Tag Archives: Turkey

“Mediterranean flows into Europe: Migration and the EU’s foreign policy” – Analysis by European Parliament DG for External Policies

The EP’s Directorate-General for External Policies just released an Analysis, “Mediterranean flows into Europe: Migration and the EU’s foreign policy,” in which it reviews the EU’s external policies and instruments relating to migration in the Mediterranean, including the Mediterranean Task Force established after 3 October 2013 tragedy at Lampedusa in which over 350 people died.

The Analysis describes the serious shortcomings of the security-driven approach that has been taken by the EU. Noting, for example, that “it is unclear whether the militarisation of EU border management (resulting from a tighter relation between the CSDP and Frontex) will actually save lives or create even more danger for migrants” and that “[t]he increasing militarisation of the issue of irregular migration was underscored in December 2013, when the European Council called for the establishment of an EU Maritime Security Strategy by June 2014 as well as for increased synergies between the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and freedom/security/justice actors to tackle illegal migration.”

The Analysis discusses possible ways in which the European Parliament might play a more significant role in the shaping of future policies:

“The coming months – which will include the European elections and the June 2014 Council – present an important opportunity for the EP to engage politically with the topic of migration in the Mediterranean. As outlined above, numerous EU external policies and instruments deal with migration in the region; […]

All should incorporate respect for human rights as a central concern and pursue the overall goals of prevention, protection and solidarity. The EP has tools at hand to contribute effectively to those objectives. The EP should use its co-decision powers to ensure the inclusion of human rights provisions in all migration-related legislation, and its power of consent to guarantee that international agreements contain effective human rights guarantees. The EP’s budgetary powers also allow the institution to link assistance to third countries to proper human rights monitoring mechanisms.

Most pressingly, the EP should advocate the implementation of the actions recommended by the Mediterranean Task Force set up by the Commission. The EP should also use the opportunities generated by inter-parliamentary relations (such as the 27th ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in March and the EU-Africa summit in April) to engage in a dialogue about migration with third countries. This dialogue should foster cooperation in the management of regular migration and in the fight against irregular migration and trafficking networks, with special emphasis on the need to prevent migrants from embarking on dangerous journeys to the EU.

The dialogue should also seek to frame Mediterranean migration within a wider perspective, possibly in the following ways:

  • Steer away from excessively militarised and security-centred approaches. The EP should ensure that strict human rights standards are respected in the fight against organised crime and smugglers’ networks, and that a clear distinction is drawn between criminal networks and their victims. The EU should prevent the criminalisation of migrants and of humanitarian organisations supporting migrants.
  • Highlight the importance of good governance, and of good migration governance more specifically. By reinforcing the EU’s Regional Development and Protection Programmes, for example, the Union can develop a comprehensive and long-term framework to develop and enhance the capacities of migration management and national asylum systems in Mediterranean countries.
  • Demand full respect for humanitarian law, refugee protection and human rights (including the rights of non-nationals) in crisis situations, and stress that humanitarian access must be guaranteed to provide life-saving supplies.
  • Recognise the importance and challenges that South-South and intra-African migration represent for countries in the southern Mediterranean, rather than focussing solely on the (much smaller) flows towards the EU.
  • Encourage further research on the migration-development nexus and explore the positive impact of human mobility on socioeconomic development.
  • Encourage EU Member States to facilitate and speed up their procedures to grant asylum and EU protected status, whilst better differentiating between refugees and irregular migrants. The EP should respect the competence of the Member States in this regard, but could also encourage Member States – in cooperation with the UNHCR – to increase their quotas for resettling refugees not adequately protected in third countries. The EP should support the Mediterranean Task Force’s proposed feasibility study on the joint processing of protection claims outside the EU, and the Commission’s proposal to move towards a common approach for humanitarian permits and visas.

All these actions would contribute to reshaping the EU’s external action related to migration, notably in the Mediterranean. They would also enhance the EU’s credibility vis-à-vis those third countries that accept significant number of migrants and refugees, and that most directly bear the consequences of their neighbours’ conflicts. (This is the case today for Lebanon and Turkey, as a result of the Syrian civil war). A modified EU approach could also project a more nuanced and positive view of migration – a change that might, in turn, influence the way migration is perceived more broadly within the EU.”

Click here or here for the Analysis.

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Filed under Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Turkey

Frontex FRAN Report for Q3 2012

In January of this year, the Frontex Risk Analysis Unit (RAU) released its 2012 Third Quarter Report (July – September 2012). (Frontex has since released Reports for Q4 2012 and Q1 2013; we will post summaries of these more recent Reports shortly.)  As in past quarters, the 70-page report provided in-depth information about irregular migration patterns at the EU external borders. The report is based on data provided by 30 Member State border-control authorities, and presents results of statistical analysis of quarterly variations in eight irregular migration indicators and one asylum  indicator.

FRAN Q3 2012 CoverDuring 2012 Q3 several FRAN indicators varied dramatically compared with previous reports, including a significant reduction in detections of illegal border-crossing compared with previous third quarters. In fact, there were fewer detections of illegal border-crossing than in any third quarter since data collection began in early 2008. Additionally, this quarter reported the largest number of applications for asylum since data collection began in early 2008, with Syrians ranking first among nationalities.

