Category Archives: News

Record Number of Migrant Deaths at Sea Off Yemen in 2014

From Al Jazeera: the UNHCR estimates that over 82,000 people reached Yemen from the Horn of Africa in 2104, compared to 65,000 in 2013. “The number of Africans who perished off Yemen’s coast this year is bigger than the last three years combined, the UN said…. The yearly tally for 2014 reached 223, exceeding the combined total for the previous three years of 179, according to UN figures.”

Click here for article.

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Filed under Gulf of Aden, News, Statistics, Yemen

Frontex: Update on Operation Triton; Growing Use of Larger Vessels by Smugglers

Frontex last week released updated information on Operation Triton since its launch on 1 November. Frontex also reported on the growing use by smugglers of older freighters and cargo vessels which are being obtained primarily in south-eastern Turkey and which are being used by smugglers to transport larger numbers of migrants – as occurred yesterday with the rescue of 500-700 migrants on board the Moldovan flagged Blue Sky M between Greece and Italy.

Excerpts from the Frontex statement:

“Since the launch on November 1st of Operation Triton, the Frontex-coordinated mission in the central Mediterranean, some 11,400 migrants have been rescued, about 10,000 of them in situations characterised as “distressed,” in 77 separate Search and Rescue incidents at sea. Although significantly smaller than the number recorded during the August peak – when some 28,000 migrants were detected on this route – this level of traffic is still unprecedented for wintertime….”

“In a rapid adaptation of strategy that has become their hallmark, the smugglers have started using much larger boats. These are typically decommissioned freighters, up to 75m long, procured in the ports of south-eastern Turkey, notably Mersin: a departure point still connected by ferry to the Syrian port of Latakia, making it reachable for the tens of thousands of Syrians still fleeing the conflict in their country. The freighters, repaired and manned by crews sometimes hired from as far away as Russia, are piloted via Cyprus and Crete towards Italy, which remains the EU destination of choice for refugees from the Middle East.”

[Editor’s note: yesterday’s incident involving the rescue by Italian authorities of the Moldovan cargo ship Blue Sky M carrying hundreds of migrants would seem to be one such example; AIS tracking information from Marine Traffic shows that the Blue Sky M spent approximately five days (20-25 December) sailing in circles off the south-eastern Turkish coast before it began sailing towards western Greece. See screen capture of ship’s path from Marine Traffic below.]

“A place on a freighter from Turkey costs at least three times the price of a ticket on the usual sea route from Libya. And yet the migrants are willing to pay. Travelling this way not only circumvents the considerable danger of capsizing in a small boat in rough seas: it also avoids having to go to Libya. The departure point of choice for facilitator networks in 2014, this increasingly lawless North African nation appears to have become too dangerous an operating environment even for the criminal gangs….”

“For all its advantages, though, the new route from Turkey is not without dangers. The engines of the old ships are often highly unreliable. In the last six weeks alone, one freighter has been found drifting near Cyprus; another was rescued 30 miles off Crete; still others, off the Italian coast. The danger of shipwreck is greatly increased by the smugglers’ habit of switching off the freighter’s AIS (the Automatic Identification System with which all boats over 300 tonnes, as well as all passenger ships, are equipped). The effect is to make the boat electronically invisible to the Italian search and rescue authorities – a stratagem that buys time for the smuggling crew to escape by fast launch and thus avoid arrest.”

“Frontex has discerned another worrying recent trend: some 30% of all migrants rescued at sea in September and October were picked up by civilian shipping – the vast majority of them, 52 incidents, off the coast of Libya. The smugglers have learned to time the departure of migrant boats so that they cross the paths of merchant ships heading for the EU. When a distress call is transmitted, the merchant ship, being the nearest, is obliged by international maritime law to go to the rescue – and then disembarks them at the next port of call.”

Click here for full statement.

Screen capture from Marine Traffic showing path of Blue Sky M from 20-25 December 2014.

Screen capture from Marine Traffic showing path of Blue Sky M from 20-25 December 2014.

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Filed under Frontex, Migrants, News, Refugees

UNHCR: Significant Increase in Deaths at Sea Off Yemen Coincides with Increasing Numbers of Migrants Reaching Yemen by Boat

Excerpts from UNHCR press statement 17 Oct. 2104: “[T]here has been a sharp increase this year in the number of migrants and asylum-seekers losing their lives in attempts to get to Yemen, mainly from the Horn of Africa, with more deaths at sea in 2014 than in the last three years combined. One of the recent tragic incidents took place on 2 October when 64 migrants and three crew died when their vessel, sailing from Somalia, sank in the Gulf of Aden. Since, then five more deaths bring the yearly tally for 2014 to 215, exceeding the combined total for 2011, 2012 and 2013 of 179….

The latest deaths come amidst a dramatic increase in the number of new arrivals to Yemen by boat in September. At 12,768, it marks the single biggest month for arrivals since current records began to be kept in 2002. Most of the migrants are Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans.

Factors behind the surge are believed to include ongoing drought in South-Central Somalia, as well as the combined effects of conflict, insecurity, and lack of livelihood opportunities in countries of origin. Moreover, “the surge can also be attributed to a decreasing level of cooperation between the countries in the region to better manage migratory movements,” [UNHCR spokesperson James] Spindler said….”

Click here for full UNHCR statement.

