Tag Archives: Interception at sea

Statewatch Analysis – “New EU rules on maritime surveillance: will they stop the deaths and push-backs in the Mediterranean?”

Statewatch last month released a new Analysis of the EU Regulation for Frontex-coordinated surveillance of external sea borders which is scheduled for a plenary vote in the European Parliament in April.  The Analysis, written by Prof. Steve Peers, Univ. of Essex Law School, reviews the enhanced protections to be afforded to intercepted or rescued migrants relative to the earlier Council Decision which was annulled by the CJEU.  The Analysis also highlights concerns with various provisions within the Regulation, including:

  • One significant concern with the Regulation is due to the fact that “the Regulation does not contemplate the scenario of migrants being intercepted in the territorial waters of third States.”  (Frenzen’s Note: This raises a serious concern in regard to the push-back and interception practices which have been carried out for many years within the territorial waters of Mauritania and Senegal within Frontex’s Operation Hera.  Additionally, prior to the Libyan revolution, Libya authorised Italy to conduct joint maritime patrols within Libyan territorial waters.  It is safe to assume that Frontex and some EU Member States will continue to seek the ability to intercept migrant boats within the territorial waters of third States.);
  • While the Regulation requires that migrants intercepted in the territorial sea or contiguous zone of an EU Member State be disembarked in that Member State, “this [requirement] is subject to a crucial exception: it is possible under the Regulation that a vessel that has made it this close to a Member State could still be ordered to alter course towards another destination.”;
  • While the bulk of the EU’s asylum legislation does not apply [to interceptions which occur outside of the territorial sea of a Member State,] the EU’s qualification Directive does – since there is nothing in the text of that Directive to limit its territorial scope. But the wording of the Regulation is confusing in this regard, since it does not refer to the detailed text of that Directive but rather to general standards on non-refoulement, which are different from that Directive in some respects….”;
  • Member States are required to “use all means” to identify intercepted migrants, assess their particular circumstances, and inform them of the intended place of disembarkation, in order to give the migrants the opportunity to assert a non-refoulement claim.  The Regulation states that the Frontex operational plan, “where necessary,” must provide for interpreters and legal advisors on shore. “[T]he Council Presidency points out the ‘wiggle room’ granted by the words ‘where necessary’ and ‘use all means.’”

Click here or here for Statewatch Analysis.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, Analysis, Eastern Atlantic, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Mediterranean, Senegal, Spain

ECtHR Grand Chamber to Deliver Judgement in Hirsi v Italy on 23 February

The decision in Hirsi and others v Italy, Requête no 27765/09, is scheduled to be released by the Grand Camber of the European Court of Human Rights next Thursday, 23 February.  The case was filed on 26 May 2009 by 11 Somalis and 13 Eritreans who were among the first group of about 200 migrants interdicted by Italian authorities and summarily returned to Libya under the terms of the Libya-Italy agreement which took effect on 4 February 2009.  The Applicants were intercepted on 6 May 2009 approximately 35 miles south of Lampedusa.   On 17 November 2009 the Second Section of the Court communicated the case and then subsequently relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber.  The argument before the Grand Chamber occurred on 22 June 2011.

Today’s statement from the CoE web site:

“Human rights judges will soon deliver their judgement in a case which involved Italy intercepting Somalian and Eritrean migrants at sea and returning them to Libya.  The European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber final judgment in the case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy (application no. 27765/09), is expected at a public hearing scheduled for Thursday 23 February.

Principal facts

The applicants are 11 Somalian and 13 Eritrean nationals. They were part of a group of about 200 people who left Libya in 2009 on board three boats bound for Italy. On 6 May 2009, when the boats were 35 miles south of Lampedusa (Agrigento), within the maritime search and rescue region under the responsibility of Malta, they were intercepted by Italian Customs and Coastguard vessels. The passengers were transferred to the Italian military vessels and taken to Tripoli.

The applicants say that during the journey the Italian authorities did not tell them where they were being taken, or check their identity. Once in Tripoli they were handed over to the Libyan authorities.

At a press conference on 7 May 2009 the Italian Minister of the Interior explained that the interception of the vessels on the high seas and the return of the migrants to Libya was in accordance with the bilateral agreements with Libya that entered into force on 4 February 2009, marking a turning point in the fight against illegal immigration.

Complaint

The applicants consider that their case falls within the jurisdiction of Italy. Relying on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), they argue that the decision of the Italian authorities to send them back to Libya exposed them to the risk of ill-treatment there, as well as to the serious threat of being sent back to their countries of origin (Somalia and Eritrea), where they might also face ill-treatment.