Here are some highlights from the Report focusing on the sea borders:

  • “There were 22,093 detections of illegal border-crossing at the EU level, which is considerably lower than expected based on previous reporting periods.”
  • “The majority of detections were at the EU external land (66%), rather than sea border, but this was the lowest proportion for some time due to an increase in detections at the Greek sea border with Turkey [***]. Nevertheless, the Greek land border with Turkey was still by far the undisputed hotspot for detections of illegal border-crossing.”
  • “Overall, in Q3 2012 there were fewer detections of illegal border-crossing than in any previous third quarter, following the launch of two Greek Operations: Aspida (Shield) …  and Xenios Zeus…. Perhaps somewhat predictably, there were increased detections of illegal border-crossing at both the Turkish sea border with Greece and land border with Bulgaria, indicative of weak displacement effects from the operational area.”
  • “[T]here were more than 3 500 reported detections of illegal border-crossing on the main Central Mediterranean route (Italian Pelagic Islands, Sicily and Malta), a significant decrease compared to the same reporting period in 2011 during the peak associated with the Arab Spring, but still the highest reported so far in 2012, and higher than the pre-Arab Spring peak of 2010.”
  • “[D]etections in Italy still constituted more than a fifth of all detections at the EU level. Detections in Apulia and Sicily were actually higher than in the Arab Spring period, and doubled in Lampedusa compared to the previous quarter.”
  • “In July 2012 the facilitation networks targeted Sicily instead of Pantelleria and Lampedusa, as it is harder for the migrants to reach the Italian mainland from the small islands. Migrants claim that the facilitators may start to focus on the southern coast of Sicily, as they expect lower surveillance there.”
  • “[T]here were some significant increases of various nationalities such as Tunisians and Egyptians departing from their own countries, and Somalis and Eritreans departing from Libya.”
  • “Several reports included details of how sub-Saharan migrants were often deceived, over-charged or even left to drown by their facilitators during the embarkation process.”
  • “For some time there has been a steady flow of Afghans and, to a lesser extent, Pakistanis arriving in the southern Italian blue borders of Calabria and Apulia with some very large increases observed during Q3 2012. In fact, according to the FRAN data there were more detections in this region than ever before.”
  • “JO EPN Aeneas 2012 started on 2 July. The operational plan defines two operational areas, Apulia and Calabria, covering the seashore along the Ionian Sea and part of the Adriatic Sea.”
  • “JO EPN Indalo 2012 started in [the Western Mediterranean] on 16 May covering five zones of the south-eastern Spanish sea border and extending into the Western Mediterranean.”
  • “Increased border surveillance along the Mauritanian coast generated by the deployment of joint Mauritanian-Spanish police teams and also joint maritime and aerial patrols in Mauritanian national waters has reduced departures towards the Canary Islands but also may have resulted in a displacement effect to the Western Mediterranean route from the Moroccan coast.”
  • “The good cooperation among the Spanish, Senegalese and Mauritanian authorities and the joint patrols in the operational sea areas and on the coastline of Senegal and Mauritania have resulted in a displacement of the departure areas of migrant boats towards the Canary Islands, with the reactivation of the Western African route (from north of Mauritania to the Western Sahara territory) used by the criminal networks operating in Mauritania.”

Here are excerpts from the Report focusing on the sea borders:

“Overall, in Q3 2012 there were fewer detections of illegal border-crossing than in any previous third quarter, following the launch of two Greek Operations: Aspida (Shield), which involved the deployment of ~1 800 Greek police officers to the Greek land border with Turkey, and Xenios Zeus, which focused on the inland apprehension of illegally staying persons. The much-increased surveillance and patrolling activities at the Greek-Turkish land border, combined with the lengthening of the detention period to up to 6 months, resulted in a drastic drop in the number of detections of irregular migrants from ~2 000 during the first week of August to below ten per week in each of the last few weeks of October. Perhaps somewhat predictably, there were increased detections of illegal border-crossing at both the Turkish sea border with Greece and land border with Bulgaria, indicative of weak displacement effects from the operational area….

Despite the clear impact of the Greek operational activities on the number of detections of illegal border-crossing, there is little evidence to suggest that the absolute flow of irregular migrants arriving in the region has decreased in any way. In fact, document fraud on flights from Istanbul increased once the Greek operations commenced. Hence, there remains a very significant risk of a sudden influx of migrants immediately subsequent to the end of the operations.”

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4.1 Detections of Illegal border-crossing

“Overall, in Q3 2012 there were 22 093 detections of illegal border-crossing at the EU level, which is considerably lower than expected based on detections during previous quarters. In fact, there were fewer detections of illegal border-crossing than in any third quarter since data collection began in early 2008. The particularly low number of detections was due to vastly increased operational activity at the Greek land border with Turkey since 30 July 2012, and also to the overlapping effects of the end of the Arab Spring in its initial countries (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia) and far fewer detections of circular Albanian migrants illegally crossing the border into Greece.

The majority of detections were at the EU external land (66%), rather than sea border, but this was the lowest proportion for some time due to an increase in detections at the Greek sea border with Turkey – probably the result of a weak displacement effect from the land border. Nevertheless, the Greek land border with Turkey was still by far the undisputed hotspot for detections of illegal border-crossing.”

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2012 Q3 Illegal Border Crossings“Figure 4 shows the evolution of the FRAN Indicator 1A – detections of illegal border- crossing, and the proportion of detections between the land and sea borders of the EU per quarter since the beginning of 2008. The third quarter of each year is usually influenced by weather conditions favourable for both approaching and illegally crossing the external border of the EU. Moreover, good conditions for illegal border-crossing also make it easier to detect such attempts. The combination of these two effects means that the third quarter of each year is usually the one with very high, and often the highest number of detections.”

