Tag Archives: Operation Unified Protector

Report- “Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat Case”

A report has been released which addresses new details surrounding the deaths of 63 migrants who died one year ago after their disabled boat drifted for days within an area that was heavily patrolled by NATO warships.  The report, Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat Case- 11April2012, was prepared by researchers at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London, and by others, and was released earlier today in conjunction with the announcement in Paris by a coalition of NGOs that a legal process against the French military for alleged failure to rescue has been commenced by several survivors from the migrant boat.

Click here for today’s Guardian article on the Report.

Excerpt: “1.1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The UNHCR defined 2011 as the “deadliest year” in the Mediterranean since the organisation began recording these statistics in 2006, estimating that over 1,500 migrants died while fleeing Libya during the initial stages of the violent conflict.  This number is extremely high in comparison to the 13,417 deaths documented from 1988 to March 2012 at the maritime borders of the EU, and the 6,226 deaths occurred solely in the Sicily Channel during the same period.  Furthermore, the loss of lives at sea in 2011 occurred despite the significant naval and aerial presence in the area due to the military intervention in Libya launched by an international coalition of states and NATO (hereafter referred to as ”participating states/NATO”) under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

One particular event, reported by the international press, provoked widespread public outrage. In the case of what is now referred to as the “left-to-die boat”, 72 migrants fleeing Tripoli by boat on the early morning of March 27 2011 ran out of fuel and were left to drift for 14 days until they landed back on the Libyan coast. With no water or food on-board, only nine of the migrants survived. In several interviews, these survivors recounted the various points of contacts they had with the external world during this ordeal. This included describing the aircraft that flew over them, the distress call they sent out via satellite telephone and their visual sightings of a military helicopter which provided a few packets of biscuits and bottles of water and a military ship which failed to provide any assistance whatsoever. The events, as recounted by these survivors, appeared to constitute a severe violation of the legal obligation to provide assistance to any person in distress at sea, an obligation sanctioned by several international conventions.

In response to this incident, several initiatives were undertaken to shed light on these deaths and demand accountability for them. On 10 May 2011, Human Rights Watch demanded that NATO and its member countries conduct a full investigation of the case.  On 9 June 2011, the French NGO GISTI sent out a public call which led to the formation of a coalition of NGOs (constituted primarily by CIRÉ, FIDH, GISTI, LDH, and Migreurop) that sought accountability for the non-assistance of migrants at sea during and in the aftermath of Arab Spring in general and in the case of the “left-to-die boat” in particular.  The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) appointed the Dutch Senator Tineke Strik to prepare an in-depth report on the deaths that have occurred in the Mediterranean in 2011. Her report titled “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” was presented in Brussels on 29 March 2012.

The enclosed report focuses on the spatial analysis of data surrounding the case of the “left-to-die boat” and includes a series of visualizations that supplement the written reports produced by the organisations and institutions mentioned above. In order to generate our analysis and report we employed a wide range of digital mapping and modelling technologies, which included the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery, geospatial mapping, and drift modelling. In combining these technologies to elucidate the chain of events of this particular case we also suggest new ways in which these emergent technologies could be applied to the field of international law and human rights advocacy.

In collecting, analysing, and synthesising data, reports, and human testimonies related to the case, this report reconstructs as accurately as possible what happened to this vessel. It ultimately aims to answer the following question: what happened to the “left-to-die boat” and who was involved in the events leading to the deaths of 63 migrants? While some differences between oral testimonies occur on specific points and while there are some instances in which more data would have been desirable, overall a coherent picture emerges from the synthesis of these disparate bodies of information, a picture that demonstrates how the migrants were lead to a slow death despite repeated contacts with several parties. An abbreviated summary of key events is outlined as follows (fig. 2):

