"Further loss of life must be prevented," says Chancellor

Refugee tragedy in Mediterranean "Further loss of life must be prevented," says Chancellor

The German government and the European Commission want to prevent any more loss of life in the Mediterranean. Action must be taken to fight the traffickers, but also to tackle the situations that force people to flee their homes in the first place said the Chancellor in Berlin.

The EU foreign and interior ministers have now adopted a ten point plan to do just that.

"We will do all we can to prevent more people dying in a most excruciating way in the Mediterranean," stressed Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Before the G7 dialogue forum in Berlin, she expressed her shock and dismay at the boat disaster. At the same time she announced measures to prevent more lives being lost at sea.

Several hundred people, including women and children, appear to have drowned when a boat capsized in the Mediterranean in the early hours of Sunday morning. The previous week hundreds of refugees attempting to make the crossing from Libya to Italy had already drowned. More boats were in distress on Monday. One vessel sank off the coast of the Greek island of Rhodes. Every year thousands of people set off across the Mediterranean for Europe. In 2014 alone the official figures recorded 3,500 lives lost at sea.

Stepping up efforts

The first thing must be to take steps to fight the smugglers and traffickers who endanger and end lives in a most inhuman manner, declared the Chancellor to representatives of non-governmental organisations.

"Secondly, we will be making intensive efforts to overcome the root causes of the problem that force people to flee," Angela Merkel continued. The most important thing is to prevent any more loss of life in the Mediterranean. That cannot be reconciled with our values, she said. To this end, the Chancellor stressed, "Efforts must be stepped up."

Ten point plan and extraordinary European Council meeting

The Join Foreign and Home Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg has agreed on measures to prevent further disasters of this sort:

  • Reinforce the joint operations in the Mediterranean, namely Triton and Poseidon, by increasing the financial resources and the number of assets. We will also extend the operational area, allowing us to intervene further, within the mandate of Frontex;
  • A systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers. The positive results obtained with the Atalanta operation should inspire us to similar operations against smugglers in the Mediterranean;
  • Europol, Frontex, EASO and Eurojust will meet regularly and work closely to gather information on smugglers modus operandi, to trace their funds and to assist in their investigation;
  • EASO (European Asylum Support Office) to deploy teams in Italy and Greece for joint processing of asylum applications;
  • Member states to ensure fingerprinting of all migrants;
  • Consider options for an emergency relocation mechanism;
  • An EU-wide voluntary pilot project on resettlement, offering a number of places to persons in need of protection;
  • Establish a new return programme for rapid return of irregular migrants coordinated by Frontex from frontline member states;
  • Engagement with countries surrounding Libya through a joint effort between the Commission and the EEAS (European External Action Service); initiatives in Niger have to be stepped up.
  • Deploy immigration liaison officers in key third countries, to gather intelligence on migratory flows and strengthen the role of the EU Delegations.

European Council President Donald Tusk has called an extraordinary European Council meeting on Thursday.

Shock and dismay

"Every death is one too many. Every individual case a terrible fate," said Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière on Sunday (19 April 2015) when the news of the shipwreck broke. "A heinous crime of this sort calls for a European response. It is a question of saving human lives, fighting organised smuggler gangs and stabilising the region. There are no easy answers," said Thomas de Maizière.

"There can be no question. What we have once again seen today in the Mediterranean is another tragedy. The images are intolerable," said Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the current affairs programme "Bericht aus Berlin" shown on German television.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to see stability in Libya

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed how the people must have suffered before ever embarking on the ship. The risks involved in undertaking the crossing in vessels that are barely seaworthy are almost unbearable.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier pointed to two things which he believes are particularly important. "We must attempt to bring Libya greater stability." The aim is to see a government of national unity in place. Only stability can improve the refugee situation. Secondly, action must be taken against the traffickers and a crackdown is need on people trafficking organisations, he declared.

Fighting gangs of traffickers

Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière sees "fighting gangs of traffickers as pivotal". There are few remaining state structures in Libya, and traffickers exploit this vacuum. Criminal gangs of people traffickers earn huge sums by promising to get people to and across the Mediterranean. They then abandon the people on board to their fate.

Thomas de Maizière counts on greater international cooperation. "Inside Europol we have put in place a separate investigation unit, and we are already seeing the first successes. We cannot and will not tolerate these criminals sacrificing huge numbers of human lives to satisfy their lust for profit."

No country can solve the refugee problem alone. What is needed is not only a common European strategy, but also better dovetailing of foreign policy, domestic policy and development policy inside and among member states, and with the countries of origin of the refugees and the transit states they pass through, said Thomas de Maizière.

Gerd Müller wants a resumption of "Mare Nostrum"

In the German newspaper "Bild" Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller has called for a resumption of the Italian sea rescue programme "Mare Nostrum" and an EU-wide concept to distribute refugees among all 28 EU member states.

Federal Government Commissioner for Integration calls for swift action

Aydan Özoğuz, the Federal Government Commissioner for Integration, declared herself "appalled". On her Facebook page she wrote, "The fact that once again so many people have lost their lives en route to Europe is a desperately poor testimony for all of us. We cannot afford to waste any more time." There are good reasons to fear that as the weather gets warmer over the next few weeks and months the numbers of those seeking refuge on the other side of the Mediterranean will swell further, according to the Federal Government Commissioner for Integration.