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4.2 Routes

“… As illustrated in Figure 8, in the third quarter of 2012 the most detections of illegal border-crossings were reported on the Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes, which is consistent with the overall trend for most third quarters in the past. However, on the Eastern Mediterranean route the summer peak of detections, which has been remarkably consistent over recent years, was much lower than expected following increased operational activity in the area resulting in far fewer detections during the final month of the quarter.

In the Central Mediterranean, increased detections of several nationalities illegally crossing the blue border to Lampedusa and Malta, as well as increased landings in Apulia and Calabria from Greece and Turkey, combined to produce the highest number of detections both before and after the prominent peak reported during the Arab Spring in 2011.

In Q3 2012, there were 11 072 detections of illegal border-crossing on the Eastern Mediterranean route, a 75% reduction compared to the same period in 2011, and most other third quarters (Fig. 8). Nevertheless this route was still the undisputed hotspot for illegal entries to the EU during the current reporting period, mostly because of vastly increased detections of Syrian nationals.”

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 1.45.32 PM[***]

4.2.1 Eastern Mediterranean Route

“…Italian Ionian coast: For some time there has been a steady flow of Afghans and, to a lesser extent, Pakistanis arriving in the southern Italian blue borders of Calabria and Apulia with some very large increases observed during
Q3 2012. In fact, according to the FRAN data there were more detections in this region than ever before. The most commonly detected migrants were from Afghanistan, which is a significant but steady trend. In contrast detections of migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Syria have increased very sharply since the beginning of 2012.

JO EPN Aeneas 2012 started on 2 July. The operational plan defines two operational areas, Apulia and Calabria, covering the seashore along the Ionian Sea and part of the Adriatic Sea. As mentioned in previous FRAN Quarterlies,
the detections at the Greek-Turkish land border are directly correlated with detections in the Ionian Sea. In 2011, it was estimated that more than 15% of migrants reported at the Greek-Turkish land border were afterwards detected in Apulia and Calabria.”

[***]

4.2.2 Central Mediterranean Route

“… According to FRAN data, in Q3 2012 there were just 3 427 reported detections of illegal border-crossing on the main Central Mediterranean route (Italian Pelagic Islands, Sicily and Malta), a significant decrease compared to the same reporting period in 2011. However, this figure was still the highest reported so far in 2012, and was higher than the peak in 2010. Additionally, there were some significant increases in various nationalities.

On the Central Mediterranean route, detections of migrants from Tunisia continued to in crease from 82 during the last quarter of 2011 to over 1 000 in Q3 2012. Tunisians were not the only North African nationality to feature in the top five most detected nationalities in the Central Mediterranean region, as Egyptians were also detected in significant and increasing numbers (287). The fact that fewer Egyptians than Tunisians were detected in the Central Mediterranean should be interpreted in light of Egypt being eight times more populous than Tunisia, which shows that irregular migration pressure from Egypt is proportionally much lower than that from Tunisia.

Also significant in the Central Mediterranean during the third quarter of 2012 were detections of Somalis (854) and, following recent increases, also Eritreans (411). Somalis have been detected in similarly high numbers during previous reporting periods (for example over 1 000 in Q2 2012) but there were more Eritreans detected in Q3 2012 than ever before.

Some Syrian nationals were also detected using the direct sea route from Turkey to Italy but these tended to arrive in Calabria…..”

[***]

4.2.3 Western Mediterranean Route

“In 2011, irregular migration in the Western Mediterranean region increased steadily from just 890 detections in Q1 2011 to 3 568 detections in the third quarter of the year. A year later in Q3 2012, detections dropped to just over 2 000 detections, which was, nevertheless, the highest level so far in 2012.

As has been the case for several years, most of the detections involved Algerians (859) followed by migrants of unknown nationality (524, presumed to be sub-Saharan Africans). Algerians were mostly detected in Almeria
and at the land border with Morocco, the migrants of unknown nationality were mostly reported from the land borders.

JO EPN Indalo 2012 started in this region on 16 May covering five zones of the south-eastern
Spanish sea border and extending into the Western Mediterranean.

In Q3 2012, there were far fewer Moroccan nationals detected (79) compared to Q3 2011. Most were detected just east of the Gibraltar Strait, between Tangiers and Ceuta. According to the migrants’ statements, the area between Ksar Sghir and Sidi Kankouche is the most popular departing area among Moroccans who want to cross the Gibraltar strait (10.15 NM distance). The boats used for the sea crossing were toy boats bought by the migrants in a supermarket for EUR ~100….

Increased border surveillance along the Mauritanian coast generated by the deployment of joint Mauritanian-Spanish police teams and also joint maritime and aerial patrols in Mauritanian national waters has reduced departures towards the Canary Islands but also may have resulted in a displacement effect to the Western Mediterranean route from the Moroccan coast.”

[***]

4.2.4 Western African Route

“In the third quarter of 2012, there were just 40 detections of illegal border-crossing in this region, almost exclusively of Moroccan nationals but with an influx of Senegalese nationals….

The good cooperation among the Spanish, Senegalese and Mauritanian authorities and the joint patrols in the operational sea areas and on the coastline of Senegal and Mauritania have resulted in a displacement of the
departure areas of migrant boats towards the Canary Islands, with the reactivation of the Western African route (from north of Mauritania to the Western Sahara territory) used by the criminal networks operating in Mauritania.”

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Click here or here here for Frontex FRAN Report for Q3 2012.