  • • In the early morning of 27 March 2011, between 00:00 and 02:00 GMT, a Zodiac-style rubber boat, approximately 10 metres in length with 72 people on-board left the port next to the Medina (Old City) of Tripoli, Libya and headed in the direction of the island of Lampedusa in Southern Italy.
  • • At 14:55 GMT an aircraft flew over the migrants’ vessel notifying the Italian Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) of its sighting. This fly-over generated a photograph and provided the exact location of the vessel (fig. 2A).
  • • At the end of the afternoon of the same day, with little fuel and almost no food and water left and no sight of land, the migrants called Father Zerai, an Eritrean priest based in Rome, by satellite phone to ask for help. After receiving the call, Father Zerai informed of the situation Rome MRCC, which after obtaining the GPS location of the boat at 16:52 GMT from the satellite provider (fig. 2B), informed their Maltese counterparts, NATO’s Naples Maritime HQ and sent out a distress signal to all ships in the area.
  • • Two to three hours after having placed the call and while the migrants’ vessel continued sailing in the direction of Lampedusa, it was flown over by a military helicopter, which bore the writing “ARMY” or “RESCUE ARMY” on its side. Despite the migrants’ clearly identifiable gestures for help – waving, holding the babies on board at arms length, showing the empty tanks of petrol -, the helicopter hovered over the boat but left without providing any immediate assistance. The migrants now believed they would soon be saved, and the “captain” therefore threw overboard the satellite phone, which had failing batteries and could have been used as evidence of his involvement in a smuggling network. The last GPS position registered by the satellite provider at 19:08 GMT (fig. 2C) thus corresponds in all likelihood to the location of the first helicopter encounter.
  • • After 4-5 hours of waiting, floating in approximately the same position and with no sign of rescue, the migrants decided to ask for help from some fishermen, whose boats they noticed around them. They attempted to reach those boats but the fishermen too left without providing any assistance. Shortly afterwards, and still in approximately the same position, the same helicopter came back. This time, military personnel on-board threw down 8 bottles of water and a few packets of biscuits before leaving again.
  • • Following this second helicopter visit, the migrants were shown the direction of Lampedusa by yet another fishing vessel. Between 00:00 and 01:00 GMT on 28 March 2011, they resumed movement in this direction for 5-8 hours until they ran out of fuel in the early morning (fig. 2D). From this moment, until they landed back on the Libyan coast, their boat drifted on the open sea without any use of its motor.
  • • After several days of drifting, between the 3rd and 4th of April, the migrants encountered a military ship with one or two helicopters on its deck (fig. 2E). The migrants got as close as 10 metres to this ship in their plea for help. The crew on the deck of the military ship did not provide assistance and only took photos before departing.
  • • The migrants’ vessel continued to drift until it eventually landed back on the coast of Libya, near Zlitan, on April 10th. In total, the boat drifted for 14 days. Of the 72 people who departed from Tripoli only 11 survived. One woman died shortly after arriving ashore, while the others were caught and imprisoned by Libyan soldiers. During the imprisonment another person died. In total nine people survived the journey and 63 perished.

While the involvement of all actors in these dramatic events will be discussed in greater detail in chapter three, the reconstruction of the events will clearly demonstrate that the actions or inactions of different actors contributed to the death of 63 migrants. At least one patrol aircraft, one helicopter, two fishing boats, and a military ship, whose identities still remain unknown, allegedly had direct contact with the boat. Moreover, the Italian and Maltese MRCC as well as participating states/NATO forces present in the area were informed of the distress of the boat and of its location, and had the technical and logistical ability to assist it. Despite all this, none of these actors intervened in a way that could have averted the tragic fate of the people on the boat.

In her report “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” Senator Tineke Strik has spoken of a “catalogue of failures” that led to the loss of “many opportunities for saving the lives of the persons on board the boat.” Furthermore, these deaths occurred in an area that was under strict surveillance by NATO to enforce an arms embargo as provided for by UNSCR 1973 and where at least 38 naval assets were present at some time during the event. While this report focuses on the “left-to-die boat” case specifically, it should be recalled once again that this is only one amongst the many incidents that have caused the death of more than 13,417 deaths at the maritime borders of the EU over the last 20 years.”

Click on following link, Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat 11April2012  , for report.

Click here for Guardian article on report.

 

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[UPDATED- Link to Complaint] Press Conference to Announce Filing of Legal Complaint Against French Army for Failure to Assist Migrant Boat (Paris, 11 April)

FIDH, GISTI, and Migreurop are holding a press conference at 11:00 AM on Wednesday, 11 April, to announce the filing of a legal complaint against the French military with the Procureur de la République du Tribunal de grande instance de Paris alleging that military forces failed to render assistance to the migrant boat that drifted for days one year ago within the NATO military zone off the Libyan coast.  63 persons ultimately died.

Press Conference details:

“mercredi 11 avril à 11H00, dans les locaux de la FIDH, 17, passage de la Main d’or – Paris 75011

en présence de:

  • - Stéphane Maugendre, président de GISTI
  • - Patrick Baudouin, président d’Honneur de la FIDH
  • - Jacques Montacié, LDH
  • - Charles Heller, chercheur à Goldsmiths, University of London
  • - Père Mussie Zerai, président de l’Agenzia Habeshia

Un an après la mort de 63 migrants dans un bateau au large de la Libye, des survivants, avec le soutien d’une coalition d’ONG déposeront, mercredi 11 avril, devant le auprès du Procureur de la République du Tribunal de grande instance de Paris , une plainte mettant en cause l’armée française pour non assistance à personne en danger. Cette conférence de presse sera l’occasion de revenir en détails sur les événements de ce périple cauchemardesque et d’expliquer pourquoi notre coalition estime que certains militaires français devraient en l’espèce voir leur responsabilité pénale engagée.

