Tag Archives: Maritime Interdiction

PACE Calls for Urgent Measures to Assist Greece and Turkey With Mounting Migratory Tensions in Eastern Mediterranean

PACE, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, adopted a Resolution on 24 January 2013 calling for “firm and urgent measures [to] tackle the mounting pressure and tension over asylum and irregular migration into Greece, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries.”  The Resolution noted that Greece, with EU assistance, has enhanced border controls, particularly along its land border with Turkey and while “these policies have helped reduce considerably the flow of arrivals across the Evros border with Turkey, they have transferred the problem to the Greek islands and have not helped significantly in dealing with the situation of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees already in Greece.”

The Resolution makes recommendations to the EU, Greece, and Turkey and calls on CoE members states to “substantially increase their assistance to Greece, Turkey and other front-line countries” in various ways, including:

  • provide bi-lateral assistance, including by exploring new approaches to resettlement and intraEurope relocation of refugees  and asylum seekers;
  • share responsibility for Syrian refugees and asylum seekers via intra European Union relocation and refrain from sending these persons back to Syria or third countries;
  • maintain a moratorium on returns to Greece of asylum seekers under the Dublin Regulation.

The Resolution was supported by a Report prepared by Ms Tineke Strik, Rapporteur, PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

Click here for full text of Resolution 1918(2013), Migration and asylum: mounting tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Click here for PACE press statement.

Click here for Report by Rapporteur, Ms Tineke Strik, Doc. 13106, 23 Jan 2013.

Here are extensive excerpts from the Rapporteur’s Report (which should be read in its entirety):

Summary -  Greece has become the main entry point for irregular migratory flows into the European Union, while Turkey has become the main country of transit. [***]

Europe must drastically rethink its approach to responsibility sharing to deal with what is a European problem and not one reserved to a single or only a few countries. Member States are called on to substantially increase their support for Greece, Turkey and other front-line countries to ensure that they have a realistic possibility of dealing with the challenges that they face. In this the Council of Europe also has a role to play, for example through exploring resettlement and readmission possibilities, assisting States in dealing with their asylum backlogs and putting forward innovative projects to alleviate growing racism and xenophobia towards migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

[***]

C. Explanatory memorandum by Ms Strik, rapporteur

1. Introduction

[***]

2. Greece is facing a major challenge to cope with both the large influx of mixed migratory flows, including irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and the current economic crisis. That said it is not the only country struggling to cope in the region. It is impossible to look at the situation of Greece without also examining that of Turkey, which is the main country of transit to Greece and is also having to shoulder responsibility for over 150 000 Syrian refugees.

3. In the light of the foregoing, it is necessary to examine the extent of the migration and asylum challenges at Europe’s south-eastern border, taking into account Turkey and Greece’s policy reactions. Two further elements have to be added to this, namely the social tensions arising within Greek society due to an overload of financial and migratory pressure and also the issue of shared responsibility in Europe for dealing with European as opposed to simply national problems.

2. The storm at Europe’s south-eastern border

2.1. Greece under pressure: irregular migration challenge and economic crisis

4. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees crossed the Greek land, river and sea borders with many travelling through Turkey. In 2010, the large majority of mixed migratory flows entered the European Union through the Greek-Turkish border. This situation brings major challenges in terms of human rights and migration management.

5. According to statistics provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2010, more than 132 000 third-country nationals were arrested in Greece, including 53 000 in the Greek-Turkish border regions. During the first ten months of 2012, over 70 000 arrests occurred, including about 32 000 at the borders of Turkey.  People came from 110 different countries – the majority from Asia, including Afghanis, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, as well as from Iraq, Somalia, and the Middle-East, especially Palestinians and an increasing number of Syrians.

6. Most migrants and asylum seekers do not want to stay in Greece and plan to continue their journey further into Europe. Many of them are however stuck in Greece, due to border checks and arrests when trying to exit Greece, the current Dublin Regulation, and the fact that many irregular migrants cannot be returned to their country of origin.

7. The context of the serious economic and sovereign debt crisis aggravates the situation and reduces the ability for the Greek Government to adequately respond to the large influx. [***]

2.2. Syria: a bad situation could get worse

8. In its Resolution 1902 (2012) on “The European response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria”, the Parliamentary Assembly condemned “the continuing, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, committed in Syria”. It described the humanitarian situation as becoming “more and more critical” for the estimated 1.2 million internally displaced Syrians and the 638 000 Syrians registered or awaiting registration as refugees in neighbouring countries.

[***]

11. By October 2012, 23 500 Syrian nationals had applied for asylum in EU member States, including almost 3 000 applications in September 2012 alone, and over 15 000 in Germany and Sweden.  Compared to neighbouring countries, asylum seeker numbers in the European Union currently remains manageable. However the number of Syrians trying to enter Greek territory in an irregular manner reached a critical level in July 2012, when up to 800 Syrians were crossing the Greek-Turkish land border every week. In the second half of 2012, more than 32% of sea arrivals to the Greek Islands were Syrian nationals.

2.3. Regional implications of mixed migratory arrivals

12. In recent years, Spain, Italy and Malta were at the forefront of large-scale sea arrivals. According to the UNHCR, in 2012, 1 567 individuals arrived in Malta by sea. 75% of these persons were from Somalia. The UNHCR estimates however that less than 30% of the more than 16 000 individuals who have arrived in Malta since 2002 remain in Malta.

13. Spain and Italy have signed and effectively enforced readmission agreements with North and West African countries cutting down on the mixed migration flows. These agreements have provided the basis for returning irregular migrants and preventing their crossing through increased maritime patrols and border surveillance, including in the context of joint Frontex operations.