Click here for previous post summarizing Frontex FRAN Report for Q2 2012.

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Filed under Algeria, Analysis, Data / Stats, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, EU and EU Organizations, European Union, Frontex, General, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Mediterranean, Morocco, Reports, Senegal, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey

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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At Least 20 Persons Dead After Migrant Boat Capsizes in Aegean Sea

A migrant boat attempting to sail from Turkey to Greece reportedly capsized near the Greek island of Lesvos on Thursday or Friday.  The boat was carrying about 28 persons.  At least 20 bodies have been recovered.  Only one survivor has been located.  Media reports describe the migrants as Iraqis or “of Asian origin.”  The boat’s captain was reportedly Turkish.

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

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Guardian: Report of Syrians Having Been Turned Back on Evros River by Greek and Possibly Frontex Border Guards

A Guardian article today describes an incident which occurred earlier in the year which, if accurate, would indicate that Greek border guards and possibly border guards operating under Frontex Joint Operation Poseidon Land have returned Syrian asylum seekers (and migrants of other nationalities) to Turkish territory without registering and screening the migrants.

Excerpt: “This summer two people smugglers left 25 Syrian refugees to cross the Evros alone at night. There were two rubber dinghies. The first disappeared across the river into the night. The second …capsized. Most of the men, women and children could not swim. Some survived … The bedraggled Syrians who made it ashore [were detained].  After [irregular migrants are arrested], they are usually detained in administrative holding centres by the EU border police, Frontex, which has been deployed a few miles from the border since 2010. However, the group of Syrian refugees who made it across the Evros that night were not registered. Instead, they were arrested by officers in ‘blue uniforms’ and driven back to the river. ‘There were between 100 to 150 people by the river,’ said Farouk (not his real name), a 29-year-old from the Qamishli region in northern Syria. ‘They were of many nationalities, mainly Syrian. Some tried to make problems: they had paid a lot of money to get that far. When that happened, the police beat them. The police kicked and slapped them, including the women, they picked up children and threw them into the boat.’  The officers put people in small plastic boats, which they tied to larger, motorised boats, and returned them to Turkish territory.  … A UN High Commissioner for Refugees source said the organisation could not comment on Farouk’s story or illegal push-backs by Greek police in general. However, they acknowledged hearing similar accounts. ‘People say that there is a situation where people may enter the territory but are not registered as persons who are arrested in Greek territory. They are returned through use of force at night through the river. We think that these operations have been eliminated in the last two years.’ … Pasxalis Syritoudis, police chief of the northern Evros region, denied that his officers operated a push-back policy. … However, Syritoudis admitted that his main goal was to ‘prevent people entering Greek soil’. This meant sometimes his officers used boats to block migrants in dinghies from crossing the border. ‘We have 10 boats patrolling the river all the time. The boats are used to block people from crossing – to stop them getting to Greek territory.’…”

Click here for article.

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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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UN Special Rapporteur on HR of Migrants expresses concern over Italy-Libya cooperation on migration

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Prof. François Crépeau, for the past six months has been conducting “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 June 2013.  To date he has concluded official visits to EU offices in Brussels, Tunisia, Turkey, and Italy; a nine-day visit to Greece began on 25 November.  The Special Rapporteur has issued preliminary conclusions at the end of each completed mission.  One common concern is that various actions of the EU and neighbouring countries are resulting in human rights considerations being overshadowed by migration control and security objectives.

At the conclusion of the most recent mission to Italy (30 September – 8 October 2012), the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over Italy’s (and the EU’s) ongoing cooperation with Libya:

“Another matter of paramount importance are the bilateral cooperation agreements negotiated between Italy and its neighbours on the question of migration. Although the EU has negotiated a number of EU wide readmission agreements, the absence of a clear regional framework for such agreements, including a lack of minimum human rights standards, has led to the creation of a number of bilateral readmission agreements between Italy and its neighbours which often do not appear to have human rights at their core.  Of particular concern is the Italy-Libya bilateral cooperation on migration. The 2008 agreement formalised cooperation to strengthen Libya`s capacity to intercept irregular migrants on Libyan territory or territorial waters, even though Libya’s record at effectively protecting the human rights of migrants was poor and reports of human rights abuses of migrants in Libya were frequent. In line with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights pronounced in the Hirsi case that such ‘push-backs’ by Italian authorities towards Libya were not acceptable, the agreement is currently suspended and the Hirsi-defined push-backs appear to have ceased. However, Italy-Libya migration cooperation was recently reinforced through a 2012 processo verbale. This new political framework however, contains very little concrete information on strengthening Libya’s normative framework and institutional capacities regarding the human rights of migrants.”

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern that the current technical assistance in Search and Rescue capability being provided by Italy to Libya is in effect disguised migration control assistance:

 “Moreover, I have learnt of increased bilateral cooperation between Italian and Libyan authorities regarding search and rescue operations, including the provision of logistical and technical support to Libyan coast guards. Whilst increased search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean is undoubtedly of paramount importance, I have observed that there appears to be a strong focus on strengthening the capacities of the Libyan authorities to intercept migrants hoping to reach Europe, on both their territory and in their territorial waters, and return them to Libya. In this context, I warn EU member states against a progressive ‘externalisation’ of border control. In particular, considering the on-going difficulties of the Libyan authorities and the reports of human rights abuses against migrants on Libyan territory, this migration cooperation with Libya should not lead to any migrant being returned to Libyan shores against their will, either by Italian coast guards or Guardia di Finanza, or by Libyan coast guards with the technical or logistical support of their Italian counterparts.”