Contacts presse: FIDH: Arthur Manet – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94; GISTI: Stéphane Maugendre – Tel: +33 6 07 37 90 72”

UPDATE: Click here or on this link, La plainte contre-armee-francaise 11avril2012, for copy of the Complaint.  (FR)

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PACE Migration Committee Report: Lessons Learned and Recommendations for States

The PACE Migration Committee report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, released yesterday, is a must read for anyone concerned with this topic.  In addition to documenting the events of March-April 2011 and the resulting deaths of 63 persons, the report makes a series of recommendations as to how search and rescue should be carried out in the future:

“13. While the [rapporteur’s] investigation focused on a single incident, the lessons learnt have implications for the way in which search and rescue should be carried out in the future. As a consequence, the [Parliamentary] Assembly recommends that member States:

13.1. fill the vacuum of responsibility for an SAR zone left by a State which cannot or does not exercise its responsibility for search and rescue, such as was the case for Libya. This may require amending the International Maritime Search and Rescue Convention (SAR Convention). In the case in question, two Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (Rome and Malta) were aware that a boat was in distress, but neither took the responsibility to start a search and rescue operation. Rome, being the first MRCC informed of the distress situation, had a greater responsibility to ensure the boat’s rescue;

13.2. ensure that there are clear and simple guidelines, which are then followed, on what amounts to a distress signal, so as to avoid any confusion over the obligation to launch a search and rescue operation for a boat in distress;

13.3. avoid differing interpretations of what constitutes a vessel in distress, in particular as concerns overloaded, unseaworthy boats, even if under propulsion, and render appropriate assistance to such vessels. Whenever safety requires that a vessel be assisted, this should lead to rescue actions;

13.4. tackle the reasons why commercial vessels fail to go to the rescue of boats in distress. This will require dealing with:

13.4.1. the economic consequences for the rescuing vessel and its owners, and the issue of compensation;

13.4.2. the disagreement between Malta and Italy as to whether disembarkation should be to the nearest safe port or to a port within the country of the SAR zone. The International Maritime Organization should be urged to find a solution to the matter and step up its efforts towards a harmonised interpretation and application of international maritime law;

13.4.3. the fear of criminalisation (trafficking or aiding and abetting irregular migration) by those who go to the rescue of boats carrying irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees;

13.4.4. legislation to criminalise private shipmasters who fail to comply with their duty under the law of the sea, as is already the case in certain Council of Europe member States;

13.5. ensure that, in accordance with the Hirsi v. Italy judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, after the rescue operation, people are not pushed back to a country where they risk being treated in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

13.6. tackle the issue of responsibility sharing, particularly in the context of rescue services, disembarkation, administration of asylum requests, setting up reception facilities and relocation and resettlement, with a view to developing a binding European Union protocol for the Mediterranean region. The heavy burden placed on frontline States leads to a problem of saturation and a reluctance to take responsibility;

13.7. respect the families’ right to know the fate of those who lose their lives at sea by improving identity data collection and sharing. This could include the setting up of a DNA file of the remains of those retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea. In this context, the ongoing work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organisations should be acknowledged and supported;

13.8. follow up Assembly Resolution 1821 (2011) on the interception and rescue at sea of asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants;

13.9. ensure that the lack of communication and understanding between the Rome Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and NATO, which led to no one taking responsibility for the boat, is not reproduced in future NATO operations, and ensure that NATO introduces a mechanism to co-ordinate its assets in SAR operations in direct contact with relevant Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres wherever possible.”

Click on the following links for:

PACE Press Statement

Full report – provisional version (PDF)

Last letter from NATO (PDF)

Graphic: map showing reconstruction of the voyage and other annexes (PDF)

“Boat people” web file

Video recording of press conference 

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PACE Migration Committee Approves Report on “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean” and Calls on NATO and Responsible States to Conduct Full Inquiries into the Failures to Rescue

The report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, was adopted this morning by the PACE Committee on Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.  It will next be debated in a plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly, probably on 24 April.

