MEPs discussed the recent cases of migrants smuggled in cargo ships from Turkey to Italy and abandoned at sea by the crew and other incidents in the Mediterranean with Commissioner Avramopoulos on Tuesday evening. The new routes used by smugglers, the role of the EU border agency Frontex, legal channels of migration to the EU and a comprehensive approach to migration came under the spotlight.
"The recent events clearly show that we must step up our common action" to combat the criminal organisations exploiting migrants, said Latvian Secretary of State for European Affairs Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, calling for "effective measures" against the human smugglers. "The Council looks forward to the proposals that the Commission will present" on a European agenda for migration, she added.
"If decisive and coordinated EU action is not taken the flow [of migrants] will continue", said Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos. "The European Commission is determined to take action", he added, calling for more coordination and solidarity from EU member states too. He also stressed the need for more cooperation with Turkey and African countries and urged member states to step up their efforts to enforce EU asylum rules and resettle refugees.
The "ghost ships" carry a "brutal trade in human lives", said Monika Hohlmeier (EPP, DE), calling on Turkey to work with the EU to fight organised crime more effectively. She also called for a better cooperation among member states.
"We have come to a point of no return" with an unprecedented number of people needing our assistance, said Gianni Pittella (S&D, IT). “These human lives count" and the EU should build a common policy that addresses both irregular and legal migration, he stressed.
"We need to look at strengthening border surveillance and the role of Frontex", said Timothy Kirkhope (ECR, UK), calling for tougher criminal sanctions against human smugglers.
"We are dealing with people who are fleeing war and persecution. Smugglers exploit their desperation for money", noted Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, SE). "Our job is to take this business idea away from the smugglers" and create legal paths to the EU and humanitarian visas, she said.
Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL, DE) stressed that the EU cannot ignore the root causes of migration and called for legal channels to be created so as to prevent smugglers from exploiting people in need.
Ska Keller (Greens/EFA, DE) agreed that "the only thing that will help those fleeing will be legal channels to the EU". "This is a humanitarian disaster and we have to do more", she stressed.
Gerard Batten (EFDD, UK) shared the view that tougher criminal sanctions are needed against human smugglers. He also questioned Turkey's path to EU accession.
Georgios Epitideios (NI, EL) observed that most people coming by sea were Muslims, and thought that some might have criminal intentions.
You can watch the recording of the debate on the EP website (link to the right, click on 13 January).