14. As a consequence of shifting routes, migratory pressure at the Greek-Turkish border increased significantly and Greece became the main gate of entry into the European Union from 2008 onwards, with an interval in 2011 when the Arab Spring brought a new migratory flow to Italy and Malta. To give an idea of how much the routes have changed, Frontex indicated that in 2012, 56% of detections of irregular entry into the European Union occurred on the Greek-Turkish border.

15. Turkey, by contrast, has become the main transit country for migrants seeking to enter the European Union. Its 11 000-km-long border and its extensive visa-free regime make it an easy country to enter. An estimated half a million documented and undocumented migrants currently live in the country. This has brought a whole new range of challenges for Turkey and meant that it has had to develop a new approach to migration management and protection for those seeking asylum and international protection.  It has also faced problems in terms of detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers. As with Greece, the conditions of detention have been highly criticised and steps are being taken to build new centres with the assistance of funding from the European Union.

16. Until recently, the traditionally complex Greek-Turkish political relations did not allow the pursuit and consolidation of an effective readmission policy with Turkey. Although Greece, for example, signed a readmission protocol with Turkey which goes back to 2001, the implementation of this was only agreed on in 2010. It is important that this bilateral agreement between Greece and Turkey functions effectively and this will be a challenge for both countries.

3. Shielding Greece through border management and detention: does it work?

3.1. Enhanced border controls at the Greek-Turkish land border (Evros region)

17. The unprecedented numbers of irregular migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the Greek-Turkish border in recent years put the existing capacities and resources of Greece under severe strain. To remedy this situation, the Greek authorities have adopted the “Greek Action Plan on Asylum and Migration Management”, which is the basis for reforming the asylum and migration management framework in Greece.

18. In this context, considerable efforts were undertaken to reinforce Greece’s external borders and particularly the Greek-Turkish border in the Evros region. This was done notably through building up operational centres, using electronic surveillance and night vision devices, and by deploying patrol boats to strengthen river patrols. The surveillance technology used is part of the efforts under the European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur).

19. The so-called operation “Aspida” (“shield”), initiated in August 2012, aims to enhance border controls, surveillance and patrolling activities at the Greek-Turkish land border. Approximately 1 800 additional police officers from across Greece were deployed as border guards to the Evros region.

20. Increased border controls in the context of this operation have not been without criticism. There have been worrying reports about migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers from Syria and other countries, being pushed back to Turkey over the Evros river.  Two incidents reportedly took place in June and October 2012, when inflatable boats were intercepted in the middle of the Evros river by Greek patrol boats and pushed back to Turkey before their boat was sunk, leaving people to swim to the Turkish shore.

21. In addition, the Greek authorities completed a barbed wire fence at the 12.5-km-land border in December 2012. The barrier which was criticised by EU officials when announced  and built without EU funding, cost an estimated 3 million euros.

22. As a consequence of these actions, the numbers of irregular land border crossings dropped from over 2 000 a week in the first week of August to below 30 a week in the second half of September. According to the regional governor of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, they are now close to zero.  While the Greek authorities claim that these actions have resulted in a more than 80% decrease of irregular entries,  one can observe that migrants’ routes have shifted from the Greek-Turkish land border mainly to the sea border between both countries. This shift has been recognised by the Greek authorities.

23. Increased numbers of migrants are now arriving on the Greek Aegean islands of Lesvos, Samos, Symi and Farmkonissi. Between August and December 2012, 3 280 persons were arrested after crossing the Greek-Turkish sea border,  compared to 65 persons in the first seven months of 2012.

24. There has also been an increase in the number of deaths at sea. In early September 2012, 60 people perished when their boat sank off the coast in Izmir.  On 15 December 2012, at least 18 migrants drowned off the coast of Lesvos while attempting to reach the island by boat.

25. The spill over effect of new routes opening are now being felt by neighbouring countries, such as Bulgaria and some of the Western Balkans.

3.2. Systematic detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers

26. Together with increased border controls, administrative detention remains the predominant policy response by the Greek authorities to the entry and stay of irregular migrants.  [***]

[***]

29. Particularly worrying are the conditions in the various detention centres and police stations where irregular migrants and asylum seekers are held, and which have frequently been criticised. The European Court of Human Rights has found Greece to be in violation of the right to freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment in several cases in recent years.  In addition, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CPT) has regularly criticised the poor detention conditions of irregular migrants and asylum seekers and the structural deficiencies in Greece’s detention policy as well as the government’s persistent lack of action to improve the situation.  See also: CPT, Report on its visit from 19 to 27 January 2011, published on 10 January 2012, at: www.cpt.coe.int/documents/grc/2012-01-inf-eng.pdf, together with the reply by the Greek authorities, at: www.cpt.coe.int/documents/grc/2012-02-inf-eng.pdf. The conditions of detention in one centre in Greece were found to be so bad that a local court in Igoumenista acquitted, earlier this year, migrants who were charged with escaping from detention stating that the conditions in the centre were not in compliance with the migrants’ human rights.

[***]

3.3. Impediments in accessing asylum and international protection

35. Despite the current efforts by the Greek authorities to reform the asylum and migration management framework, the country still does not have a fair and effective asylum system in place. The Greek Action Plan on Migration and Asylum, which was revised in December 2012, sets out the strategy of the Greek Government. It foresees the speedy creation of a functioning new Asylum Service, a new First Reception Service and a new Appeals Authority, staffed by civil servants under the Ministry of Public Order and Citizens Protection, disengaging the asylum procedure from the police authorities. However problems in finding sufficient financial resources and qualified staff still give rise for concerns on the implementation of the plans.

[***]

4. Social tensions within Greek society

4.1. The social situation of migrants and asylum seekers

41. Greece’s efforts to deal with the influx of irregular migrants and asylum seekers suffers from there being no comprehensive migration policy. [***]

4.2. Discrimination, xenophobia and racist attacks against migrants

46. The mounting social tensions and the inadequate response by the State to address the difficult social situation of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have led to an increase in criminality and exploitation of this group. In addition, migration has become a key confrontational political issue. This in turn has contributed to an increasingly wide-spread anti-immigrant sentiment among the Greek population.

