EU must end returns to Libya, NGOs say

Dozens of NGOs have called on the EU to end the controversial policy, saying it undermines the bloc's values. Despite several attempts, EU leaders have made little progress on a bloc-wide solution to irregular migration.

More than 50 major organizations on Friday accused European Union leaders of having "allowed themselves to become complicit in the tragedy unfolding before their eyes" in the Mediterranean, saying more than 5,300 people have died over the past two years.

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war in 2015, other EU leaders have taken more controversial approaches, including blocking migrant rescue ships from docking.

Organizations called on the EU to:

  • "Support search and rescue operations."
  • "Adopt timely and predictable disembarkation arrangements."
  • "End returns to Libya."

Read more: Europe's migrant rescue boats face uncertain future

EU values on the line

Citing the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on Europe's southern borders, the NGOs urged EU governments to take decisive action in favor of the bloc's values.

"The rights to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement are repeated in the Treaties of the European Union, which also declares that the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights," the letter said.

Read more: Germany claims success with program to support migrant returnees

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Fleeing war and poverty

In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Seeking refuge over the border

Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

A long journey on foot

In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Desperate sea crossings

Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Pressure on the borders

Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Closing the open door

Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Striking a deal with Turkey

In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticized by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

No end in sight

With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.

Libya in disarray

More than 1 million migrants have entered the EU since the height of the migration crisis in 2015. Despite several attempts, European leaders have failed to hammer out a bloc-wide solution to irregular migration and keep migrants from making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

The EU has also come under increased criticism for allowing migrants captured off the coast of Libya to be returned to the North African country, where many are sold into slavery. Up to 700,000 migrants are trapped in detention camps in Libya, according to African Union figures.

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DW News | 10.12.2018

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ls/aw (AFP, dpa, EPD)