Humanitarian visas to avoid refugees’ deaths

Refugee crisis Aegan 2018

Refugees and migrants arrive on the shores of the island of Lesbos in October 2015 after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey. © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.


EU countries should be able to issue humanitarian visas at embassies and consulates abroad, so people seeking protection can access Europe without risking their life.

With 39 votes to 10, the Civil Liberties Committee agreed on Wednesday to ask the European Commission to table, by 31 March 2019, a legislative proposal establishing a European Humanitarian Visa, giving access to European territory – specifically to the member state issuing the visa – for the sole purpose of submitting an application for international protection.

MEPs stress that despite numerous announcements and requests for safe and legal pathways for asylum-seekers into Europe, the EU lacks a harmonised framework of protected entry procedures. They underline that, due to insufficient legal options, an estimated 90% of those granted international protection reached the European Union through irregular means.

Cut the death toll, combat smuggling and improve use of migration funds

According to the committee, humanitarian visas would help to address the intolerable death toll in the Mediterranean and on the migration routes to the EU (at least 30 000 persons have died at EU borders since 2000), to combat human smuggling, and to manage arrivals, reception and processing of asylum claims better.

This tool should also contribute to optimising member states’ and the EU’s budget for asylum, law enforcement procedures, border control, surveillance and search and rescue activities, MEPs say.

Security screening before issuing the visa

Beneficiaries will have to prove well-founded exposure to or risk of persecution and not be in a resettlement process already. The assessment of the application should not involve a full status determination process, but before issuing the visa, each applicant should be subject to a security screening, through the relevant national and European databases, “to ensure that they do not pose a security risk”.

Quote

Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES) , rapporteur, said: Against the background of an unacceptable death toll in the Mediterranean, the EP needs to deliver. The vote today is a limited step, but nonetheless a very important political signal to the EU Commission. We need to do more to help those human beings in need, as there are currently clearly not enough legal and safe pathways to the EU for those seeking international protection.”

Next steps

This legislative initiative will be put to a vote by the full House in the November plenary session. If adopted by plenary by qualified majority, the Commission will have to give a reasoned reply to Parliament’s request.

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