47. Over the last two years there has been a dramatic increase in xenophobic violence and racially motivated attacks against migrants in Greece, including physical attacks, such as beatings and stabbings, attacks on immigrants’ residences, places of worship, migrants’ shops or community centres.  The Network for Recording Incidents of Racist Violence documented 87 racist incidents against migrants and refugees between January and September 2012.  Half of them were connected with extremist groups.

48. Members and supporters of Golden Dawn have often been linked with recent violent attacks and raids against migrants and asylum seekers. By using blatantly anti-migrant and racist discourse, often inciting violence, Golden Dawn gained 7% of the popular vote during the June 2012 parliamentary elections and support seems to be growing, according to recent polls. In October 2012, the Greek Parliament lifted the immunity from prosecution of the two Golden Dawn MPs who participated in the violent attacks against migrants in September.

49. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Greece to examine whether the “most overt extremist and Nazi party in Europe” is legal. It seems that Golden Dawn aims at political and societal destabilisation and gains by the failing policy regarding refugees and irregular migrants. In December 2012, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) expressed its “deep concern” about the rise of Golden Dawn and asked the Greek authorities to “take firm and effective action to ensure that the activities of Golden Dawn do not violate the free and democratic political order or the rights of any individuals”.

5. The European responsibility for a European problem

5.1. European front-line States under particular pressure

50. This is not the first time that the Parliamentary Assembly expresses its concern on the particular pressure that European front-line States are confronted with. Resolution 1521 (2006) on the mass arrival of irregular migrants on Europe’s Southern shores, Resolution 1637 (2008) on Europe’s “boat people”: mixed migration flows by sea into southern Europe and Resolution 1805 (2011) on the large-scale arrival of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees on Europe’s southern shores.

51. Despite the fact that most European Union countries have stopped returning asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin Regulation following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece,  there are still some reports of returns from some countries based on this regulation.

52. The final agreement between the Council and the European Parliament on the revision of the Dublin Regulation still allocates responsibilities for asylum seekers to a single EU member State and does not present a more fundamental reform of the rules. European Union member States also rejected the idea of a mechanism to suspend transfers to those EU countries which were unable to manage the influx of asylum seekers into their territory, preferring to adopt an “early warning mechanism”.

5.2. Greece: A test case for European solidarity

53. This migratory pressure Greece is confronted with comes at a moment when the country is suffering as no other European country does from the current economic and social crisis. In response to these difficulties, the European Union has provided financial and technical assistance.

54. During the period of 2011-2013, Greece received 98,6 million euros under the Return Fund, 132,8 million euros under the External Border Fund and 19,95 million euros under the European Refugee Fund. The focus of funding was thus on border control and detention measures, to the detriment of the protection measures.

55. Frontex Joint Operation “Poseidon Land” was launched in 2010 at the borders between Turkey and Greece and between Turkey and Bulgaria. EU member States currently have 41 police officers and equipment deployed to the Evros border region in Greece.  They also support the Greek and Bulgarian authorities with the screening and debriefing of irregular migrants, and tackling irregular migratory inflows and smuggling networks towards Greece. In addition, Frontex has recently strengthened its patrols in the coastal waters in the Eastern Aegean between Greece and Turkey in the context of Joint Operation “Poseidon Sea”. European Union member States have deployed additional maritime surveillance assets at the sea border between Greece and Turkey. The joint operation was extended to also cover the West coast of Greece and today is Frontex’s main operational activity in the Mediterranean region.

56. Furthermore, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) provides technical support to Greece and other EU member States whose asylum and reception systems are under particular pressure. Following the request by the Greek Government in February 2011, EASO started giving assistance and training in building up a new asylum system, improving reception conditions of asylum seekers in Greece and clearing the backlog of outstanding asylum claims. To do this they have deployed over 40 Asylum Support Teams of experts to the country.

57. While EU member States are ready to provide financial and technical assistance to help Greece in managing and controlling its borders, with a focus on both forced and voluntary returns as a policy solution, they are not keen on sharing the reception and processing of mixed migratory flows arriving at the European Union’s external border. According to the Greens/European Free Alliance of the European Parliament, “[m]igration will not be stopped by reinforcing border control, border management measures and forced returns; the current approach only reinforces human rights violations”.

58. As rapporteur I would largely agree with this statement, although I would add that while such policies may be able to solve a problem in one country, it then simply “passes the buck” to another. Should it be possible to seal Greece’s border, this would undoubtedly then put even greater pressure on Turkey and Bulgaria and then up the eastern borders of the European Union. This is an issue which will be the subject of a separate report by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

59. The European Union response to the economic and financial crisis in Greece has been a massive bail out. Similar solidarity is however necessary with regards to the current social and humanitarian crisis in the field of migration and asylum. Europe is however doing too little, too late. A shared asylum policy that takes into account that the migratory pressures are not the sole responsible of one or a few European States, but a European problem, is even more essential in a time when the region is facing major instability. This instability will only increase further if the up and coming Golden Dawn party succeeds in exploiting the immigrant issue. Europe cannot afford to look away.

60. Increased migratory flows to European front-line States requires a fundamental rethink on solidarity and responsibility sharing. This includes swift solutions that go beyond mere financial and technical assistance and show greater solidarity in receiving refugees and asylum seekers and developing resettlement, especially currently for Syrian refugees from the neighbouring countries of Syria, and intra-EU relocation programmes, in particular where children and families are concerned. Assembly Resolution 1820 (2011) on asylum seekers and refugees: sharing responsibility in Europe provides meaningful recommendations in this respect.

