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David Cameron must use EU-Africa summit to promote safe routes for refugees as winter approaches

David Cameron must use a key meeting of EU and African leaders in Malta tomorrow to urge international cooperation on establishing safe and legal routes for refugees and to commit the UK to taking its fair share of those already in Europe, Amnesty International said today.

The EU-Africa Summit on Migration will take place in the Maltese capital Valletta on 11 and 12 November, and leaders are expected to agree on a joint declaration, ostensibly focusing on saving lives at sea and the protection of refugees, development, and legal migration.

However, the EU’s record on dealing with the crisis doesn’t bode well for concrete agreements on a humane and effective response to the crisis.

So far, the response of the UK – along with the vast majority of EU countries – to the influx of refugees in and on Europe’s borders has focussed on keeping people out, by preventing their arrival and facilitating their return to their countries of origin or countries they have travelled through. This approach has forced people to take ever more dangerous journeys to get to Europe, and it denies safety to those who need and are entitled to it.

Previous agreements between the EU, its member states, their neighbours and African countries have also been aimed at strengthening border controls and facilitating the return of migrants and refugees, rather than ensuring that people are protected from harm. Some of these have exposed asylum-seekers and migrants in co-operating countries to arbitrary detention, refoulement and ill-treatment.

Although agreements on sending people back should only cover irregular migrants, there are serious concerns that asylum-seekers are also being caught up in the procedures, and are being returned without access to asylum procedures. This is a particular problem in border areas where the process is speeded up and individuals have less chance to appeal against their expulsion. People being returned to transit countries risk being stranded there without legal status, and face violations of their rights, such as the right to asylum, the right to liberty, and the right to work.

Steve Symonds, Amnesty UK’s refugee expert, said:

“EU leaders and their African counterparts must use the opportunity of this meeting to establish safe and legal routes for refugees to come to Europe so that people are not forced to take their lives in their hands and embark on ever more dangerous journeys. Any further border control agreements must have respect for human rights at their heart.

“David Cameron should be leading by example here, but while the government has committed to resettle, over five years, 20,000 refugees from camps on Syria’s borders, what we’ve had from the UK so far has been overwhelmingly focused on keeping people out. This policy is undermining efforts to secure greater cooperation among countries more affected than the UK.

“Unless governments work together to address the refugee crisis, and with winter fast approaching, the crisis is going to get even worse.”

Amnesty International is calling on EU leaders to increase safe and legal routes to Europe, including through resettlement, family reunification and humanitarian admissions. This is particularly pertinent in the context of the Valletta Summit given that almost 50 percent of people arriving in Italy from North Africa are coming from the top 10 refugee-producing countries according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. Safe and legal routes must feature on the agenda of the following European Summit in Valletta and in the EU’s response to the global refugee crisis without delay.


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