Here is the full text of the PACE press statement and links to the provisional version of the report:

“Strasbourg, 29.03.2012 – A failure to react to distress calls and a ‘vacuum of responsibility’ for search and rescue are among a ‘catalogue of failures’ which led to the deaths of 63 people fleeing the conflict in Libya by sea during a tragic 15-day voyage in March 2011, according to a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

A report by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), adopted this morning in Brussels by PACE’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, says Italian search and rescue authorities, NATO, the flag states of naval vessels in the area, the Libyan authorities and reckless smugglers are among those who share responsibility.

The boat, which left Tripoli with 72 people on board a week after the beginning of international air strikes on Libya, washed up on the Libyan coast 15 days later with only nine people still alive – even though distress messages giving its last known position were regularly broadcast to all ships in the area.

NATO ‘failed to react to distress calls’ in a military zone under its control, the committee says, pointing out that the Spanish Navy frigate Méndez Núñez, under NATO command, was reported to be only 11 miles away, although the Spanish authorities dispute the distance. An Italian military vessel, the Borsini, was 37 nautical miles away. Both vessels can carry a helicopter.

The committee says it finds ‘credible’ the testimonies of the nine survivors of the incident, who said that a military helicopter dropped water and biscuits to them and indicated it would return, but never did. On the tenth day of the voyage – with half the passengers dead – they said ‘a large military vessel’ approached, close enough for them to see crew with binoculars, but sailed away without effecting a rescue.

‘Many opportunities of saving the lives of the persons on board were lost,’ the committee concludes. It demands that NATO conduct an inquiry into the incident and provide comprehensive answers to outstanding questions, and calls on the European Parliament to seek further information, including satellite imagery. National parliaments of the states concerned should also carry out inquiries. There should also be an overhaul of maritime regulations to fill the ‘vacuum of responsibility’ when a state cannot carry out search and rescue in its assigned zone, and to deal with the dispute between Italy and Malta over which country should be responsible for disembarkation of those rescued at sea.

The report is due to be debated at the April plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April.

Full report – provisional version (PDF)

Last letter from NATO (PDF)

Graphic: map showing reconstruction of the voyage and other annexes (PDF)

“Boat people” web file

Video recording of press conference

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The Guardian’s Advance Coverage of PACE Report – “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?”

The Guardian has reviewed a copy of the report prepared by Ms. Tinke Strik which will be presented to the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons on Thursday, 29 March.  The Guardian describes the report as “a damning official report” that documents “[a] catalogue of failures by Nato warships and European coastguards [which] led to the deaths of dozens of migrants left adrift at sea [ ].”

Click on the following links for the Guardian’s articles:

Migrants left to die after catalogue of failures, says report into boat tragedy

How a migrant boat was left adrift on the Mediterranean

Drastic action needed to prevent more migrants dying in boat tragedies

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Human Rights Organisations Renew Call for NATO and Governments to Release Information Regarding Migrant Deaths in Mediterranean Sea

Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and 9 other human rights groups on 26 March sent letters to NATO and the defence ministers of France, Italy, Spain, Canada, the UK, and the US calling for the release of information to clarify events surrounding the deaths of 63 migrants who died approximately one year ago after their disabled boat drifted for days within an area that was heavily patrolled by NATO warships.  The renewed call for release of information is being made in connection with the scheduled release on 29 March of the PACE Migration Committee Report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”  Representatives of HRW and FIDH will participate in a press conference on 29 March, 2 p.m. CET, with Ms. Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), when Ms. Strik releases the report.

Click on the following links for copies of the letters sent to: NATO, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States. (EN)

Click here for the 26 March PACE press release and information regarding 29 March press conference.

Click here for the 26 March HRW press release.

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PACE Report on “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?” Scheduled for Release on 29 March

The draft report prepared by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, will be considered on 29 March in a closed session by the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

If the draft report receives committee approval it will be released to the public by Ms. Strik at a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. CET.  Representatives from HRW and FIDH will participate in the press conference.  (Click here for HRW press release.) The report will be next be considered during “plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.”

Full text of PACE press release:  “Strasbourg, 26.03.2012 – Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on ‘Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?’ will present her draft report at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday 29th March 2012.

The report is the result of a nine-month inquiry, launched at the request of 34 Assembly members, following a March 2011 incident in which it is alleged that 63 people attempting to flee the conflict in Libya died at sea after their appeals for rescue were ignored, including by armed forces operating in the area.

Ahead of her presentation, Ms Strik commented: ‘Since the beginning of 2011 at least 1,500 people are known to have perished in the Mediterranean trying to reach European soil – despite this being one of the busiest and best-monitored seas in the world. My inquiry has focused on one particularly tragic incident, in which 63 people died, to try to establish who bears responsibility for their deaths. I have been deeply shocked by what I have learned.’