While acknowledging the important support provided to Italy by Frontex, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over certain Frontex activities in Italy:

“[  ] I am aware that the key focus of FRONTEX remains information and intelligence gathering. In Italy FRONTEX thus works predominantly with the Guarda di Finanza and the Border Police to combat irregular migration, migrant smuggling and other migration related crimes. I remain concerned that these security objectives still appear to overshadow human rights considerations. For example, I have learned that FRONTEX officers conduct interviews with migrants in Italian detention facilities in order to gather information on their journeys. However these interviews are conducted without any external supervision. It is thus essential that effective human rights standards be integrated into all departments and agencies related to border management.”

The Special Rapporteur made the following “Preliminary Recommendations to the Italian government”:

  • “Ensure that migration cooperation with Libya does not lead to any migrant being returned to Libyan shores against their will, either by Italian authorities, or by Libyan authorities with the technical or logistical support of their Italian counterparts.
  • Prohibit the practice of informal automatic “push-backs” to Greece.
  • Guarantee the full access by international organisations, including UNHCR and IOM, civil society organisations and lawyers to all areas where migrants are held or detained to identify protection concerns
  • Develop a nation-wide regulatory framework, with respect for human rights at its core, for the organisation and management of all migrant detention centres.
  • Develop a simpler and fairer appeal system for expulsion and detention orders that integrates human rights considerations at each procedural step.
  • Develop a speedier identification system, including commencing the identification of foreign inmates whilst in prison, in order to make sure that detention of migrants for identification purposes is limited to the shortest time possible, with a maximum of 6 months.”

Similar concerns were expressed by the Special Rapporteur after his missions to Tunisia and Turkey:

Tunisia, 8 June 2012: “… Nevertheless, I learned that a large majority of regional migration initiatives coming from the EU continue to be focused on issues of border control, and do not consider important issues such as the facilitation of regular migration channels. Thus I encourage the European authorities to develop, in the context of the Migration and Mobility Partnership currently being negotiated, and in conjunction with bilateral agreements of the Member States of the Union, a more nuanced policy of migration cooperation with Tunisia, which moves beyond security issues to develop new initiatives in consultation and in real partnership with Tunisian authorities, which place at their core the respect, protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants….”

Turkey, 29 June 2012:  “… While the EU and Turkey have developed a close cooperation on migration issues, which has led to some notable positive developments, the assistance offered to Turkey regarding migration management appears to focus largely on securitising the borders and decreasing irregular migration to the European common territory through focusing on projects related to the detention and removal of migrants in Turkey and the increased monitoring of the Turkish border. Often neglected from the equation, is an equivalent emphasis on the human rights of those most vulnerable and most affected by the migration process: the migrants themselves….”

The Special Rapporteur will likely issue preliminary observations at the conclusion of the current mission to Greece on or after 3 December.

Click here (Italy), here (Tunisia), and here (Turkey) for the Special Rapporteur’s statements.

Click here for the web site for the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

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PACE Rapporteur Strik and HRW Respond to Recent Migrant Boat Tragedies

Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, issued a statement on Friday in response to the deaths of 61 persons from Syria and other countries (including 31 children) off the Turkish coast and the ongoing migrant boats departing from North Africa:

“In the case of the boat off Turkey, many of those on board are thought to have come from Syria where a humanitarian crisis is in full swing. Asylum seekers from the conflict there are heading not only to neighbouring states but also to the rest of Europe[.]  This is an urgent warning that Europe must give much greater priority to the humanitarian situation evolving in Syria, and find new means to tackle the migration flows between Turkey and Greece – for Turkey’s sake, for Greece’s stake, for Europe’s stake, and for the sake of all those who have lost their lives and who will continue to lose their lives crossing between the two countries. European countries should also be prepared to take their share in the protection of Syrian refugees, as neighbouring countries Jordan and Turkey are facing growing problems in coping with such large numbers. We know that a failure to react adequately to the humanitarian consequences of the Libya conflict caused unnecessary deaths. Let us not repeat those mistakes with the conflict in Syria.”

Human Rights Watch also issued a statement:  “The deaths of so many children should be a wake-up call to EU leaders[.]  Europe can and should do more to limit tragedies like these in the future…. Both Frontex, the EU external borders agency, and a proposed new European External Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) include rescue at sea in their mandates, but lack specific guidelines and procedures to ensure that rescue is the paramount consideration in EU operations at sea. Preventing deaths at sea needs to be at the heart of a coordinated European-wide approach to boat migration…. The EU should also coordinate with Turkish authorities to ensure that there are no gaps in rescue coverage. … Europe squabbled and dragged its feet last year when tens of thousands came by sea to escape chaos and conflict in North Africa…. It needs to live up to European values this time around, and do its utmost to ensure that those fleeing Syria reach safety.”  Human Rights Watch released a briefing paper in August regarding ongoing migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.

Click here for full Statement by Tineke Strik.

Click here for full HRW Statement.