They also complain that they were subjected to collective expulsion prohibited by Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 (prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens) of the Convention. Lastly, relying on Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), they complain that they had no effective remedy against the alleged violations of Article 3 and Article 4 of Protocol No. 4.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 26 May 2009.

On 15 February 2011 the Chamber to which the case had been allocated relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber. A hearing took place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg on 22 June 2011.

The following have been authorised to intervene as a third party (under Article 36 § 2 of the Convention):

- the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

- the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,

- the non-governmental organisations Aire Center, Amnesty International, and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH),

- the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch, and

- the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic.”

Click here for CoE Statement.

Click here for Press Statement from ECtHR.

Click here for previous post on the argument before the Grand Chamber.

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Frattini Says Migrant Repatriation Agreement to be Signed Tomorrow with Libyan National Transitional Council

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said earlier today that an agreement would be signed tomorrow between the Italian government and the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC).  While no specific details of the agreement are being reported yet, the agreement will supposedly commit the NTC to taking steps to prevent the departure of migrants and also includes a repatriation agreement.  Frattini also said that the UNHCR will be a party to the agreement.  Frattini is quoted as saying that “unlike what happened with Gaddafi this agreement sees the UNHCR fully involved.”

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

[Update: UNHCR has expressed suprise at Frattini's statement and said that it has no invovlement with this new agreement.]

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Frattini Says He Expects Libyan Rebels Will Soon Take Steps to Stop Migrant Departures

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said during a TV interview earlier today that “the [Libyan] rebels have said they will keep the international commitments of the Libyan state” relating to illegal immigration (”I ribelli hanno detto che manterranno gli impegni internazionali dello stato libico…”) and that he expects an “important political signal [from the rebels] in the coming days.”  (“Mi aspetto da parte loro un segnale politico importante gia’ nei prossimi giorni”.)

Libyan rebel leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has previously said that a post-Gaddafi Libyan Government would respect “all agreements with Italy by the [Gaddafi] regime, including those involving combating illegal migration and oil contracts with Eni.” Specifically, Jalil has said that the rebels would “respect the Italian-Libyan Treaty signed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. … Any treaty or agreement [which was done] we respect it” and “we will try to implement the treaties.”

Click here, here, or here for article. (IT)

Click here for previous post on Jalil’s statement.

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Moreno-Lax, Int J Refugee Law, “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea”

The latest edition of the International Journal of Refugee Law, contains an article by Violeta Moreno-Lax (PhD Candidate at Université catholique de Louvain; Visiting Fellow 2010-11 at Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford) entitled “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea.”

Abstract: “Although both international and EU law impose a number of obligations on the EU Member States with regard to persons in distress at sea, their effective implementation is limited by the manner in which they are being interpreted. The fact that the persons concerned are migrants, who may seek asylum upon rescue, has given rise to frequent disputes and to episodes of non-compliance. Frontex missions and the Italian 2009 push-back campaign illustrate the issue. With the objective of clarifying the scope of common obligations and to establish minimum operational arrangements for joint maritime operations, the EU has adopted a set of common guidelines for the surveillance of the external maritime borders. On the basis of the principle of systemic interpretation, this article intends to contribute to the clarification of the main obligations in international and European law binding upon the EU Member States when they operate at sea.”

This is a revised and updated version of the paper presented at the 12th IASFM Conference held in Nicosia, 28 June-2 July 2009.  [The article was written and sent for typesetting before the various uprisings in North Africa - IJRL Editor, 4 March 2011]

Click here for link.  (Subscription or payment required.)

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Interview with Frontex Spokesperson Michal Parzyszek

Frontex spokesperson Michal Parzyszek was interviewed by the Sofia News Agency on 27 May.  Here are some excerpts:

Current Frontex sea operations: “Operation Hera, which is in the territorial waters of Senegal and Mauritania; Operation Indalo in Spanish waters; Operation Hermes in Italian waters; Operation Aeneas in Italian waters; Operation Poseidon in Greek waters.”

Frontex operations in Italy: “The help on part of Frontex in the southern waters, including in Italy, is more on providing risk analysis – to give a better idea of what is going on, and what can happen.  …  So in terms of [Frontez] assets, there are just two airplanes and two boats which are deployed there under Frontex in the waters south of Sardinia and south of Lampedusa.  …  There are 10-15 Frontex experts that are identifying the migrants once they reach the reception facilities there. They are deployed to Caltanissetta, Catania, Trapani, Crotone, and Bari….”