As part of her inquiry, Tineke Strik spoke at length with survivors, search and rescue authorities from Italy and Malta, as well as NATO and EU officials, and put detailed written questions to a number of governments, including those with vessels with aircraft-carrying facilities in the area at the time. She also obtained a reconstruction of the voyage using the science of forensic oceanography.

The same day, prior to the press conference, Ms Strik will present her report to PACE’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, meeting in closed session. If approved by the committee, the report will go forward for plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.

* * *

Notes for editors

Press conference

The press conference will take place at 2 p.m. on Thursday 29th March at the Council of Europe office in Brussels (Avenue des Nerviens 85 / Nerviërslaan 85, B-1040 Brussels). The rapporteur will be joined by representatives of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Watch. A video recording of the press conference will be made available at the link above, and on the PACE website, as soon as possible after it ends.

Copies of the report

If approved by the committee, the full text of the report will be posted on the Assembly’s website at around 2 p.m. Central European Time.

Contacts

Angus Macdonald, PACE Communication Division, mobile +33 (0)6 30 49 68 20.
Andrew Cutting, Council of Europe Office in Brussels, mobile +32 (0)485 21 72 02.

Motion: the request for an inquiry

PACE President’s statement, May 2011

Web file and timeline: Europe’s boat people

Video recording of press conference (when available)

Click here for PACE Press Release of 26 March.

Click here for Committee meeting agenda.

Click here for HRW Press Release of 26 March.

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Mare Deserto: RSI documentary about the failure to rescue and subsequent deaths of 60 migrants in the Mediterranean in March 2011

RSI LA1, the Swiss Italian-language television network, last month broadcasted a one hour documentary,  Mare deserto , produced by Emiliano Bos and Paul Nicol.  The documentary is in Italian.  It investigates the events that occurred between 25 March and 10 April 2011 when a disabled migrant boat attempting to travel from Libya to Italy drifted for days during which time approximately 60 persons died.  Survivors from the migrant boat reported that at various times military ships and helicopters ignored their requests for assistance.  The producers located and interviewed 9 of the known survivors in Italy, Tunisia and Norway.

Click here or here for a link to the documentary.  (IT)

Click here and here for some of my previous posts on the incident and the ongoing PACE investigation into the incident.

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Statewatch Analysis: The Arab Spring and the death toll in the Mediterranean: the true face of Fortress Europe

Statewatch released an Analysis by Marie Martin entitled “The Arab Spring and the death toll in the Mediterranean: the true face of Fortress Europe.”

Excerpt: “Throughout the uprisings in North Africa, the EU has maintained a discourse of double standards: supporting calls for freedom and democracy but greeting resulting population displacement with hostility. This has contributed to a record number of people dying at Europe’s borders during the first seven months of 2011. It is all about numbers when it comes to migration; about how large a flow came in, how many people asked for protection and how many applicants were “failed” or “rejected.” Numbers quantify the “threat” (e.g. the “invasion” of irregular migrants) and serve as a bargaining tool with third countries (allowing the acceptance of the externalisation of border controls in exchange for facilitating the mobility of a specific number of nationals). Numbers demonstrate whether the target of “x” thousands of annual deportations of irregular migrants is met. Numbers released by public authorities are meant to justify the need for migration policies and to show how efficiently they are implemented. Yet hidden numbers question the legitimacy of these policies – the death toll of people dying at Europe’s borders is such an example. For several years, Gabriele del Grande has monitored the situation at the EU’s external borders and kept a record of the number of deaths occurring in the context of irregular bordercrossings [2] on the Fortress Europe website. According to the website’s latest update, the EU’s borders have never been so “murderous” [3]: there were 1,931 deaths during the first seven months of 2011. [4] In 2008, a petition was brought before the European Parliament by the ProAsyl organisation, denouncing the  deathtrap at the EU’s borders” [5]: it was a particularly “murderous” year, with 1,500 deaths. It is terrifying to realise that this toll was exceeded in the first seven months of 2011. …”

Click here for Analysis.

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Statewatch Analysis: The EU’s self-interested response to unrest in north Africa: the meaning of treaties and readmission agreements between Italy and north African states

Statewatch released an Analysis by Yasha Maccanico entitled “The EU’s self-interested response to unrest in north Africa: the meaning of treaties and readmission agreements between Italy and north African states.”  The Analysis provides a description of Italy’s responses to the migrant arrivals in 2011 caused by the unrest in North Africa.