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High Death Toll in Turkish Migrant Boat Sinking Likely Caused by Persons Trapped Below Deck

Last week’s sinking of a migrant boat off the Turkish coast took place about 50 metres from shore.  The high death toll of 61 persons, including 31 children and infants, seems to have occurred in part because many of the boat’s passengers were either trapped or locked below the main deck of the boat.  Some media reports describe the boat, the “Sailor”, as a small fishing boat, but pictures of the accident scene suggest that the boat was probably a pleasure boat.  The boat struck underwater rocks causing it to sink on 6 September.  The boat reportedly departed from Ahmetbeyli and had traveled approximately 25 km along the coastline when it sank near the village of Menderes.  The migrants on board included Syrians, Iraqis, and others.  At least 49 survivors were able to swim ashore.  The boat’s Turkish captain and at least one crew member have been arrested and charged with human smuggling and reckless homicide.  The crew reportedly made no efforts to assist the passengers as the boat was sinking.

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

 

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Frontex to Increase Sea and Air Patrols in Aegean at Greece’s Request

Greek news reports say that Greek officials have made requests to Commissioner Malmström and Frontex for assistance to respond to “increasing migratory pressures on the islands of the Eastern Aegean.”  The Greek islands of Lesvos, Samos, Patmos, Leros and Symi in particular have reportedly seen an increase in the number of persons entering from nearby Turkish territory.  According to the media reports the assistance will include the deployment of “four aerial vehicle[s], four patrol boats, three mobile surveillance units and eight expert officers, whose costs will be covered by EU funds the agency and the European Commission.”

Click here and here for articles. (EL)

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Cyprus Reportedly Preparing for Possible Influx of Syrian Boat Refugees

The EU Observer reported two weeks ago that Cyprus “is worried that Syrian refugees could arrive en masse in the island-nation and in the EU more broadly if the conflict gets worse [and that Cyprus] is drawing up plans in case Syrian boat refugees arrive on its coast, a Cypriot source told this website.”  What these plans may consist of is not clear, but during a recent visit to Malta, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias said that Cyprus and Malta shared “’common worries and interests’ over irregular migration … ‘We’re not racists but we must defend the rights of our countries’.”

While it is conceivable that Syrian refugee boats could head for Cyprus if the number of people forced to flee Syria continues to rise, but, as was the case with Libya, most will likely continue to flee across land borders to neighbouring countries and will not take to the sea.  The UNHCR estimates that as of early this month, over 81,000 people have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq and that there are approximately 400,000 internally displaced persons within Syria.  To the extent that some may flee Syria by sea, the portion of the island of Cyprus closet to Syria is the northeastern area which is controlled by Turkey.

Cyprus assumes the EU presidency on 1 July.

Click here and here for articles.

Click here for UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response Information Sharing Portal.

 

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EU Will Not Fund Construction of Evros (Greece-Turkey) Border Fence

Of possible interest to some, Ekathimerni.com reports that the EU has made it clear it will not provide funding to the Greek government for the construction of a border fence along the Greek-Turkish border along the Evros river.  Greece has been planning the construction of the border fence for many months and was seeking €5 million from the EU.  Early proposals called for the construction of a fence over 200 km in length.  The fence that is now being built will be 12 km in length when completed.  “Responding to a question by Euro MP Giorgos Papanikolaou, who is affiliated with conservative New Democracy, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia [Malmström] said the bloc would not pay for the fence as it would not effectively discourage immigrants or smugglers who would simply seek alternative routes into the European Union, either via another section of Greece’s porous border with Turkey or through the border of another EU member state. [Malmström] reportedly said that the EU would be prepared to fund other measures if they are deemed to be an effective way of curbing illegal immigration into the bloc.”

Click here for current article.

Click here for older article.

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HRW Report: Frontex Exposes Migrants to Abusive Conditions in Greece

Human Rights Watch yesterday issued a report entitled “The EU’s Dirty Hands: Frontex Involvement in Ill-Treatment of Migrant Detainees in Greece” which “assesses Frontex’s role in and responsibility for exposing migrants to inhuman and degrading detention conditions during four months beginning late in 2010 when its first rapid border intervention team (RABIT) was apprehending migrants and taking them to police stations and migrant detention centers in Greece’s Evros region. … ‘Frontex has become a partner in exposing migrants to treatment that it knows is absolutely prohibited under human rights law,’ said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch. ‘To end this complicity in inhuman treatment, the EU needs to tighten the rules for Frontex operations and make sure that Frontex is held to account if it breaks the rules in Greece or anywhere else.’ … ‘It’s a disturbing contradiction that at the same time that the European Court of Human Rights was categorically ruling that sending migrants to detention in Greece violated their fundamental rights, Frontex, an EU executive agency, and border guards from EU states were knowingly sending them there,’ Frelick said. … ‘As new migration crises emerge in the Mediterranean basin and as Frontex’s responsibilities expand, there is an urgent need to shift EU asylum and migration policy from enforcement-first to protection-first.’ Frelick said. ‘This is not only legally required, but the EU, its agencies, and member states can and should respect and meet the EU’s own standards.’”

As the HRW report notes, the humanitarian crisis on the Greece-Turkey land border was many years in the making, but among the contributing factors to the increased flow of migrants seeking to enter the EU at this location, which by November 2010 accounted for 90% of the detected illegal crossings at EU borders, were the enhanced migration control measures in the Central Mediterranean and West Africa, specifically the bi-lateral push-back practice being implemented at the time by Italy and Libya and Spain’s bi-lateral agreements with West African countries.  Increased sea patrols along Greece’s maritime borders also contributed to the shifting of the flow to the land border.

