In response to allegations in the Times this weekend, MEP Alyn Smith has written to the Editor to clarify that the European Union will not criminalise hypothetical holidaymakers who rescue migrants from a capsized boat.
Draft documents, released by the voluntary civil rights group Statewatch, discuss the high number of migrant casualties on European shores and the need for coordination between services to prevent and counter migrant smuggling. This includes investigations between Member States and involving border guards and NGOs where appropriate. Statewatch has expressed concern that NGOs and charities have not been explicitly exempted, and says that the decision whether to use criminal sanctions will therefore be left to the Member State.
Alyn, a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said:
“This is a complex and sensitive package that hasn’t even been released yet, and some reportage has been quite startlingly misleading.
“There is, categorically, no intention to criminalise the many decent people who have been modern-day Good Samaritans on the beaches of Greece – including my own colleague Humza Yousaf.
“Yes, the council conclusions should acknowledge that some actions have a humanitarian reason and should never be prosecuted or treated as smuggling. However, the package is a work in progress, and acknowledges that trafficking is a growing problem. That’s why it calls for Member States to share knowledge and raise awareness on mapping criminal organisations.
“Migrant smuggling is a serious form of organised crime, and we cannot simply accept that shoving families on an overloaded boat and leaving it to Fate is a viable option.
“I would add that there is a difference between migrants and refugees, and to suggest that the EU – which has provided millions of euros in humanitarian assistance, including funding the aid convoy to Madaya – would put people in a position where they must stand on a beach and watch people drown, is completely inaccurate and utterly disrespectful to the hard work of so many brave, compassionate people.
“The EU has negotiated a quota system for 120,000 refugees over two years, which Britain has opted out of, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already said that Scotland will do its part.
“Last year, Glasgow became the first British city to accept Syrian refugees since the current crisis began. Glasgow is not alone; the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has said that all 32 local authorities will co-ordinate a response to the humanitarian crisis.”