6. Conclusions

61. The pressure of mixed migratory flows currently unfolding at the European Union’s external borders in the eastern Mediterranean requires rethinking of the entire solidarity system with the European Union and the Council of Europe. Greece, Turkey or other neighbouring countries should not be left with the primary responsibility of dealing with the mounting mixed migratory pressure from the South and East. A shared asylum and migration policy is even more essential at a time when the region is facing major economic and social instability.

62. Stricter border control, prolonging migrants’ and asylum seekers’ detention or constructing new detention facilities in Greece all contribute to further human rights violations taking place. They are not the way out of the problem and they do not persuade people fleeing from poverty or violence in their countries of origin to remain at home.

63. The recent efforts by the Greek authorities to introduce a more effective and humane system addressing the large number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers entering Greece is a welcome step in the right direction. Greece however faces a Herculean task in building up an efficient, fair and functioning system providing international protection to those in need.

64. Europe urgently needs to join forces to deal with the Syrian refugee problem, offering resettlement and relocation to relieve the burden falling on neighbouring States of Syria as well as its southern European States, and ensuring that Syrian refugees are not sent back.

65. The challenges are great but not insurmountable for Europe. Left to individual States they are.

[***]”

Click here for full text of Resolution 1918(2013), Migration and asylum: mounting tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Click here for PACE press statement.

Click here for Report by Rapporteur, Ms Tineke Strik, Doc. 13106, 23 Jan 2013.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, Analysis, Council of Europe, Frontex, Greece, News, Reports, Syria, Turkey, UNHCR

UN Special Rapporteur on HR of Migrants expresses concern over plight of irregular migrants in Greece; calls for EU assistance; Frontex patrolling Greece-Italy sea border

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Prof. François Crépeau, has completed  a nine-day official visit to Greece, the fourth and last country visit in connection with a “a one-year comprehensive study to examine the rights of migrants in the Euro-Mediterranean region, focusing in particular on the management of the external borders of the European Union.”  The Special Rapporteur will present a thematic report on the human rights of migrants at the borders of the European Union to the UN Human Rights Council in May/ June 2013.  In addition to the visit to Greece, he previously conducted official visits to EU offices in Brussels, Tunisia, Turkey, and Italy.

One point of particular interest in the Special Rapporteur’s end-of-mission statement is that Frontex sea patrols in Greece are not along being used to patrol the external sea border of the EU (Greece-Turkey), but are also being used to patrol the sea border between Greece and Italy to prevent irregular migrants from leaving Greece.  (Is this within Frontex’s mandate?)  According to the end-of mission statement, Frontex Joint Operation Poseidon Sea “which used to cover the sea border between Greece and Turkey, was extended in 2012 to also cover the west coast of Greece, where migrants trying to reach Italy by boats operated by smugglers are intercepted and returned to Greece.”

The Special Rapporteur also notes “[t]he enhanced border controls at the Greek-Turkish land border under operation ‘Aspida’ (‘Shield’) initiated in August 2012, which included the deployment of approximately 1800 border police officers, coupled with the construction of a fence and the Frontex operation ‘Poseidon Land’ have resulted in a renewed influx of irregular migrants via the islands of the eastern Aegean Sea, with boats arriving on the different islands almost daily.”

Here are additional excerpts from the end-of-mission statement:

“[W]hile most EU countries have stopped returning asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation due to a decision of the European Court of Human Rights (M.S.S. vs Belgium and Greece), I was informed that there are still some returns to Greece based on this Regulation.”

“As the large number of irregular migrants stuck in Greece is mainly a result of EU policies and practices, there is a strong need for solidarity and responsibility-sharing within the EU in order to ensure full respect of the human rights of all these migrants.”

“While the role of the EU in managing the migration flows in Greece is crucial, the Greek government also needs to significantly step up its efforts in order to ensure that the rights of all migrants within its territory are fully respected.”

“I am deeply concerned about the widespread xenophobic violence and attacks against migrants in Greece, and I strongly condemn the inadequate response by the law enforcement agencies to curb this violence, and to punish those responsible.”

“I also deeply regret the Greek government’s new policy of systematically detaining everyone they detect irregularly entering the Greek territory, including unaccompanied children and families. I also regret the ‘sweep operations’ in the context of operation ‘Xenios Zeus’, which have led to widespread detention of migrants in different parts of the country, many of whom have lived and worked in Greece for years.”

Among the several preliminary recommendations to Greece and the EU was the recommendation that the EU “[e]nsure that the full protection of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their status, is the primary consideration for its support to the Greek efforts in managing the migration flow entering the EU territory, including in relation to the activities undertaken by Frontex at the Greek borders.”

Click here for complete End-of-Mission Statement.

Click here for my previous post on the Special Rapporteur’s visits to other countries.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Italy, OHCHR, Reports, Statements, Turkey

EU Court of Justice Annuls Frontex Sea Borders Rule – EU Parliamentary Approval Required (28.11.2012 update)

[UPDATE 28 November 2012: The European Commission intends to present a legislative proposal in early 2013 to replace the annulled Frontex sea border operations rule (Council Decision 2010/252/EU).  See EC’s “Second biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area” covering the period 1 May 2012-31 October 2012.  (COM(2012) 686 final, 23.11.2012)]

The EU Court of Justice, Grand Chamber, issued a judgment on 5 September 2012 annulling Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by [Frontex] (OJ 2010 L 111, p. 20), i.e. the Frontex Sea Borders Rule.  ECJ Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi issued an Opinion on 17 April 2012 recommending that the Court annul the Rule.

The Court concluded that the provisions of the contested rule were not minor, non-essential provisions, but instead “constitute[d] a major [new] development in the [Schengen Borders Code] system” and which therefore required the consideration and approval of the European Parliament.

