migration: this would mean that most migrants would find legal ways to enter Europe and that European countries would therefore reclaim the control of border crossings from the criminal smuggling rings.”

Crépeau and Giammarinaro said that it was important to bring to justice unscrupulous smugglers for the suffering they inflict on irregular migrants, but warned that “Europe will find it difficult to defeat resourceful and adaptable smuggling rings, unless it destroys their business model, which was created when barriers and prohibitions to mobility were erected and which thrives at evading restrictive migration policies of many EU Member States.”

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants will present a report on his visit to Italy and a thematic report on EU border management to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015.


François Crépeau (Canada) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in June 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three years. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Crépeau is also Full Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, in Montréal, where he holds the Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law and is scientific director of the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism. Learn more, log on to:

Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (Italy) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014, to promote the prevention of trafficking in persons in all its forms, and to encourage measures to uphold and protect the human rights of victims. Ms. Giammarinaro has been a Judge since 1991 and currently serves as a Pre-Trial Judge at the Criminal Court of Rome. She was the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the OSCE, and served in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security in Brussels, where she was responsible for combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. She drafted the EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims.

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