A Safer Path to Asylum

The majority of the 190,000 people who risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean last year are likely to be granted asylum in Europe. It is time for the European Union to separate the discussion of this humanitarian crisis from its debate about immigration and start to live up to its obligations under international law.

LONDON – In 2014, more than 190,000 people risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Europe. Some 3,500 lost the gamble, dying as they tried to traverse what has become the world's deadliest frontier. There can be no doubting that some who undertook the perilous journey did so simply to search for better-paying jobs. But the origins of those attempting the trip indicate that many are political refugees, not economic migrants.

The majority of those who crossed the Mediterranean last year come from Eritrea and Syria. Many have been formally recognized as refugees by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the countries to which they initially fled. Some 90% of those who apply for asylum in Europe are granted some sort of protection – a further testament to their status as bona fide refugees.

It is time for the European Union to separate the discussion of the crisis in the Mediterranean from its broader immigration debate. The policies, language, and response to the events unfolding on the EU's southern border must be different from those concerning the voluntary movement of job seekers from one safe country to another. Indeed, the proper context of the discussion is European countries' obligations under international refugee law.

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