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  • EU countries should ensure that humanitarian help to migrants is not treated as a crime 
  • EU Commission asked to clarify what type of help to migrants should be exempt from punishment 

The EU should ensure that helping migrants for humanitarian reasons is not punishable as a crime, the European Parliament stated on Thursday.

In a non-legislative resolution, MEPs highlight concerns that EU laws on help to irregular migrants are having “unintended consequences” for citizens that provide humanitarian assistance to migrants. The text was passed with by show of hands.

Under the 2002 “Facilitation” directive, EU member states are required to introduce laws listing criminal penalties for anyone who “facilitates” the irregular entry, transit or residence of migrants.

However, the resolution stresses that the EU legislation also gives member states the power to exempt “humanitarian” action from the list of crimes and regrets that few member states have incorporated the “humanitarian assistance” exemption into their national laws.

NGOs helping migrants at sea and on land

MEPs note that humanitarian assistance from individuals and NGOs, offered through rescue operations at sea and on land, “supports and complements life-saving actions undertaken by the competent authorities of EU member states”. MEPs stress that any action must remain within the remit established by the “Facilitation” directive, with their operations taking place under the control of national authorities.

Parliament calls on EU countries to include the “humanitarian assistance” exemption in their legislation, to ensure that individuals and civil society organisations who assist migrants for humanitarian reasons are not prosecuted for doing so.

When is “facilitation” not a crime

Finally, the resolution urges the EU Commission to issue guidelines specifying which forms of “facilitation” should not be criminalised by member states, to make sure that the law is applied with greater clarity and uniformity.

Quote

Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), who drafted the resolution on behalf of the Civil Liberties Committee, said: "We need clear guidelines on humanitarian assistance. This is key in a context where individuals and NGOs work very hard to save people at sea and help them on land. During my EP mission to Libya, NGOs have again and again explained that this is essential so that they can carry on with their work”.

Context

The role of humanitarian workers and NGOs is increasingly in the spotlight in the context of a wider political discussion about how to deal with the arrival of migrants and asylum-seekers to the EU, with some accusing them of encouraging human trafficking and of acting outside legal boundaries.

In May, a group of Spanish volunteers was acquitted in Greece of smuggling charges filed when they were helping migrants arriving on Lesvos from Turkey. Two rescue vessels managed by NGOs are currently detained in Malta and the captain of one them has been accused of lacking the necessary ship registration documents to enter Maltese waters.