Europe’s Asylum and Migration Crisis

Publié: 22 janvier 2015

Chatham House, London

Date: Thursday 22 January


- Prof. Elspeth Guild, Queen Mary University of London; Partner, Kingsley Napley

- John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director, Amnesty International

- Sue Le Mesurier, Global Migration Advisor, IFRC


- Matthew Price, Chief Correspondent, Today Programme, BBC Radio 4

On behalf of the IFRC and its 189 National Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak on this timely and critical issue.

Working with and for vulnerable migrants is rooted in our Red Cross Red Crescent fundamental principles and we have consistently called for states to ensure safe and effective legal avenues to the EU territory and allow migrants to exercise their right to international protection. 

Only last week Gerald Schöpfer, President of the Austrian Red Cross expressed concern regarding the current inhumane methods of people smugglers. He noted that the smuggling of migrants is just one of many negative outcomes of current border policies which in effect criminalise asylum seekers trying to reach Europe. 

For a long time, the Red Cross has been calling for a harmonized and a more humane and accessible EU asylum policy.  Current migration and border policies produce an unacceptable level of suffering as well as create ideal conditions for criminal organizations. However this is not just a European phenomenon.

Each year, hundreds of thousands from Central America risk life and limb, riding atop dangerous rail cars on what is known as La Bestia, or the Beast, trying to reach the US.

In Africa, you can find up to 300 migrants packed onto a single truck at a time, passing through Niger on a 600-mile journey across the desert in sweltering heat.

In Sana’a you can find a baby crawling on the dusty floor – too young to share in his mother’s despair as she awaits their deportation from Yemen to Ethiopia.

They are floating in the middle of the Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean, stuffed into shipping containers and aboard leaky vessels bound for rugged shores.

You can find them behind bars and in holding centers around the world – the undocumented, the irregular, the unwanted.

These are the most vulnerable migrants and those whom the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have pledged to help.

Desperate people risk their lives by taking unsafe boat trips. Increasingly, they also face loss of family links, exploitation, abuse and violence during their journey. In 2014 over 170,000 people arrived in Italy by sea (compared with 43,000 in 2013) and it is estimated that over 4077[1] people died in the Mediterranean over the same period.

At the 31st Red Cross and Red Crescent  International Conference in 2011, States undertook to ensure that “national procedures at international borders, especially those that might result in denial of access to international protection, deportation or interdiction of persons, include adequate safeguards to guarantee the dignity and safety of all migrants”.



What the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement does for vulnerable migrants varies from one place to another, depending on their needs and the challenges they face along their journey.

For example, the Italian Red Cross volunteers and staff work tirelessly to address the needs of migrants on arrival. Providing drinking water, warm food, helping them contact their relatives, provide transport to hospitals and assisting those with hypothermia, illnesses or injuries. Last year more than 112,000 individuals, (including an increasing number of women and unaccompanied children) were assisted at Italian borders by the Red Cross.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement  also advocates that migrants should be able to maintain contact with their families.

The need for contact… the need to know where your loved ones are, is one of the things we take for granted. But time and again, what you discover as someone who works for the Red Cross, is that it is perhaps THE most basic and fundamental need that people have. Before they want a drink of water, or anything to eat. Before they want a blanket or a roof over their heads. They want to know: Is my son okay? Is my daughter safe?

And it is to answer these questions that, in addition to all of the other activities, one of the most important things the Red Cross does for migrants is help reconnect them with their families.

Migrants will continue to arrive at international borders for multiple reasons and with different vulnerabilities. They should always be treated with humanity, regardless of their legal status. People fleeing conflict and persecution must have access to fair asylum and humanitarian protection procedures.

Migration can no longer be considered exclusively as an exceptional, emergency situation.

At a recent conference in Brussels[2], the Vice-President of the IFRC and President of the Italian Red Cross, Mr Francesco Rocca stated that, “the challenge now is to move from an emergency situation to a structured approach to migration’(…) ‘the future EU migration agenda should be led by a humanitarian imperative rather than economic interests. It should focus on reducing the vulnerabilities of all migrants’.

The use of large cargo ships is a new trend, but it is part of an ongoing and worrying situation that can no longer be ignored. We need urgent concerted action in the Mediterranean Sea, increasing efforts to rescue people at sea and stepping up efforts to provide legal alternatives to dangerous voyages. Without safer ways for migrants to find safety in Europe, we won't be able to reduce the multiple risks and dangers posed by these movements.

More needs to be done to save lives along the hazardous routes, at sea, in deserts and mountainous regions. Safeguards with regard to the human rights of migrants should not only be guaranteed but must be properly implemented.

Based on our longstanding practical experience of providing humanitarian assistance to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, we[3] have made a number of recommendations as part of the public consultation process to the European Commission on the future of Home Affairs policies. [4]

These recommendations are guided by our belief that a truly open Europe should be based on clear values and principles, and that the aim of the European Home affairs agenda should be to reduce the vulnerabilities of all migrants.

In conclusion

Human migration is a fundamental part of the human condition, and migrants will continue to take hazardous journeys where they have no other options; they will continue to put their lives at risk despite all efforts to stop them. We, the Red Cross Movement in partnership with others, need to do more to ensure safe journeys, and we need to do more to ensure safe arrivals of all migrants not only on the Mediterranean Sea but globally along the migration journey and at international borders.

We need to do more to respect the families’ right to know the fate of those who lose their lives at sea by improving identity data collection and sharing. Acting on its Fundamental Principle of Humanity, the Red Cross and Red Crescents’ work to protect life and human dignity is even more paramount in these tragic circumstances.

Finally, I would like to quote from Francesco Rocca again, “We will never grow tired of voicing out our disdain with regards to migrant tragedies and asking European institutions for a concrete commitment to avoid them.  We will never grow tired of asking for safe access for those who flee conflict, who are in need and seek protection: it is unacceptable that these tragedies continue to happen.”

To say that the issues surrounding vulnerable migrants are complex, is an understatement. There are no easy answers, as all of you in this room know too well.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, however pledges that we will continue to work together to come up with solutions to these seemingly intractable problems.... Because we must do more than talk. We must act.

As humanitarians, we owe it to the little boy, the young girl, the frightened mother or the desperate father who, during the time it took me to give this speech, set off on a dangerous and unpredictable journey towards the unknown.

Thank you


[1] IOM

[2] `Promoting a humanitarian approach within the European Union Migration Agenda’

[3] IFRC and National Red Cross Societies of the Member States of the European Union

[4] ‘An open and safe Europe – what next?’