The Court stated that the Schengen Borders Code (“SBC”) as it currently stands “does not contain any rules concerning the measures which border guards are authorised to apply against persons or ships when they are apprehended….”  The contested rule “lays down the measures which border guards may take against ships [authorising] ships to be stopped, boarded, searched and seized…”  The contested rule “lays down rules on the disembarkation of the persons intercepted or rescued …stating that priority should be given to disembarkation in the third country from where the ship carrying the persons departed.”

The Court said the adoption of such rules conferring “enforcement powers on border guards …entails political choices falling within the responsibilities of the European Union legislature, in that it requires the conflicting interests at issue to be weighed up on the basis of a number of assessments. Depending on the political choices on the basis of which those rules are adopted, the powers of the border guards may vary significantly, and the exercise of those powers require authorisation, be an obligation or be prohibited, for example, in relation to applying enforcement measures, using force or conducting the persons apprehended to a specific location. In addition, where those powers concern the taking of measures against ships, their exercise is liable, depending on the scope of the powers, to interfere with the sovereign rights of third countries according to the flag flown by the ships concerned. Thus, the adoption of such rules constitutes a major development in the SBC system.”

The Court also noted that “the powers conferred in the contested [rule] mean that the fundamental rights of the persons concerned may be interfered with to such an extent that the involvement of the European Union legislature is required.”

For these reasons the Court decided that the “contested [rule] must be annulled in its entirety because it contains essential elements of the surveillance of the sea external borders of the Member States which go beyond the scope of the additional measures within the meaning of Article 12(5) of the SBC, and only the European Union legislature was entitled to adopt such a decision.”

The Court ordered “the effects of the contested [rule] [to]  be maintained until the entry into force, within a reasonable time, of new rules intended to replace the contested decision annulled by the present judgment.”

Click here or here for Judgment.

Extensive Excerpts from Judgment:

THE COURT (Grand Chamber), composed of V. Skouris, President, A. Tizzano, J.N. Cunha Rodrigues, K. Lenaerts, J.-C. Bonichot and A. Prechal, Presidents of Chambers, R. Silva de Lapuerta, K. Schiemann, E. Juhász, G. Arestis, T. von Danwitz (Rapporteur), M. Berger and E. Jarašiūnas, Judges,

Advocate General: P. Mengozzi,

having regard to the written procedure and further to the hearing on 25 January 2012, after hearing the Opinion of the Advocate General at the sitting on 17 April 2012, gives the following Judgment

1. By its action, the European Parliament seeks the annulment of Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by [FRONTEX] (OJ 2010 L 111, p. 20, ‘the contested decision’).

2. [***] The Parliament submits that the provisions of the contested decision ought to have been adopted by the ordinary legislative procedure and not by the comitology procedure based on Article 12(5) of the SBC [Schengen Borders Code].

I – Legal context

A – Decision 1999/468/EC

3.-7. [***]

B – The SBC

8.-16.[***]

C – Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004

17.-21.[***]

D – The contested decision

22.-29.[***]

II – Forms of order sought by the parties and the procedure before the Court

30. The Parliament claims that the Court should:

– annul the contested decision;

– order that the effects of the contested decision be maintained until it is replaced, …

31. The Council contends that the Court should:

– dismiss the Parliament’s action as inadmissible;

– in the alternative, dismiss the action as unfounded, …

32.[***] the Commission was granted leave to intervene in support of the form of order sought by the Council and, in its statement in intervention, it requests the Court to dismiss the Parliament’s action …..

III – The action

A – The admissibility of the action

33.-40.[***]

41. It follows from the above that the action for annulment must be declared to be admissible.

B – Substance

1. Arguments of the parties

42. [***]

(a) As regards the principles governing the implementing powers

43. The Parliament submits that the regulatory procedure with scrutiny can have as its subject-matter the modification or removal of non-essential elements of a basic instrument or the addition of new non-essential elements, but not the modification of the essential elements of such an instrument. [***]

44.-45.[***]

46. The Commission contends that [it has] the power to put flesh on the bones of the essential elements which the co‑legislators have chosen not to detail in extenso . It is authorised to supplement those elements and to regulate new activities within the scope of the essential subject-matter and of the essential rules.

(b) As regards the contested decision

47. Although the Parliament does not challenge the objectives of the contested decision, it takes the view that its content ought to have been adopted by means of a legislative act and not by an implementing measure. That decision goes beyond the scope of the implementing powers referred to in Article 12(5) of the SBC because it introduces new essential elements into that code and alters essential elements of the SBC as well as the content of the Frontex Regulation.

(i) Introduction of new essential elements into the SBC

48. As regards the introduction of new essential elements into the SBC, the Parliament submits that Parts I and II to the Annex of the contested decision lay down measures which cannot be considered to be within the scope of border surveillance as defined by the SBC or to be a non‑essential element of that code.

49. Thus, …, paragraph 2.4 of Part I to the Annex of the contested decision does not merely lay down detailed practical rules of border surveillance but grants border guards far‑reaching powers. The SBC is silent as to the measures which might be taken against persons or ships. However, the contested decision lays down far-reaching enforcement measures, yet does not ensure the right of persons intercepted on the high seas to claim asylum and associated rights, whereas, in accordance with Article 13 of the SBC, returning the persons concerned to the country from where they came can only arise in the context of a formal refusal of entry.

50. In addition, the rules relating to activities such as search and rescue and disembarkation in Part II to the Annex of the contested decision do not, in the Parliament’s view, fall within the concept of surveillance. Even though the title of Part II contains the word ‘guidelines’, Part II is binding and is intended to produce legal effects as against Member States which participate in an operation coordinated by the Agency, due to its wording, the fact that it is contained in a legally binding instrument, and the fact that it forms part of an operational plan provided for by the Frontex Regulation. The contested decision thus contains essential elements of the SBC and could not therefore be regulated in an implementing measure.