Excerpts:  “The ‘crisis’ reveals questionable practices and routine abuses – The measures adopted in response to the increasing number of migrants arriving from north African countries serve to highlight a number of practices that have become commonplace in Italy in recent years.

The first of these is a widening of the concept of ‘emergency.’ Calling an emergency gives the government a wider remit to derogate from specified laws so as to resolve situations that cannot be dealt with through ordinary measures….

Although the situation in north Africa was worrying, the emergency was called when slightly over 5,000 migrants had arrived. An analysis by Massimiliano Vrenna and Francesca Biondi Dal Monte for ASGI notes that the government has repeatedly called and extended states of emergency since 2002 to deal with immigration, which is treated as though it were a “natural calamity” even when there is a wholly predictable influx of people from third countries. The urgent need specified in decrees declaring a state of emergency is to conduct ‘activities to counter the exceptional – later referred to as massive – influx of immigrants on Italian territory’ (as happened on 11 December 2002, 7 November 2003, 23 December 2004, 28 October 2005, 16 March 2007, 31 December 2007, 14 February 2008 for Sicily, Calabria and Apulia and was extended to the whole nation on 25 July 2008 and 19 November 2009), stemming from a prime ministerial decree of 20 March 2002. Thus, Vrenna and Biondi Dal Monte’s observation that the emergency is ‘structural’ appears well-founded. It has serious repercussions for the treatment of migrants (see below) and the awarding of contracts outside of normal procedures, with the involvement of the civil protection department whose competencies have been expanding considerably.

The second practice involves the expulsion, refoulement or deportation of migrants outside the limits and procedures established by legislation for this purpose. The failure to identify people, to issue formal decisions on an individual basis to refuse them entry or expel them, or to give them the opportunity to apply for asylum or other forms of protection, was a key concern when boats were intercepted at sea and either the vessels or their passengers were taken back to Libya between May and September 2009, when 1,329 people were returned. These rights were also denied to people arriving from Egypt and Tunisia in application of readmission agreements in the framework of the fight against illegal migration. Their presumed nationality was deemed sufficient to enact expulsions to these countries, because ongoing cooperation and good relations with Italy appeared sufficient to indicate that they were not in need of protection, regardless of the situation in their home countries. ….

The third practice is the ill-treatment of migrants held in detention centres. Without dealing with this issue in depth, it is worth noting that what could be viewed as arbitrary detention is occurring on a large scale, in the absence of formal measures decreeing detention and without the possibility of appealing against decisions. In fact, after landing, migrants are summarily identified as either ‘illegal’ migrants or asylum seekers, largely on the basis of their nationality….”

Click here for Analysis.

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PACE Rapporteur Completes Malta Trip

Ms Tineke Strik, the PACE Migration Committee rapporteur heading up the investigation into the deaths of boat people in the Mediterranean, completed a two day fact-finding visit to Malta.  From the Times of Malta reporting:  Ms Strik said that the “visit to Malta was important for my inquiry into who is responsible for lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea, and enabled me to piece together another part of the puzzle in the case of the ‘left-to-die boat’. … Nonetheless, the puzzle remains incomplete. Gaps remain and important questions still need to be answered. As time is precious in this kind of inquiry, I very much count on national authorities, NATO and the EU to provide me swiftly with the information I have requested.  … [T]he on-going dispute between Italy and Malta on their respective responsibility with regard to the disembarkation of boat people rescued at sea remains a cause of serious concern.”

Click here and here for articles.

 

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PACE Rapporteur in Malta

Ms Tineke Strik, the PACE Migration Committee’s rapporteur who is heading up the investigation into the deaths of boat people in the Mediterranean, is in Malta today and tomorrow in connection with the ongoing inquiry.  PACE Press Statement:  Ms. Strik “will make a fact-finding visit to Malta from 15 to 16 December 2011.  During her visit, the rapporteur will meet refugees who arrived from Libya after January 2011 to gather testimony on their experiences, and will meet officials from the Maltese armed forces who are involved in organising rescues. She will also meet representatives of NGOs and European and UN officials dealing with refugee matters on the island, and the Maltese delegation to PACE. … Her report is expected in the spring of 2012.”

Click here for press statement.
 

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ECRE Interview with Tineke Strik Regarding PACE Investigation into Migrants Deaths in Mediterranean

ECRE last week published an interview with Ms Tineke Strike regarding the PACE Migration Committee’s ongoing investigation into the almost 2000 migrant deaths that have occurred in the central Mediterranean this year.  The Committee is focusing in particular on the incident that occurred in late March 2011 when unknown ship(s) and aircraft observed and then failed to rescue a disabled migrant boat.  Approximately 60 persons subsequently died.

