SOS in a bottle: Europe urged to ensure better conditions for migrants


The boat is to remind MEPs, EU governments and member states of the thousands of immigrants who die every year in the Mediterranean.

The bottle contains a petition signed by over 70,000 European citizens to call for better protection of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers at EU borders.

These are the two symbolic messages Amnesty International has chosen for an SOS to Europe, regarding those who try to reach the continent by sea or land, and too often die during the journey.

Last week, the human rights organisation staged a protest in front of the European Parliament, using an emblematic refugee boat and delivering a big bottle with the petition to a group of MEPs.

What Amnesty International is asking for is more transparency and accountability of controls over the authorities at the EU borders. Those borders are, according to Amnesty, like ‘no man’s lands’ which too often are not supervised so to ensure the human rights of migrants.


Out of sight, out of mind

Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International’s EU office, points the finger on the efforts Europe is making to prevent migrants, asylum seekers and refugees even to set foot on Europe’s territories rather than focusing on meeting their fundamental rights.

“With this action we are putting Europe to shame,” he said. “Migrants suffer the impacts of being out of sight, out of mind. Experiencing conflicts and grinding poverty, they are often left with no option rather than setting out on journeys on unseaworthy boats.”


The Mediterranean is a cemetery

According to Fortress Europe, a blog run by the Italian journalist Gabriele Del Grande and which serves as watchdog of what’s happening at the European southern borders, at least 18,673 people have died in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic over the last 25 years while attempting to migrate.

The blog suggests that these deaths could have been avoided if the EU had a more sensitive migration policy that treated migrants as human beings and not as unwanted objects to be pushed back or diverted.

With its ‘SOS Europe’ campaign, Amnesty International is asking the EU to respect its own laws, for instance, putting an end to the push backs or “refoulment” and to collective deportations.

The Amnesty International’s appeal is very timely, as the EU is finalising a new set of rules on procedures for asylum seekers. Anneliese Baldaccini, policy officer at Amnesty International EU, said the new package is a step forward in the right direction, but could and should have gone further.

“We welcome the harmonisation that the new legislation will bring about, and some of the existing gaps have actually been filled, but more ambition was very much needed and, to some extent, the new rules even make things worse,” she said.

“For instance, they explicitly allow for asylum seekers’ detention under certain circumstances, which is outrageous, and don’t protect adequately the rights of unaccompanied minors. All in all it’s a wasted opportunity to really raise existing standards”.


Open access to detention centres

Also last week, the Open Access campaign was launched at the European Parliament, to obtain unlimited and unconditional access to immigrants’ detention facilities for MEPs, the media and civil society.

Every year, over 600,000 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are detained in centres where life is often harder than in prisons.

These centres are meant to be places were irregular migrants are kept for a limited period of time before being expelled, but in practice only about half of them is subject to expulsions, while hundreds of thousands are kept behind bars, sometimes for up to 18 months, before being released with an order to leave the country.

Migreurop and the European Alternatives Networks, the two organisations which have set up the campaign, have planned MEPs’ visits to detention centers in several European countries from April to June, to ensure transparency on how these centres operate.