Arrivals to Lampedusa:  “It varies every day. You have days when you have no arrivals, and then suddenly you have 1 000 people arriving to Lampedusa. Since the start of the operation on February 20, 2011, there have been almost 31 000 people that arrived to Lampedusa.”

Irregular migrants prefer entering Greece rather than Bulgaria: “… In the case of Greece, a readmission agreement with Turkey doesn’t truly work; in the case of Bulgaria, the cooperation with Turkey is much better so the Turkish authorities – if they receive proper documentation and justification – they accept people back.  This is a very important element – potential migrants know that if they cross the border between Turkey and Bulgaria, there is high probability that they will be sent back to Turkey so they don’t choose that way….”

(HT to Euro-Police.)

Click here for full interview.

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Frontex Deployment, Repatriation Practices, and Diplomacy Are Responsible For Halting Migrant Arrivals in Canary Islands

From Europa Press: Juan Martinez, Chief Inspector of the Spanish National Police’s  Illegal Immigration Network and False Document Unit (UCRIF – Unidad Contra las Redes de Inmigración Ilegal y Falsedades Documentales), attributes the significant decline in the arrival of migrant boats in the Canary Islands to the deployment of Frontex, diplomatic management in the countries of origin, and repatriation policies.  The article notes the first migrant boat arrival in the Canaries in 1994, the peak years of 2006-2008, and the ensuing practices which have halted further migrant arrivals.

Click here (ES) for article.

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PACE Delegation Completes Visit to Lampedusa

A delegation from the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population has just completed a two day visit to Lampedusa.  The members of the delegation were Christopher Chope (United Kingdom, EDG), Chair of the Migration Committee, Giacomo Santini (Italy, EPP/CD), First Vice-Chair of the Migration Committee, Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), Chair of the Sub-Committee on Refugees, Tina Acketoft (Sweden, ALDE), and Annette Groth (Germany, UEL).  The delegation reported that while the situation in Lampedusa in regard to newly arriving migrants is under control when compared with the situation earlier in the year, the “reception facilities on Lampedusa were inadequate for longer stays – especially for vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children – and that transfers to better-equipped centres elsewhere in Italy should be carried out within days: ‘In particular, the situation of the Tunisians that have been on the island in detention-like conditions for almost three weeks should be dealt with as soon as possible.’”

The delegation also said that “[t]he arrivals to Lampedusa are not the sole responsibility of a tiny island. There have been enough calls for responsibility-sharing and for solidarity. It is time that Europe acted on them. … Too many have already died at sea trying to reach Europe.  …  Europe must try to protect asylum seekers and refugees in a way that they are not forced to risk their lives first.”

Click here for PACE statement.

Click here for earlier announcement of the visit.

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Malta Confirms that it Will Not Host Frontex Mission

The Sunday Times of Malta reports that Malta has again declined to host a Frontex mission because Malta objects to the rules of engagement for such missions which require under certain circumstances that intercepted migrants be brought to the territory of the Member State hosting the mission.  “‘If Frontex changes its mind and manages to convince the other member states about the rules of engagement for the mission it wants to hold in Malta, we will reconsider our position. However, at this stage, we have ruled out the possibility of hosting a Frontex mission’ said [Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici.]”  “Frontex sources said other member states had been sounded out on Malta’s demand to have different rules for its mission based on the ‘closest safe port’ concept. However, the Warsaw-based agency failed to convince them.”

Click here for article.

Click here, here, and here for previous posts on the Malta–Frontex negotiations.

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Maltese JHA Minister: Migrant Boats Have Rights of Passage and Rescue Not Always Needed

Maltese Justice and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici is quoted by AP as saying that migrant boats leaving Libya “have the right of passage and nobody can stop them, not even our forces or a NATO ship.  As long as [the boats] are not in distress, then [there] is no issue.”

While Mifsud Bonnici’s observation about the right of passage in international waters is technically correct, given that all or virtually all of the migrant boats that have left Libya in recent weeks have been severely overloaded, all migrant boats leaving North Africa under the current situation should be considered to be in distress and in need of rescue.  Migrant boats departing from Libya with few exceptions must pass through the Maltese Search and Rescue Area and Malta should not avoid its rescue at sea obligations under international law by claiming that it is respecting a vessel’s right of passage.  The UNHCR has called upon “states, commercial shipping companies and others present in the Mediterranean to consider that all boats leaving Libya for Europe are likely to require assistance.”

Click here or here for AP article.

Click here for UNHCR statement.