Excerpts from the ECRE interview:

“[***]  What are the main findings of your report on the death at the Mediterranean so far?

We have spoken with survivors and with the priest who received the request for assistance from the boat in distress, Italian border guards, and the Italian refugee agency, as well as the Italian Refugee Council (CIR), a Member of ECRE. We also talked to different people in Brussels, including NATO, the ambassador of the Council of Europe, Amnesty and several MEPs. Today, during the PACE hearing on November 30 in Paris, we had a discussion with a number of experts in international law, Frontex, UNHCR and ICRC. All in all a lot of information has been gathered.

We have already sent requests for information to find out via satellite maps and logs if there were boats near the distressed boat Once we know under which flags these boats were sailing, we will be able to track which governments might have been responsible and ask them whether they knew that the boat asking for help was in danger or not and how they acted upon that information.

We are actually still waiting for information for this information. It is unfortunate that it takes time to get this information but we are trying to get hold of it through different channels. We have approached High Representative Ashton and asked for her consent to provide us with information from the European Satellite Centre. We have already used this kind of information at the Council of Europe, for example to detect the illegal detention centres that the CIA was using. We therefore hope that Ashton once again will cooperate.

We also asked NATO to provide us with information and have asked all the countries who took part in the NATO action in Libya and who had ships in that region during that period to give us data on where their boats were and when. NATO has promised to request the Member States to provide us with this information, also if these boats were not under the command of NATO. If this does not succeed, we still have our own national parliamentarians that could push their governments in their own country if it is necessary to gather the information.

If countries were involved they might not want to admit that, which makes my position difficult. I am not a judge and I don’t have enforcement powers so I’m partly dependent on the cooperation of various parties.  But I think all parties can benefit from transparency on what has happened, in order to avoid such tragedies in the future.

[***]

How do you think the EU has responded to the turmoil and war in North Africa and, in particular, the following displacement of people in the region and the arrival of some of them to Europe?

In my report following the protests in North Africa, we see that by far the largest part of the people who have fled Libya went to Tunisia and Egypt. There was a lot of fuss in the EU about the 25,000 who eventually fled to Italy. Tunisia took half million, Egypt took a half a million which shows how big the contrast with the EU was, especially considering that Member States were reluctant to resettle refugees from camps in Tunisia. This while Tunisia and Egypt were in a very vulnerable position in the post-revolutionary period. If we really want to help and strengthen stability in the region, we must show these states that they are not alone. These countries generously opened their borders, they understood the situation of the people there and to a great extent we stood aside and just watched.

Then we failed to help out Italy and Malta, especially when countries like France and Denmark wanted to close their borders. This shows exactly how much we are still not politically ready for a common asylum system. We provide beautiful public statements but when it comes down to it, Member States do not want to lose their sovereignty or be troubled by developments elsewhere. I do not think you can have both: either you have a joint system and you show solidarity, or you close all the borders and reinvent the wheel.

Common policies go hand in hand with solidarity and in fact we should look beyond the European borders.  What you see now is that border controls at the external borders of the EU continue to shift to North Africa and sometimes even further. One cannot claim that our responsibilities only begin when people have reached our territory. I was therefore very disappointed when the European Commission replied to a question by MEP Hélène Flautre on this incident saying that the boat was in Libyan waters and therefore they had no power to get involved. If certain acts like push backs at high sea or bilateral agreements with unsafe third countries such as Libya, lead to death or inhumane treatment, EU member states or other countries of the Council of Europe are accountable for a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In that sense I have high expectations of the decision of the ECHR in the case of Hirsi and others v. Italy.

[***]

What do you think the impact of your work and the investigation will be?

I hope the report will raise the awareness of the international obligations and also the awareness of the importance of avoiding such tragedies. It is important that violating the obligation to rescue does not remain unmentioned or lead to impunity. If we succeed in proving which actors were wrong. Member States will be more careful and there will be more pressure to cooperate and share the responsibilities, and to establish practical and binding solutions. Being a parliamentary assembly of national parliamentarians, I also hope that the discussion will also take place in Member States. I find it really outrageous that such a tragedy can occur so close to our borders and that we have been so silent about it.

[***]“

Click here for full interview.

Click here for my last post on this topic.

 

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Update Regarding PACE Investigation into Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean

I have sought additional information from NATO and PACE regarding the 29 November hearing held in Paris by the PACE Migration Committee regarding the deaths of boat people in the Mediterranean.  I was informed by a PACE official that the minutes of the 29 November hearing will be released during or after the Committee’s next scheduled meeting which will take place in late January 2012.

