Rescued: What Next?

Interviews conducted with migrants stranded in southern Italy expose the failure of European reception systems to uphold principles of human dignity, hospitality and fairness, according to the findings of a new report by the Jesuit Refugee Service.

The report, Rescued – what next? Protection seekers stranded in Sicily, highlights how the much-heralded Common European Asylum System, with guaranteed minimum asylum and reception standards, is far from being achieved.

Crucially, the report calls for more intra-European solidarity to fund basic minimum reception services and asylum procedures, as well as search and rescue operations. Between 2007 and 2013, the EU allocated about 700 million euro to support asylum procedures, but almost 1,820 million euro for border controls.

A year after nearly 400 migrants drowned within sight of the Lampedusa coastline, the Italian search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum has saved more than 140,000 lives. But not enough has been done to meet the basic needs of asylum seekers in Europe, neither by Italy nor fellow EU states.

"We're saving people at sea because it's the right thing to do," says JRS Europe senior policy officer Stefan Kessler. "Surely it's then wrong to punish them for seeking asylum? It doesn't make sense. The EU is failing to live up to its own standards on freedom and human rights."

The voices of people who have fled conflict and persecution, from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, ring loud and clear in the report. They overwhelmingly feel excluded from Italian life and subjected to lengthy and complex administrative procedures.

"We came here to have freedom, we didn't come here to find more problems, to be shut up in an isolated place where we don't know anything, because that place is... practically in the bush," says Marcel, a resident of CARA di Mineo reception centre housing 4,000 asylum seekers in the middle of the Sicilian countryside.

"My bones hurt. I still have back pains from sleeping on the street. I slept on cardboard with no blanket or sheets," relates Kofi, whose wife and two children drowned as they attempted to join him in Europe. Kofi's experience of the reception centre was so bad he chose to go to Switzerland without documents. He was soon detained and sent back to Italy.

JRS Europe director Michael Schöpf SJ states: "Simply listening to the migrants, people who have sacrificed everything to reach safety, reveals how national and European policies have failed to respect their dignity, create employment opportunities or help their integration into local communities".

"The report should come as a wake-up call to anybody who reads it," adds Schöpf. "We cannot just focus on border security. We have an international obligation to develop fair and effective asylum systems in Europe that actually protect people and help them re-build their lives."

Download report here.

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