51. In addition, the Parliament submits that the contested decision exceeds the territorial scope of the SBC . In accordance with Article 2(11) of the SBC, surveillance is limited to the surveillance of borders between border crossing points and the surveillance of border crossing points outside the fixed opening hours, whereas, in accordance with paragraph 2.5 of Part I to its Annex, the contested decision applies not only to territorial waters, but also to contiguous zones and to the high seas.

52. [***]

53. [***] The Council contends that the argument alleging an extension of the territorial scope of the SBC is unfounded, since that code does not define the concept of a sea border, which must be understood as applying also to border surveillance carried out in the contiguous zones as well as on the high seas.

54. [***] Admittedly, helping ships in distress is not a surveillance measure in the narrow sense. However, if such a situation were to occur during a surveillance operation coordinated by the Agency, it would be indispensable to coordinate in advance how the search and rescue was conducted by various participating Member States. In those circumstances, the Council takes the view that the contested decision does not introduce new elements into the SBC.

55. The Commission contends that border surveillance is an essential element of the SBC, but that the essential rules governing that matter are found in Article 12 of the SBC which lays down provisions regarding the content as well as the object and purpose of the surveillance without serving to regulate that surveillance extensively and exhaustively. The co-legislators conferred on the Commission the power to supplement those essential elements. The power to regulate new activities allows the Commission to regulate the content of border surveillance and to define what that activity entails.

56. The Commission contends that the contested decision does not introduce new essential elements into the SBC. Surveillance must, in the light of its purpose, not only encompass the detection of attempts to gain illegal entry into the European Union but also extend to positive steps such as intercepting ships which are suspected of trying to gain entry to the Union without submitting to border checks. Article 12(4) of the SBC specifically mentions one of the purposes of surveillance as being to apprehend individuals. In order to assess whether ‘search and rescue’ falls within the concept of surveillance, it is important to take into consideration the factual circumstances in which attempted illegal entries arise. In many instances, the surveillance operation will prompt the search and rescue situation, and it is not possible to draw a sharp distinction between those operations. The issue of whether or not the guidelines are binding does not arise, given that the measures which they lay down fall within the concept of surveillance.

(ii) Modification of essential elements of the SBC

57. As regards the modification of the essential elements of the SBC, the Parliament contends, in particular, that the contested decision alters Article 13 of the Code. Since that article applies to any form of interception, persons who have entered illegally into the territorial waters and contiguous zones cannot be forced back or asked to leave without a decision pursuant to Article 13 of the SBC. However, paragraph 2.4 of Part I to the Annex of the contested decision confers on border guards the power to order the ship to modify its course outside of the territorial waters, without a decision within the meaning of Article 13 being taken or without the persons concerned having the possibility to challenge the refusal of entry.

58. In that connection, the Council and the Commission contend that Article 13 of the SBC does not apply to border surveillance activities so that the contested decision does not amend that article.

(iii) Amendment of the Frontex Regulation

59. As regards the amendment of the Frontex Regulation, the Parliament contends that Article 12(5) of the SBC does not grant the Commission the power to lay down rules which amend the powers and obligations set out by the Frontex Regulation for the operations co-ordinated by the Agency. The contested decision is not the appropriate legal instrument for creating obligations in relation to those operations or for modifying the provisions of the Frontex Regulation.

60. However, the contested decision is intended to apply only within the context of operations coordinated by the Agency and is obligatory not only for the Member States but also for the Agency, in light of the fact that its Annex forms part of the operational plan for each operation, whilst Article 8e of the Frontex Regulation determines the main elements of that plan. The mandatory inclusion in the operational plan of the rules and guidelines set out in the Annex of the contested decision significantly amends the list of necessary elements for the implementation of that plan, such as the roles of border guards, the participating units and the Rescue Coordination Centre, respectively.

61. In that connection, the Council contends that the contested decision does not amend the tasks of the Agency, even though the Annex of that decision forms part of the operational plan. [***]

62. According to the Commission, the contested decision does not affect the operation of the Frontex Regulation. The requirement in Article 1 of the contested decision that both Parts to the Annex are to be part of the operational plan imposes a requirement not upon the Agency, but rather the Member States as the persons to whom that decision is addressed and responsible for ensuring that the Annex forms part of that plan. In those circumstances, the contested decision does not amend the Frontex Regulation.

2. Findings of the Court

63.-68. [***]

69. As to whether the Council was empowered to adopt the contested decision as a measure implementing Article 12 of the SBC on border surveillance, on the basis of Article 12(5) of that code, it is first of all necessary to assess the meaning of that article.

70.-72.[***]

73. Although the SBC, which is the basic legislation in the matter, states in Article 12(4) thereof, that the aim of such [border] surveillance is to apprehend individuals crossing the border illegally, it does not contain any rules concerning the measures which border guards are authorised to apply against persons or ships when they are apprehended and subsequently – such as the application of enforcement measures, the use of force or conducting the persons apprehended to a specific location – or even measures against persons implicated in human trafficking.

74. That said, paragraph 2.4 of Part I to the Annex of the contested decision lays down the measures which border guards may take against ships detected and persons on board. In that connection, paragraph 2.4 (b), (d), (f) and (g) allows, inter alia, ships to be stopped, boarded, searched and seized, the persons on board to be searched and stopped, the ship or persons on board to be conducted to another Member State, and thus enforcement measures to be taken against persons and ships which could be subject to the sovereignty of the State whose flag they are flying.

75. In addition, paragraph 1.1 of Part II to the Annex of the contested decision lays down, inter alia, the obligation of the units participating in sea external border operations coordinated by the Agency to provide assistance to any vessel or person in distress at sea. Paragraph 2 of Part II lays down rules on the disembarkation of the persons intercepted or rescued, the second subparagraph of paragraph 2.1 stating that priority should be given to disembarkation in the third country from where the ship carrying the persons departed.

