The Irish Refugee Council has urged European countries, including Ireland, to develop more safe and legal pathways to enable people fleeing persecution to find safety in this continent.

In a statement, the council said if the needless loss of human life which was discovered in Essex is connected to forced migration, it brings into sharp focus "the desperate need for safe and legal pathways to protection and migration".

It said it is now time for "self-reflection and outrage" at the role which EU policies and deals are playing in the avoidable loss of human life.

It says no person should find themselves in a situation where they feel that their only choice is to pay smugglers to transport them on dangerous and arduous journeys with no guarantees for their safety.

The charity, which works with and for people seeking protection under international law here, notes that little is known at this stage about the 39 people found dead in Essex or what fate led them to be in the lorry's container.

But the council said people seeking asylum are often compelled to take similar life-threatening journeys because of the clear absence of safe alternatives. 

"As new deals shut down routes," it says, "and (as) fences and walls go up, people are finding new ways and methods to reach places of safety".

The best-known EU deal on this issue was struck with Turkey in March 2016 in order to stem the flow of  the number of asylum-seekers crossing the Aegean Sea into Greece.

The statement recalls that since 2014, the deaths of 18,898 migrants have been registered in the Mediterranean alone, a sea which, it says, continues to be the most dangerous crossing in the world. 

The council adds that it is very likely that countless other, unrecorded lives were lost while Europe contunued to focus on stemming migration flows.

It says that until more proactive responses and solutions are implemented which open up safe and legal ways for people to escape persecution, people will continue making such hazardous journeys. 

It says that while Ireland has taken steps to develop safe and legal pathways to protection, it and other European countries can do more. 

The council lists legal channels of migration which would ensure that men, women and children are not putting their lives at risk to reach Europe:

  • Humanitarian visa and admission programmes
  • Government commitments to accept more asylum seekers and refugees under the EU relocation and resettlement schemes
  • Fair family reunification processes 
  • And other legal channels such as student visas and work permits

The statement said people fleeing persecution perceive Europe as a safe destination, free from violence and a place where their rights should be protected.

Adding that Europeans have rightly been critical and outraged by what it calls "actions in the US of late", the council says it is now time for self-reflection and outrage at the role which  EU policies and deals are playing in causing the avoidable loss of human life.

"Thirty-nine people are gone. Thirty-nine families will grieve their loss", the statement concludes.