Friday, April 15, 2011

The Council of Europe Steps Up

Yesterday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1805 concerning "the large-scale arrival of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees on Europe’s southern shores." Largely drawn from a report by the Committee on Migration, Refugees, and Population, the forward-looking resolution calls for European efforts to assist with long-term solutions to the causes of migration from North Africa as well as a unified effort on the part of Council member states to assist those fleeing harm in Libya and elsewhere.
For those unfamiliar with the Council of Europe (COE), it is an intergovernmental organization created to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Europe. Though it is not part of the European Union, its members include the forty-seven European nations and it works with the EU towards the goal of a unified Europe. The COE's Parliamentary Assembly comprises 318 representatives appointed by the national parliaments of the member states.
The preamble of the Parliamentary Assembly's resolution begins by taking a hard look at the problem, chastising the media and politicians for inaccurate claims of a deluge of migrants from North Africa. In reality, 23,000 Tunisians have arrived in Lampedusa and 1,900 boat arrivals have landed in Malta and Italy from Libya thus far. These numbers are in stark contrast to the 460,000 people who have fled Libya for Egypt, Tunisia, and other African countries. The vast majority of those fleeing Libya are not Libyan, and many are now in need of international protection because ongoing conflict in their countries of origin prevents them from returning. Meanwhile, hundreds have drowned in their attempt to flee the conflict and reach Europe by boat.
The Parliamentary Assembly, while prioritizing the "international protection needs of those who have arrived on Europe's shores," also notes the need to assist migrants who have fled Libya in returning home, and to help migrants and refugees who remain in Libya but wish to escape. It also reminds member states that they are legally obligated not to "push back" boats carrying individuals who might be eligible for protection under international law. Finally, the Assembly notes the need for Europe to invest heavily in North Africa both in an "economic and democratic sense" in order to ensure that their populations escape cycles of conflict and poverty, which of course are a root cause of migration.
The language of the resolution itself calls on member states to:
  • Acknowledge that the solution to the arrival of large numbers of migrants is the shared responsibility of all European states;
  • Offer humanitarian assistance, including shelter and health care, to the migrants arriving in southern Europe;
  • Sharply limit detention to situations where there is "no other reasonable alternative" and only when conditions of detention comply with minimum human rights standards outlined by the Assembly in a prior resolution;
  • Provide special care to, including prohibiting detention of, vulnerable migrants, including women, children, the elderly, and victims of torture and trafficking;
  • Guarantee the right to asylum and non-refoulement, both by offering territorial access to those with claims to international protection and by ensuring a high quality asylum process;
  • Determine asylum claims speedily but fairly;
  • Support international and national organizations providing humanitarian assistance in North Africa and southern Europe, and generously assisting with resettlement of refugees stranded in North Africa;
  • Share responsibility with states receiving migrants, including providing funds to Frontex and the European Asylum Agency, "looking into the possibility of" resettling migrants eligible for international protection, working together on voluntary and forced returns, and offering particular assistance to Malta because of its very limited resources;
  • Tackle the root causes of this migration by providing "support for economic, social, democratic, and legal reform and development" in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, offering legal avenues for migration to reduce pressures on illegal migration routes, and offering assistance to Libya to help to stabilize the country once the current conflict comes to an end; and
  • Consider offering temporary protection in the event of a mass movement of refugees from Libya.
The resolution offers a thoughtful and far-sighted response to the very real challenges faced by those fleeing conflict in North Africa and the countries to which they are fleeing. It remains to be seen whether European leaders will follow the Council of Europe's lead. Regardless of the response from its bickering member states, the Parliamentary Assembly is to be applauded for offering a voice of reason in the midst of crisis, and a hopeful vision of how Europe could respond to the migration aspects of the conflicts in North Africa.

(hat tip to the excellent Migrants at Sea blog)

No comments: