The leaders of Germany and France have called for unity across Europe to address a series of crises facing the continent.
In speeches before the European Parliament Wednesday in Strasbourg, both leaders said that more cooperation was needed to settle tens of thousands of migrants and refugees arriving in the 28-member bloc.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of a common approach to refugee policy, protecting EU borders and deporting those who arrive, but do not meet the conditions for asylum. The bloc should not “succumb to the temptation of falling back into acting in nationalistic terms,” Merkel said.
France’s President Francois Hollande said Europe needs to strengthen its common policies, but should remain a diverse alliance of sovereign states. Hollande said that it would be a “tragic error” to call into question Europe’s open borders.
Meanwhile, the European Union started a new operation in the southern Mediterranean Sea Wednesday to intercept human trafficking boats trying to enter the bloc illegally.
"Operation Sophia" began with naval vessels given permission to board, search, and seize vessels suspected of human trafficking.
In the past, the EU has focused on search-and-rescue operations - but with this year's overwhelming flood of migrants from Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere, thousands have ended up dying at sea while trying to reach European shores.
Reports say more than 130,000 migrants have crossed to Europe from the North African coast this year. But 2,700 of them are believed to have drowned while making the dangerous journey.
Call for rights protection
On Tuesday the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) called on EU member states to ensure that all discussions of migration policy are grounded on the need to protect the human rights of all migrants.
Speaking ahead of a October 8 meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed particular concerns about the nature of the ‘hotspot’ approach, driven by countries’ security agenda.
“While we welcome the efforts of the EU to offer support to the frontline member states receiving large numbers of migrants, states must ensure that these ‘hotspots’ are not, in effect, detention centers in disguise,” the high commissioner said.
Italy and Greece have both reduced the use of immigration detention. Italy will be the first to begin relocating refugees on Friday – a group of Eritreans – under an EU plan to ease the burden of Europe’s most severe migrant crisis since World War II.