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Brussels, 5 August 2011

Statement of European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, on the tragic loss of lives in the Mediterranean.

In the recent days and weeks, we have been witnessing an increasing number of people fleeing Libya and trying to reach European shores, and in particular the island of Lampedusa. Many men, women and children are putting their lives at risk trying to cross the Mediterranean in boats that are often unseaworthy and in unpredictable weather conditions. An unknown number of these people are drowning in such attempts. The reported death of over one hundred people yesterday is yet another terrible example of human despair.

I am deeply saddened by these tragedies and I would like to express, on behalf of the European Commission, my sincerest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives at sea. I welcome the efforts made by the Italian authorities and the Italian people to provide help to thousands of people in distress, including many women and children, and to ensure that persons rescued at sea are disembarked and given the care they need. To help alleviate the increasing pressure on Italy, the EU has been supporting enhanced border surveillance in the central Mediterranean through the Frontex Hermes operation.

I want to underline that all vessels have an obligation to render assistance to those in distress at sea without regard to their nationality, status or the circumstances in which they are found. This is a long standing maritime tradition and an obligation under international law.

All Member States and third countries of the region must cooperate in coordinating rescue operations. They also need to find a place of safe disembarkation for those rescued. I am urging all countries and organisations that have a responsibility here to fully respect these obligations and make every effort to ensure that lives are protected.

While responding to these attempts to reach the EU, we should not forget that there are still many in North African countries in need of international protection. The Commission is making serious efforts to provide such protection in close cooperation with the countries concerned. Europe however also needs to live up to its own responsibilities. I therefore call upon Member States to engage more intensively in the resettlement of people in need of international protection. The acceleration of an EU-wide resettlement program and a greater intake of refugees, including by offering additional places and expediting departure procedures for those awaiting resettlement from the Tunisian and Egyptian border areas with Libya, would demonstrate an increased and much needed commitment to solidarity and the sharing of responsibility and would help to reduce the number of people putting their lives at risk to reach European shores.

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