European Business Express, November 21, 2013

Migrants; a protest, an aggressive police response. A familiar combination? Not when the Strasbourg police forcefully corralled Members of the European Parliament, protesting right outside the Parliament, and using the public demonstration to call attention to civil liberties issues.

Excessive police action did not deter a group of 15 organisations launching an appeal to citizens, MEPs, and the staff of the European Parliament, to participate in a human chain designed to draw awareness of the need to put people at the heart of European migration policy. A banner, 100 meters long, was printed with all the names of those who could be identified who died at sea while trying to reach European borders.

MEPs Marie-Christine Vergiat, Jürgen Klute and Cornelia Ernst denounced the migration policy of the European Union; they qualified it as inhumane, and in violation of international law.

Jürgen Klute, MEP (GUE/NGL, DE) declared: “We are extremely concerned to see such a rise of the extreme right in Europe and a return to nationalism that stigmatises and criminalises migrants. It is taking us away from our essential priorities as elected members of the European Parliament to find a way out of the crisis and to build a social Europe with the people at its centre.”

French MEP, Marie-Christine Vergiat, and member of the Human rights sub-committee said: ” Considering the worsening conditions in my countries, it is unrealistic to believe that we will stop men and women trying to find a better life to reach Europe by setting up higher and higher walls and by putting pressure on the Member state of the South of Europe to lead a more and more repressive migration policy.”

She added: “These men and women are just taking more risks, sometimes at the peril of their lives. We cannot let the Mediterranean be the cemetery of thousands of migrants. It is high time that the migration policy of the EU take another turn, more in line with the democratic values and principles that EU leaders pretend to defend, and more in line with their international obligations and to their statements.”

Cornelia Ernst, a German MEP and a member of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said: “From the European parliament we are asking this despising migration policy to be changed. As primary measures, we are asking for the improvement of rescuing at sea, the replacement of retention centres by support centres and welcoming points all along the borders of the Mediterranean and the creation of a European legal framework that could facilitate access and stay in the EU”.

Adding his voice to the demonstration, Pierre Greib, a representative of the Cimade and member of the MIGREUROP network declared: “By its willingness to limit to a maximum the arrival of migrants, the European migration policy has led to more and more dangerous migration patterns for those who wish to come to Europe to escape from oppression and misery. Even if it is presented as protecting migrants, it is often preventing migrants from exercising their asylum rights and is in fact increasing the activity of smugglers. The people who died and disappeared in the Mediterranean are victims of this situation. For us the policy put in place, including by FRONTEX, is contrary to the fundamental principles on which the European project is built.”

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