Frontex issued a statement (or click here) responding to the HRW report in which it welcomed the report and said it was “satisfied to note that its comments on the original draft were taken on board. The report now highlights an issue, which we agree, is of great importance. We would like to recall that Frontex fully respects and strives for promoting Fundamental Rights in its border control operations which, however, do not include organisation of, and responsibility for, detention on the territory of the Member States, which remains their exclusive remit. … Frontex was receiving signals of concern from national officers deployed to the region. The Agency has been extremely concerned with the conditions at the detention centres – a point which we raised on several occasions both with the Greek authorities and with the European Commission. Nevertheless, we continue to stress that at the practical level abandoning emergency support operations such as RABIT 2011 is neither responsible, nor does it do anything to help the situation of irregular migrants on the ground….”

Here is Cecilia Malmström’s comment from her blog on the HRW report (translated from Swedish by Google translate):

“I also had a long meeting [on 21 September] with Human Rights Watch who has published a highly critical report on the asylum system in Greece . They argue that the EU agency Frontex, by its presence legitimizes the poor conditions at the border of Greece. We are well aware of the totally unacceptable situation at the reception centres in Greece and I am very frustrated that the situation is so slow to improve, especially in Evros. But probably the situation would have been even worse if Frontex had not been in place. We continue to put pressure on Greece and the new regulatory framework for Frontex, which I have proposed and was adopted by Parliament last week to strengthen its work on human rights significantly. The report will also be discussed in the FRONTEX Agency board meeting next week.”   (“Jag hade också ett långt möte med Human Rights Watch som har publicerat en mycket kritisk rapport om asylsystemet i Grekland . De menar att EU-organet Frontex genom sin närvaro legitimerar de usla förhållandena vid gränsen i Grekland. Vi är väl medvetna om den helt oacceptabla situationen vid mottagningscentren i Grekland och jag är väldigt frustrerad över att det går så långsamt att förbättra situationen särskilt i Evros. Men troligen hade situationen varit ännu värre om inte Frontex hade varit på plats. Vi fortsätter att sätta press på Grekland och i det nya regelverk för Frontex som jag har föreslagit och som Europaparlamentet antog förra veckan stärks arbetet med mänskliga rättigheter väsentligt. Rapporten skall också diskuteras på Frontex styrelsemöte nästa vecka.”)

Excerpts from the HRW Report:

Key Recommendations

To the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council

  • Amend the Frontex Regulation to make explicit, and thereby reinforce, the obligation not to expose migrants and asylum seekers to inhuman and degrading detention conditions.
  • Amend proposed Frontex Regulation Art. 26a to empower the Fundamental Rights Officer to refer Frontex to the Commission for investigation and where appropriate infringement proceedings in the event that the Frontex executive director fails to suspend operations despite persistent and serious violations of the Charter and/or in the event that members states and their agents persistently violate the Charter during Frontex operations.

To Participating European States 

  • Suspend any participation in Frontex operations that fail to adhere to binding international human rights standards.
  • Instruct border guards deployed on Frontex missions on their obligations under international law. Ensure that border guards are trained and conversant regarding all rules and standards pertaining to the transfer and treatment of detainees.

To the Frontex Management Board

  • Suspend the deployment of EU border guards to Greece unless migrant detainees can be transferred to facilities elsewhere in Greece (or outside of Greece) that meet EU and international standards or until the conditions of detention in the Evros region where migrants are currently detained are improved and no longer violate European and international standards.
  • Intervene with Greek officials and monitor compliance to ensure that migrants apprehended by guest guards are transferred to detention facilities that comply with European and international standards.
  • Conduct thorough assessments of the risk that human rights violations may occur before engaging in joint operations or deploying RABIT forces.

To Greece

  • Implement the recently adopted asylum reform package as fully and as quickly as possible.
  • Ensure access to asylum procedures at the border and in the border region.
  • Reduce overcrowding by using alternative facilities and alternatives to detention as much as possible.
  • Immediately improve detention conditions, and immediately create open reception centers for asylum seekers and members of vulnerable groups, such as children.”

Click here for HRW Report.

Click here for HRW Press Release.

Click here or here for Frontex response.

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

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Interview with Frontex Spokesperson Michal Parzyszek

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

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

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

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

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

(HT to Euro-Police.)

Click here for full interview.

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Europol 2011 Organised Crime Threat Assessment – Illegal Immigration and THB

Europol just issued its 2011 Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA) (OCTA_2011-1).  The report contains Europol’s assessments regarding “current and expected trends in organised crime affecting the European Union.”  Among the topics discussed are the facilitation of illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings.

The report notes that the increased control of the external borders of the EU, combined with other immigration controls, has resulted in irregular migrants turning to organised crime groups to facilitate their entry to the EU.  The report notes that increased enforcement activities which successfully reduce illegal immigration in certain areas may result in substantial increases in illegal immigration in other areas.

The report indicates that organised criminal groups are exploiting and will continue to exploit the social and political unrest in North Africa and that organised crime groups are responsible for facilitating the movement of the thousands of Tunisians who have entered Italy.

The report notes that the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen zone “may yield increased illicit traffic through these countries and the possible displacement of illegal immigration flows from the Turkish-Greek border.”

Excerpts from the 38 page report pertaining to the facilitation of illegal immigration:

“[I]ncreasing control of external borders, the introduction of higher quality travel documents and other protective measures implemented by destination countries are making illegal immigration more difficult for individual migrants, forcing them to seek the services of organised crime groups.

International agreements and coordinated law enforcement activities have a significant impact on the flows of illegal immigrants along established routes. In 2010, a sharp reduction in the use of sea routes was accompanied by a substantial increase in illegal overland entries, overwhelmingly concentrated on the Turkish-Greek border.

