Put people first – Joint NGO Statement on the occasion of World Refugee Day 2018

On World Refugee Day 2018, in the run-up to the European Council Meeting on June 28, we urge the government to prioritise the protection of people rather than just the protection of Europe’s borders.

The events of the past weeks are a stark reminder, if any were needed, that Europe’s borders are still dangerous and inhospitable places for people in need of protection. They highlight the fact that the most vulnerable are often the first casualty in disputes between states on responsibility for those rescued at sea.  Seen in the light of discussions at European level, they underscore the fact that Europe is still far from achieving a unified and consistent response to the needs of people arriving here in search of protection.

Instead of focusing on real responsibility-sharing within the European Union, Member States’ discussions focus almost exclusively on stopping spontaneous refugee arrivals or making arrangements with non-European States for refugees to remain there, even where these States might not be able or willing to offer true refugee protection.

This lack of a unified approach and the emphasis on protection of borders and perceived national interests – rather than protection of people – is problematic for everyone. Individual EU Member States are disadvantaged by the application of the Dublin Regulation, insofar as this requires the EU’s border Member States to become the continent’s reception or detention centres.

Yet is it particularly problematic for refugees and asylum-seekers who continue to die in ever greater numbers as they attempt to reach a place of safety.

According to UNHCR, although sea arrivals to Italy have drastically reduced since July 2017, the journey claims an increasing number of lives. In 2018, the death rate amongst those crossing from Libya increased to 1 for every 14 people, compared to 1 for every 29 people in the same period in 2017.

‘Forgotten at the Gates of Europe’, a report published yesterday by JRS Europe, highlights the impact of this reality on the lives of men, women and children fleeing in search of protection. It calls upon the EU to create a Common European Asylum System that lives up to its name and that truly affords protection to those who need it.

On World Refugee Day, aditus foundation, Integra Foundation, JRS Malta and the Malta Emigrants’ Commission join our voice to that of JRS Europe in calling for a fundamental policy shift at EU level – to create a system that prioritises protection of people and creates safe and legal pathways for people seeking protection.

We encourage Malta to lead by example, as it did with the intra-EU relocation exercise, and to introduce safe and legal pathways for refugees to reach a place of safety, in particular by broadening the rules on family reunification for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and resettling refugees from transit countries.

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