09 July 2018
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Giving humanitarian help to migrants should not be a crime, according to the EP
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In a non-legislative resolution (pdf), MEPs highlight concerns that EU laws on help to irregular migrants are having unintended consequences for citizens that provide humanitarian assistance to migrants. The text was passed with by show of hands.
Under the 2002 Facilitation directive, EU member states are required to introduce laws listing criminal penalties for anyone who facilitates the irregular entry, transit or residence of migrants.
However, the resolution stresses that the EU legislation also gives member states the power to exempt humanitarian action from the list of crimes and regrets that few member states have incorporated the humanitarian assistance exemption into their national laws.
NGOs helping migrants at sea and on land
MEPs note that humanitarian assistance from individuals and NGOs, offered through rescue operations at sea and on land, supports and complements life-saving actions undertaken by the competent authorities of EU member states. MEPs stress that any action must remain within the remit established by the Facilitation directive, with their operations taking place under the control of national authorities.
Parliament calls on EU countries to include the humanitarian assistance exemption in their legislation, to ensure that individuals and civil society organisations who assist migrants for humanitarian reasons are not prosecuted for doing so.
When is facilitation not a crime
Finally, the resolution urges the EU Commission to issue guidelines specifying which forms of facilitation should not be criminalised by member states, to make sure that the law is applied with greater clarity and uniformity.
Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), who drafted the resolution on behalf of the Civil Liberties Committee, said: "We need clear guidelines on humanitarian assistance. This is key in a context where individuals and NGOs work very hard to save people at sea and help them on land. During my EP mission to Libya, NGOs have again and again explained that this is essential so that they can carry on with their work.
The role of humanitarian workers and NGOs is increasingly in the spotlight in the context of a wider political discussion about how to deal with the arrival of migrants and asylum-seekers to the EU, with some accusing them of encouraging human trafficking and of acting outside legal boundaries.
In May, a group of Spanish volunteers was acquitted in Greece of smuggling charges filed when they were helping migrants arriving on Lesvos from Turkey. Two rescue vessels managed by NGOs are currently detained in Malta and the captain of one them has been accused of lacking the necessary ship registration documents to enter Maltese waters.
The resolution as approved: MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION further to Question for Oral Answer B8-0034/2018 pursuant to Rule 128(5) of the Rules of Procedure on guidelines for Member States to prevent humanitarian assistance from being criminalised (2018/2769(RSP)) Claude Moraes on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (pdf)
Hindering humanitarianism: European Commission will not ensure protection for those aiding migrants and refugees (April 2017, pdf)
And see the report by the Institute of Race Relations: Humanitarianism: the unacceptable face of solidarity (IRR, link)
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