Migration Conference 2014
21-11-2014 Press Release
Brussels, 21 November 2014 – At the conference "Promoting a humanitarian approach within the European Union Migration Agenda” organised by the Red Cross EU Office and hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels on 20 November 2014, high-level speakers from the European Union (EU) institutions, the UN, EU Red Cross Societies and other civil society organisations discussed how to promote a humanitarian approach to migration within the new EU political and institutional landscape.
Panellists highlighted the particular vulnerabilities of migrants throughout the migratory process, as well the challenges faced by humanitarian and social workers in providing them with assistance. Discussions focussed on two pressing challenges the EU now faces: first, ensuring the dignity of all migrants, especially undocumented ones and upholding their rights and access to safe and legal avenues to seek protection in the European Union.
Francesco Rocca, Vice President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and President of the Italian Red Cross, opened the debate by stressing the permanent nature of the migration phenomenon and the need to find durable human-rights based solutions. "The challenge now is to move from an emergency situation to a structured approach to migration”, he said. "The future EU migration agenda should be led by a humanitarian imperative rather than economic interests. It should focus on reducing the vulnerabilities of all migrants”.
Laura Corrado from the Immigration and Integration unit of the European Commission’s Home Affairs directorate underlined resettlement and humanitarian visas as legal avenues to be further explored. "Resettlement is now and probably will remain, at least in the medium term, the main legal avenue for persons in need of international protection. Member states should do more to resettle larger numbers of refugees”, she said. "We will continue to push, at least as a first step, for a more coordinated approach at EU level as regards to the issues of asylum and humanitarian visas, so that applications can be made outside EU territory (...) but there needs to be political will to move in this direction”.
"In 2013, only around 5000 people were resettled in the EU” said Philippa Candler from UNHCR. "We urge governments to increase resettlement capacities - every added place saves a life," she added underlining that private sponsorship schemes should also be considered and that increasing legal avenues to access international protection is a way to tackle trafficking and smuggling.
Michael Adamson, Chief Executive Officer of the British Red Cross, pointed out the shortcomings of the current system that often leave refugees destitute with little or no support after they have been granted asylum. Adamson further discussed family as a fundamental society unit that is entitled to protection and assistance, and he called for the removal of onerous, bureaucratic barriers to family reunification across Europe. Furthermore, he underlined the particular need to support the most vulnerable people fleeing Syria. It is important to ensure that they have effective access to asylum procedures in the EU through emergency resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes.
Speakers then highlighted the particular vulnerabilities of migrants in an irregular situation, which due to their status are often unable to access basic services like health, education, legal counsel, housing, etc. "We observe that migrants in an irregular situation belong to the most vulnerable group in our societies” said José Javier Sánchez Espinosa from Spanish Red Cross. He further testified that the fear of being denounced and detained impedes migrants from exercising their rights. He continued by stressing the challenges in reaching out to migrants in an irregular situation: "the only way we can reach migrants is through the services we offer”. He concluded by saying that detention should only be used temporarily and as a last resort, and called for alternatives to detention.
Michele LeVoy, Director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) continued by emphasising that promoting the rights of undocumented migrants is no longer an option but an obligation. Yet there is significant differences between Members States in terms of level of access to services such as health care or education. She emphasised the need to unpack and apply the firewall principle to ensure separation between immigration authorities and public services: "we need to make sure that data on the undocumented person is not transmitted”.
Jean Lambert, Member of the European Parliament, commented that the criminalisation of assistance has increased since 2002 and the adoption of the Facilitation directive which introduced the topic of illegality. The impact on society and cohesion should not be undermined. "We are telling people: you cannot exercise your humanitarian impulses or you will be criminalised – employers, medical staff, landlords are being turned into immigration officials. We need to look at what this is doing to society.” She urged both EU decision makers and conference participants to reflect on how people get into an irregular status in the first place.
Over the course of the morning, speakers pointed out concrete activities, programmes and strategies to address these challenges, as well as policy recommendations that have been made. However, the discussions also emphasised the many efforts we still need to make both at national and EU level to implement these in the current environment. Key obstacles lie in the financial context which has triggered cuts to social services, the often negative narrative around migration, and also the absence of a common EU vision on migration. The aim of the conference was to emphasise that promoting a humanitarian approach to migration policies should be our common vision.
For further information, please contact:
Virginie Louis, Senior Communications Officer, Red Cross EU Office, +32(0)2 235 06 83, email@example.com
- Position Paper: Access to international protection in the EU for people fleeing Syria, 14 October 2014
- Contribution to the European Commission's consultation on the post-Stockholm agenda, 21 January 2014
- Shifting Borders – Externalising migrant vulnerabilities and rights?, Red Cross EU Office, November 2013
- Position Paper on Legal Avenues to Access International Protection in the EU, Red Cross EU Office, 27 February 2013
- Executive Summary: Promoting a Humanitarian Approach to the EU Migration Agenda, Red Cross EU Office, 20 November 2014