Besides being the natural gateway for immigrants from the Middle East and Asia, Turkey is now the final step towards the EU for migrants with many other origins, including North and West Africans. Its geographical position, the presence of historical smuggling routes and the comparative ease with which entry visas may be obtained have transformed Turkey into the main nexus point for illegal immigrants on their way to Europe.

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Legislation aimed at safeguarding certain inalienable individual or social rights is manipulated by organised crime groups with specialist expertise. Political asylum requests, and family reunions following marriages of convenience with EU citizens, are among the most frequently abused procedures. In addition, a prevalent tactic is to exploit loopholes and the lack of harmonisation in current legislation.

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Criminal Groups

Organised crime groups involved in the facilitation of illegal immigrants tend to be structured in loose networks of smaller groups with ethnic or other cultural connections to customers. By the same token, illegal immigrants tend to be recruited by, or approach facilitators from, the same ethnic background. However, few criminal groups have the capacity to manage all stages from source to destination country. The further migrants get from their country of origin, the greater the chance that their facilitators will be of an ethnic origin different from their own. Along the route, small local criminal groups receive and house transiting illegal immigrants, facilitating their passage to the next stage. In the often extended time between stages, transiting migrants are frequently exploited in illicit labour, thus marking a point of contact between illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings (THB).

Organised crime groups in destination countries play a fundamental role in the smuggling of migrants. Criminals, often legitimately resident in the EU, facilitate the last step of the migrants’ journey, in some cases collecting final instalments of transportation fees, and are in an ideal position to profit from newly arrived migrants, sometimes employing forms of exploitation typical of THB.

The most widely reported organised crime groups involved in the facilitation of illegal immigration are of Chinese, Turkish, Albanian, Indian, Iraqi, and Russian origin. Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, and some West African groups are among the most capable, managing all successive phases of illegal immigration from source to destination countries. Although these groups may sub-contract part of the transportation or the production of falsified documents, they maintain effective control over the illegal immigrants throughout.

The growing importance of Turkey as a nexus point for migrants is likely to be further exploited by Turkish organised crime groups already extremely skilled in managing routes for illicit commodities and will make the most of their resources and contacts in the EU to maximise profits from this lucrative criminal market….

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Criminal hubs

Political and legislative initiatives impact on regional dynamics, resulting in frequent shifts between hubs and preferred nexus points outside the EU.

Migrant flows across the Mediterranean Sea and illicit entries at the Eastern land borders have both significantly decreased. Greece is now the focus for illegal entry to the EU, and while levels of illegal migration connected with seasonal work patterns between Albania and Greece have decreased in the last year, illicit entries of migrants from Turkey have increased by over 500 per cent between 2009 and 2010

The South East criminal hub is therefore under the heaviest pressure. As a result also of its proximity to the Western Balkans, the hub’s centre of gravity for this criminal problem is currently Greece.

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The Southern criminal hub is a landing zone for many immigrants who have entered the EU through Greece, and who either remain in Italy or proceed to other MS. Illegal immigrants are often exploited or employed by organised crime groups active in the hub.

Emerging and Future Issues

The social and political unrest pervading North Africa since January 2011 is likely to have a significant impact on the internal security of Southern Europe. By exploiting the present political vacuum and the diminution of police capability to maintain public order and combat criminal activity, organised crime groups are facilitating several thousands of illegal immigrants, mainly of Tunisian origin, in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe. This carries an inherent risk to the internal security of the EU.

The large and growing number of illegal immigrants from countries and regions in which Islamist terrorist groups are active – such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia – raises the possibility that channels for illegal immigration will be used increasingly by those seeking to engage in terrorist activity in the EU.

In the absence of any significant harmonisation of standards with regards to visa issue for a variety of purposes (including settlement for marriage and family reunions) a further increase in the abuse of legitimate migration procedures is likely.

The possible accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen Zone will greatly widen the Eastern green and blue borders. This has the potential to release the pressure on the Turkish-Greek border, and lead to increased targeting of Bulgaria and the Black Sea coast by illegal immigrants and their facilitators.

Turkish organised crime groups, currently in a dominant position at the biggest nexus point for migrants, will exploit further opportunities for delivering illegal immigrants to the EU by means of the Black Sea and the flourishing Turkish diaspora in Bulgaria….

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… The role of the Western Balkans as a logistical hub will be sustained and may even grow further, while the proposed accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen zone may yield increased illicit traffic through these countries and the possible displacement of illegal immigration flows from the Turkish-Greek border. In this event, Member States in South East Europe may require additional operational support. In light of the continued prominence throughout the EU of Albanian speaking criminal groups, strategic and operational partnerships with authorities in the Western Balkans will be increasingly important.

Ongoing political instability in countries close to the borders of the EU and transit areas for illicit commodities has the potential to alter trafficking routes and create new illegal migration flows. In countries such as Tunisia and Egypt the process by which serving regimes are replaced may result in power and investment vacuums in both the public and private sectors. Some of these could be filled by those with sufficient resources to exploit the instability for criminal ends, including EU organised crime groups. In politically fragile environments organised crime can also prosper by providing essential services such as transport infrastructure, and food and fuel supply. The effects of illegal immigration as a result of instability in North Africa – already experienced by Italy – are likely to spread if levels of unrest persist or increase. Should living conditions deteriorate in the longer term, the EU is likely to see an increase also in victims of THB from this region….

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Click on this link OCTA_2011-1 for OCTA report.

Click here for Europol press release.

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