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Filed under Data / Stats, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gulf of Aden, News, Somalia, UNHCR, Yemen

Interview with Frontex Director Laitinen

Several months ago the Finnish newspaper Fifi Voima published an interview with Frontex Director Ilkka Laitinen.  It is an interesting article if you read Finnish or use a translator (unfortunately Google translate does not handle Finnish well).

One interesting point from the article is Director Laitinen’s clear insistence that Frontex is not legally capable of violating human rights.  This is not a new position on the part of Frontex, but the Director is very emphatic in his position.  When asked about who could be held responsible for rights violations that might occur during Frontex coordinated joint operations, the Director indicated that Frontex is of the opinion that the operation and any potential human rights violations taking place are the responsibility of the Member States, not Frontex .

[Kenen vastuu?

Frontex koordinoi EU:n jäsenmaiden yhteisiä operaatioita maalla, merellä ja ilmassa. Käytännössä kyse on siitä, että esimerkiksi suomalaiset rajavartijat partioivat Välimerellä ja saksalaiset Kreikan ja Turkin rajalla paikallisten mukana. Kunkin operaation johdossa on yksi EU-valtio.

Frontexin kanta on, että operaatiosta ja niissä tapahtuvista mahdollisista ihmisoikeusloukkauksista ovat vastuussa jäsenmaat, ei Frontex.

Ilkka Laitinen ei esimerkiksi anna takuita siitä, etteikö hänen johtamansa viraston koordinoimissa operaatioissa ole käännytetty laittomasti siirtolaisveneitä Välimerellä. Hän perustelee tätä sillä, että vastuu toimista on jäsenmailla.]

Click here for link to article “Miehemme rajalla.”

 

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EU Mediterranean States Oppose Provisions of Proposed Frontex Sea Borders Regulation Relating to Rescue and Disembarkation

[16 Oct. UPDATE: The document from the six states opposing the proposed Regulation is available here.]

One week ago Commissioner Cecilia Malmström called for an “extensive Frontex search and rescue operation that would cover the Mediterranean from Cyprus to Spain.” Yesterday the ANSA news service reported that all six EU Mediterranean states (Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, France and Spain) have voiced opposition to the proposed Frontex Sea Borders Regulation (COM(2013) 197 final) and specifically to Articles 9 and 10 relating to “Search and Rescue Situations” and “Disembarkation.” ANSA reported that the six member states “expressed disapproval of the draft and called it ‘unacceptable for practical and legal reasons’.”  The six countries have reportedly taken the position that there is no need for further regulations pertaining to rescue at sea or post-rescue places of disembarkation since other international laws already “deal ‘amply’ with the matters.”

As you may recall, the earlier version of the Frontex Sea Borders Rule in the form of a Decision was adopted by the European Council in 2010 (Decision 2010/252/EU).  The Decision was subsequently annulled by the Court of Justice of the European Union on the ground that it introduced new essential elements into the Schengen Borders Code by way of the provisions on interception, rescue and disembarkation and that such substantive changes required the consideration and approval of the European Parliament. (European Parliament v Council of the European Union, Case C-355/10, 5 Sept. 2012). The proposed replacement for the annulled Decision is in the form of a Regulation but is fairly similar in content.

While the ANSA report does not identify the specific reasons why the six states are opposing the proposal, one can speculate that the objections to Art. 9, Search and Rescue Situations, may be based on a perception that it would expand the obligation to rescue under certain circumstances.  For example the Article requires that even in the absence of a distress call, a rescue operation might still be required if other factors are present, including:

  • the seaworthiness of the ship and the likelihood that the ship will not reach its final destination;
  • the number of passengers in relation to the type and condition of the ship;
  • the availability of necessary supplies such as fuel, water, food to reach a shore;
  • the presence of passengers in urgent need of medical assistance;
  • the presence of deceased passengers;
  • the presence of pregnant women or children.

The objections by the six states to Art. 10 regarding places of disembarkation are most likely due to the states’ conflicting positions regarding where disembarkation should occur.  While Art. 10 creates a procedure for decisions regarding places of disembarkation to be made by participating member states in advance of joint operations, its provisions identify circumstances under which disembarkation in member state may occur when that state is not participating in the joint operation.  Malta and Italy in particular have long disagreed on where disembarkations are to occur.  This long standing disagreement obviously contradicts the claims made by the six opposing states that existing international laws already deal “amply” with the disembarkation issue.

Click here for ANSA article.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, Cyprus, European Union, France, Frontex, Greece, Italy, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Spain

24,000 Migrants Reach Italy by Sea Over Past 12 Months

Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano reported that 24,277 migrants have landed in Italy from 1 August 2012 to 10 August 2013.  8,932 persons have landed in the past 40 days – 1st July until 10th August 2013.

Click here , here  (IT), and here (EN) for articles.

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Filed under Data / Stats, European Union, Italy, Mediterranean, News

Italy Diverts Additional Commercial Ships to Rescue Migrants

The Italian news agency AGI reported that Italian search and rescue authorities yesterday diverted two commercial ships, the Patroclus, a Maltese oil tanker, and the Cdry White, an Italian cargo ship, to assist with the rescue of two groups of migrants.  The first group of approximately 76 migrants was rescued about 40 miles from Tripoli by an Italian coastguard vessel; the group was then transferred to the Cdry White.  The Patroclus appears to have directly rescued a group of approximately 97 migrants south of Lampedusa.  AGI reported that the two commercial ships are sailing to Trapani and Pozzallo in Sicily to disembark the rescued migrants.

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Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News