In my previous post on this topic I incorrectly said that NATO officials attended the 29 November hearing.  Instead Ms Strik, the Committee’s rapporteur, met with a senior NATO official in Brussels on 28 November.  A NATO official informed me that “during the meeting [with Ms Strik], NATO offered to look into new details of the 28 March 2011 incident which were provided to NATO by Ms Strik. This process is ongoing and we will reply to the Council of Europe in due course.”

The NATO official reiterated to me that NATO ships were “fully aware of their responsibilities” to respond to vessels in distress and noted that during Operation Unified Protector “NATO ships have directly assisted in the rescue of more than 600 people in distress at sea.”  The official provided information about two incidents which have previously been reported on:

  • “[O]n 26 March 2011, NATO ships responded to information that two migrant ships with over 500 people on board were in distress, which were then provided direct assistance by the Italian authorities. That included a NATO ship using its helicopter to airlift two women and a newborn child to medical help”; and
  • “On 10 July 2011, a NATO ship responded to a vessel in distress approximately 75 miles off the coast of Libya. The NATO vessel provided medical support, food and offered mechanical assistance to the distressed migrants. In response to a deterioration of the humanitarian situation onboard, the 114 migrants were transferred onto the NATO ship in accordance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) protocol and delivered to safety in Tunisia.”

The reference to the 26 March incident presumably relates in part to the Canadian warship, HMCS Charlottetown, which made contact with a disabled migrant boat carrying over 250 migrants on 25 March.  The Charlottetown provided food, waters, and repairs to the migrant boat and escorted it until 26 March when the Italian Coast Guard arrived on scene.  As far as I can tell from news reports from the time of this incident, there was only one migrant boat involved.   NATO’s current statement indicates there was a second migrant boat encountered by NATO at this time.

Click here and here for my previous posts on the March 2011 incident.

The 10 July incident relates to the rescue of over 100 migrants by the Spanish Navy frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón.  The rescued migrants remained onboard the Spanish frigate for six days after Malta and Italy refused to permit the NATO ship to enter port to disembark the rescued migrants.  The migrants were transferred to a Tunisian navy ship on 16 July and presumably then taken to Tunisia.

Click here and here for my previous posts on the July 2011 incident.

Neither of these two incidents relates to the events that occurred between 25 March and 10 April 2011 when a disabled migrant boat drifted for days during which time approximately 60 persons died.  Survivors from the migrant boat reported that at various times military ships and helicopters ignored their requests for assistance.  The Guardian reported extensively on this subject and the PACE Committee has been seeking information from NATO about this particular incident.

Click here and here for Guardian articles.

Click here for my last post of the PACE 29 Nov. hearing.

HMCS Charlottetown and migrant boat 25 March 2011.

Photo Credit: Lt(N) Michael McWhinnie, Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces

Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón rescuing migrant boat on 10 July 2011 and transferring migrants to Tunisian navy vessel on 16 July 2011.

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

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NATO Reportedly Agrees to Provide Additional Information to PACE Regarding Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean

The PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, in connection with the preparation of a report by Ms Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) on the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean, conducted a hearing in Paris on 29 November.  NATO officials who met with Ms Strik in Brussels before attended the hearing reportedly agreed to provide additional information, which might include satellite imagery, to the PACE Committee.

From PACE Press Statement, 30 November 2011:  “‘With 1971 boatpeople having perished in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach European soil from North Africa, the year 2011 sets a sad record as the deadliest year for boatpeople,’ PACE rapporteur Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) said at the end of a hearing on this issue, organised by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Migration Committee.  ‘Never before the Mediterranean Sea has been as closely monitored as this year because of the war in Libya and still more boat people than ever perished or disappeared,’ the rapporteur added.  ‘Is there a common understanding of a “distress situation”? Is it clear which legal framework is applicable and by whom? Do all ships, even warships, have to proceed with rescue operations even if they are situated beyond established search and rescue zones? Where does legal responsibility start and where does political responsibility end? These are some of the issues we are currently trying to clarify,’ she said.  Mrs Strik’s report will focus on an incident reported in March this year, during which 63 boat people escaping from Libya died after their appeals for rescue had allegedly been ignored. ‘The testimonies of survivors of this incident are coherent, but we have to continue to collect more data and information on who was when and where in the area and we now expect Nato and the EU to provide us with satellite imagery and other relevant information,’ she concluded.”

Click here, here, here, and here for articles.

Click here for PACE Press Statement.

Click here for my last post on the topic.

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