76. First, the adoption of rules on the conferral of enforcement powers on border guards, referred to in paragraphs 74 and 75 above, entails political choices falling within the responsibilities of the European Union legislature, in that it requires the conflicting interests at issue to be weighed up on the basis of a number of assessments. Depending on the political choices on the basis of which those rules are adopted, the powers of the border guards may vary significantly, and the exercise of those powers require authorisation, be an obligation or be prohibited, for example, in relation to applying enforcement measures, using force or conducting the persons apprehended to a specific location. In addition, where those powers concern the taking of measures against ships, their exercise is liable, depending on the scope of the powers, to interfere with the sovereign rights of third countries according to the flag flown by the ships concerned. Thus, the adoption of such rules constitutes a major development in the SBC system.

77. Second, it is important to point out that provisions on conferring powers of public authority on border guards – such as the powers conferred in the contested decision, which include stopping persons apprehended, seizing vessels and conducting persons apprehended to a specific location – mean that the fundamental rights of the persons concerned may be interfered with to such an extent that the involvement of the European Union legislature is required.

78. Thus, the adoption of provisions such as those laid down in paragraph 2.4 of Part I, and paragraphs 1.1 and 2.1 of Part II, of the Annex to the contested decision, requires political choices to be made as referred to in paragraphs 76 and 77 above. Accordingly, the adoption of such provisions goes beyond the scope of the additional measures within the meaning of Article 12(5) of the SBC and, in the context of the European Union’s institutional system, is a matter for the legislature.

79. In those circumstances, it must be found that, as the Advocate General observed in points 61 and 66 of his Opinion, Parts I and II to the Annex of the contested decision contain essential elements of external maritime border surveillance.

80. The mere fact that the title of Part II to the Annex of the contested decision contains the word ‘guidelines’ and that the second sentence of Article 1 of that decision states that the rules and guidelines in Part II are ‘non-binding’ cannot affect their classification as essential rules.

81.-83. [***]

84. In those circumstances, the contested decision must be annulled in its entirety because it contains essential elements of the surveillance of the sea external borders of the Member States which go beyond the scope of the additional measures within the meaning of Article 12(5) of the SBC, and only the European Union legislature was entitled to adopt such a decision.

85. Consequently, the Parliament’s arguments to the effect that the contested decision amends the essential elements of the SBC and also the Frontex Regulation do not require to be examined.

IV – The application for the effects of the contested decision to be maintained

86. The Parliament requests the Court, should it annul the contested decision, to maintain its effects, pursuant to the second paragraph of Article 264 TFEU, until that decision is replaced.

87. The Parliament submits that it is necessary to maintain the effects of the contested decision, in the light of the importance of the objectives of the proposed measures in the context of the European Union’s policy on border control operations.

88. [***]

89. The annulment of the contested decision without maintaining its effects on a provisional basis could compromise the smooth functioning of the current and future operations coordinated by the Agency and, consequently, the surveillance of the sea external borders of the Member States.

90. In those circumstances, there are important grounds of legal certainty which justify the Court exercising the power conferred on it by the second paragraph of Article 264 TFEU. In the present case, the effects of the contested decision must be maintained until the entry into force, within a reasonable time, of new rules intended to replace the contested decision annulled by the present judgment.

V – Costs

91. [***]

On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby:

1. Annuls Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union;

2. Maintains the effects of decision 2010/252 until the entry into force of new rules within a reasonable time;

3. Orders the Council of the European Union to pay the costs;

4. Orders the European Commission to bear its own costs.

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HRW Briefing Paper: Hidden Emergency-Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean

Human Rights Watch released a briefing paper on 16 August entitled “Hidden Emergency-Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.”  The briefing paper, written by Judith Sunderland, a senior researcher with HRW, reviews recent events in the Mediterranean, provides updates on new developments, including the EUROSUR proposal and IMO guidelines that are under consideration, and makes recommendations for how deaths can be minimized.

Excerpts from the Briefing Paper:

“The death toll during the first six months of 2012 has reached at least 170. … Unless more is done, it is certain that more will die.

Europe has a responsibility to make sure that preventing deaths at sea is at the heart of a coordinated European-wide approach to boat migration, not a self-serving afterthought to policies focused on preventing arrivals or another maneuver by northern member states to shift the burden to southern member states like Italy and Malta.

With admirable candor, EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said recently that Europe had, in its reaction to the Arab Spring, ‘missed the opportunity to show the EU is ready to defend, to stand up, and to help.’ Immediate, concerted efforts to prevent deaths at sea must be part of rectifying what Malmström called Europe’s ‘historic mistake.’

Europe’s Response to Boat Migration

[***]

European countries most affected by boat migration—Italy, Malta, Greece and Spain—have saved many lives through rescue operations. But those governments and the European Union as a whole have focused far more effort on seeking to prevent boat migration, including in ways that violate rights. Cooperation agreements with countries of departure for joint maritime patrols, technical and financial assistance for border and immigration control, and expedited readmission of those who manage to set foot on European soil have become commonplace.

The EU’s border agency Frontex has become increasingly active through joint maritime operations, some of which have involved coordination with countries of departure outside the EU such as Senegal. Even though in September 2011 the EU gave Frontex an explicit duty to respect human rights in its operations and a role in supporting rescue at sea operations, these operations have as a primary objective to prevent boats from landing on EU member state territories. This has also prevented migrants, including asylum seekers, from availing themselves of procedural rights that apply within EU territory.

[***]

Italy had suspended its cooperation agreements with Libya in February 2011, and has indicated it will respect the European Court’s ruling and will no longer engage in push-backs. However, past experience suggests that an immigration cooperation agreement signed with the Libyan authorities in April 2012, the exact contents of which have neither been made public nor submitted to parliamentary scrutiny, is unlikely to give migrants’ human rights the attention and focus they need if those rights are to be properly protected.

