The act of helping migrants for humanitarian reasons should not be punishable as a crime, the European Parliament stated on July 5.

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.

MEPs noted 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”.

Based on this reasoning, the MEPs called on EU members 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.

“We need clear guidelines on humanitarian assistance,” said Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), who drafted the resolution on behalf of the Civil Liberties Committee. “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.”