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Tunisia Intercepts / Rescues Migrant Boat Fleeing Libya

Tunisian Coast Guard and Army units (les unités de la garde maritime et de l’armée nationale) intercepted and rescued 222 people on board a migrant boat that left Libya and was attempting to sail to Italy.  The incident occurred on Saturday, 14 May.  The migrant boat was intercepted near Djerba and had reportedly made a distress call because it was taking on water.  The people on board the boat were reportedly all sub-Saharan Africans and they have been taken to the Tunisian camp at Choucha (Shusha).

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

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Maltese JHA Minister Doubts Migrants Are Being Pushed to Flee Libya

An article in the Malta Independent says that Maltese Justice and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici believes it is unlikely that the asylum seekers who have reached Malta in recent weeks have been forced by anyone to flee Libya.  His view is at odds with the statements being made by some of the migrants who have recently arrived in both Lampedusa and Malta.

Mifsud Bonnici “said that he doesn’t think the thousands who have fled from the north African country so far have done so because they were pushed by some people. ‘I don’t think there are any people who are benefiting from this exodus of immigrants to Europe. From the information we have, there is no evidence to suggest that people are being pushed into boats and sent towards Europe. Most immigrants have sought pastures new simply because they fear for their lives. As I have said time and time before, this latest wave of immigration is different to what we have experienced before. Quite a lot of the immigrants who have come to Europe by boat over the past few weeks came with their families, are university graduates, and have a lot of work experience behind them,’ Dr Mifsud Bonnici said.”  The latest boat arrival in Malta carried mostly Libyan nationals.  Over 1100 persons have landed in Malta over the past six weeks.

Click here for article.

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PACE President Calls for Inquiry into Europe’s Role in Deaths of 61 Boat People

Full Text:

“Strasbourg, 09.05.2011 – Mevlüt Çavusoglu, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), today expressed his distress and deep concern following reports that 61 boat people have died after their appeals for rescue were ignored. Reportedly, their boat was left to drift in the Mediterranean for 16 days.

‘If this grave accusation is true – that, despite the alarm being raised, and despite the fact that this boat, fleeing Libya, had been located by armed forces operating in the Mediterranean, no attempt was made to rescue the 72 passengers aboard, then it is a dark day for Europe as a whole,’ he declared.

‘I call for an immediate and comprehensive inquiry into the circumstances of the deaths of the 61 people who perished, including babies, children and women who – one by one – died of starvation and thirst while Europe looked on,’ he added.

‘At the same time, we have also witnessed acts of solidarity: over 400 boat people were rescued yesterday by the Italian coastguard, with the help of Lampedusa’s inhabitants,’ he said. ‘This is something Europe should be proud of.’

‘Finally, Europe should stop exaggerating the impact of these arrivals. Libya’s neighbouring countries, mainly Egypt and Tunisia, are dealing with over 650 000 refugees who have fled the conflict there. In a spirit of solidarity and of burden-sharing, the 27 EU member states should at least be able to deal, in a humane way and in compliance with their international obligations, with the arrival by boat of several thousand,’ Mr Çavusoglu added.

‘Our Assembly will be sending a delegation to Lampedusa on 23-24 May 2011 to evaluate the situation there, ahead of two major debates – possibly in June – on the rescue of boat-people and the need for Europe to share responsibility. The Assembly has produced a string of critical reports on these matters, and will continue to urgently insist on the humane and lawful treatment of asylum-seekers, refugees and irregular migrants coming to Europe.’”

Click here for link to statement.

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500 Migrants Rescued Off Lampedusa; Hundreds Likely Dead Off Libya

A boat from Libya carrying over 500 people from sub-Sahara Africa and Asia ran around off Lampedusa on Sunday. Italian rescuers saved everyone on board.  The survivors had to be brought ashore by rescuers in the water because rescue boats were unable to approach due to the shoals on which the migrant boat ran around.

In a separate incident, early Friday morning, 6 May, a migrant boat believed to be carrying over 600 people capsized or broke apart off the Libyan coast.  It is feared that most of the passengers have died.

Click here, here, and here for articles about the Lampedusa rescue. (EN)

Click here (EN) and here (IT) for article about the sinking off Libya.

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Tunisia Stops Migrant Boat From Leaving Tunisia for First Time

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said on Saturday, 7 May, that Tunisia had for the first time blocked a migrant boat from departing Tunisia pursuant to the terms of the 5 April 2011 agreement with Italy.  Maroni also said that four patrol boats would be transferred to Tunisia by Italy in the coming week for purposes of increasing Tunisia’s capacity to block migrant departures.

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

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