[***]

Preventing Deaths in the Mediterranean

It may be tempting to blame lives lost at sea on unscrupulous smugglers, the weather, or simple, cruel fate. However, many deaths can and should be prevented. UNHCR’s recommendation during the Arab Spring to presume that all overcrowded migrant boats in the Mediterranean need rescue is a good place to start.

[***]

Recognizing the serious dimensions of the problem, specialized United Nations agencies such as the UNHCR and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), have been working to produce clear recommendations. These include establishing a model framework for cooperation in rescue at sea and standard operating procedures for shipmasters. The latter should include a definition of distress triggering the obligation to provide assistance that takes into account risk factors, such as overcrowding, poor conditions on board, and lack of necessary equipment or expertise. UNHCR has also proposed that countries with refugee resettlement programs set aside a quota for recognized refugees rescued at sea.

The IMO has also been pursuing since 2010 a regional agreement among Mediterranean European countries to improve rescue and disembarkation coordination, as well as burden-sharing. The project, if implemented successfully, would serve as a model for other regions. A draft text for a memorandum of understanding is under discussion. Negotiations should be fast-tracked with a view to implementation as quickly as possible.

If Europe is serious about saving lives at sea, it also needs to amend the draft legislation creating EUROSUR. This new coordinated surveillance system should spell out clearly the paramount duty to assist boat migrants at sea, and its implementation must be subject to rigorous and impartial monitoring. Arguments that such a focus would create a ‘pull factor’ and encourage more migrants to risk the crossing are spurious. History shows that people on the move, whether for economic or political reasons, are rarely deterred or encouraged by external factors.

[***]”

From the HRW press statement:

The “briefing paper includes concrete recommendations to improve rescue operations and save lives:

  • Improve search and rescue coordination mechanisms among EU member states;
  • Ensure that EUROSUR has clear guidelines on the paramount duty of rescue at sea and that its implementation is rigorously monitored;
  • Clarify what constitutes a distress situation, to create a presumption in favor of rescue for overcrowded and ill-equipped boats;
  • Resolve disputes about disembarkation points;
  • Remove disincentives for commercial and private vessels to conduct rescues; and
  • Increase burden-sharing among EU member states.”

Click here or here for HRW Briefing Paper.

Click here for HRW press statement.

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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Reports, Spain, Tunisia

Armed Forces of Malta and Libyan Navy Engage in Joint Training Operation – Migrant Patrols a Focus of Training

An Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) maritime squadron conducted its first joint training exercise this week with the Libyan Navy since the overthrow of the previous Libyan government.  An AFM offshore patrol vessel and 46 AFM personnel engaged in training exercises in the Tripoli Harbour and off the Libyan coast.  Among the exercises practiced were “pre-boarding interrogation techniques via radio, approach to a suspected vessel and the conduct of the subsequent boarding and verification operations.”  Maltese officials said they hope “such training exchanges become a regular feature of the bilateral relationship.”  Media reports quoted an anonymous military source as saying that “[t]he training exercise will focus on patrolling the Libyan border because this is where most of the illegal migration problems begin, resulting in an influx of migrants into Malta and Lampedusa.”

Click here, here, and here for articles.

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Article: M Tondini, “The legality of intercepting boat people under search and rescue and border control operations with reference to recent Italian interventions in the Mediterranean Sea and the ECtHR decision in the Hirsi case”

A new article by Matteo Tondini, Ph.D., “The legality of intercepting boat people under search and rescue and border control operations with reference to recent Italian interventions in the Mediterranean Sea and the ECtHR decision in the Hirsi case”, has been published in Vol. 18 of the Journal of International Maritime Law (subscription required).

Here is the abstract: “This article briefly addresses the legal grounds for the interception of boat people on the high seas by military vessels, taking into account the Italian Navy’s [experience] on the matter. If interceptions are conducted within the framework of an `extraterritorial’ border control operation, their legality is hardly sustainable. Conversely, when interventions are implemented as search and rescue (SAR) operations, their legal basis is much wider, provided that intervening states’ obligations under the SAR legal regime are coupled with those stemming from the prohibition of refoulement under international refugee law. As a result, rescued migrants can only be disembarked to `safe third countries’, namely countries in which they do not run the real risk of being persecuted or returned to other countries `at risk’. According to some very recent international and national jurisprudence, including the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in the Hirsi, before disembarking migrants, intervening states should in principle carry out a positive assessment on the functionality of the recipient country’s asylum system. In order to assess clearly the legality per se of interceptions, this article supports the necessity of applying a prevalence criterion, according to which if the SAR character prevails over the objective of preventing irregular migration, the intervention in question should be considered an authentic and lawful salvage operation.”

Also of note by the same author is his October 2010 paper, “Fishers of Men? The Interception of Migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and Their Forced Return to Libya.”

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CoE Human Rights Commissioner Welcomes Italian Declarations that Migrant Push-Back Policy Will No Longer Be Applied

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks completed a four day visit to Italy between 3-6 July.  The visit was “focused on the human rights of Roma and Sinti and on the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers.”  A report on the visit will be issued in the future.  In the meantime the Commissioner released a statement on 9 July in which he “welcomed recent declarations [in Italy] at the highest political level that the ‘push-back’ policy will no longer be applied, in the light of the Hirsi Jamaa judgment of the Strasbourg Court [and stated his appreciation for] the efforts throughout the country to accommodate persons arriving from North Africa in the first half of 2011…”  The Commissioner further “recommended that the system of reception centres be unified, guaranteeing an adequate level of protection everywhere, and capable of responding to fluctuating migratory flows. The Commissioner also pointed out that once officially recognized, refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection do not receive the crucial support they need to integrate into Italian society, and are therefore forced to live in destitute conditions. The Commissioner said ‘I personally witnessed the intolerable circumstances faced by 800 such persons, struggling to survive in an abandoned building in Rome. This is unacceptable in a country like Italy’.”

Click here for full statement.

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