According to information provided by the Spanish Ministry of Defence, the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón sailed to Tunisia earlier this morning (16 July) and, while remaining outside Tunisian waters near Zarzis, transferred the remaining 106 rescued migrants to the Carthage, a Tunisian naval vessel. 114 migrants were initially rescued by the Spanish ship. 5 of the migrants were airlifted to Malta for medical reasons on 13 July. On 11 July, shortly after the initial rescue of the migrant boat, 3 migrants were evacuated and turned over to Tunisian authorities. The original 114 consisted of 88 men, 20 women (5 of whom are pregnant), and 6 children. The Defence Ministry said that the decision to transfer the migrants to Tunisian authorities was a NATO decision.
While the decision to disembark the migrants in Tunisia is better than sending them to eastern Libya (something I was fearful would occur), Tunisia is problematic for several reasons. The migrant boat was reportedly carrying Tunisians. To the extent that any of them may have had claims for international protection, the claims have been effectively eliminated. It is not known whether any efforts were made to assess whether any of the Tunisians had claims for international protection. And to the extent that any of the non-Tunisians have claims for international protection, Tunisia is clearly less able to handle such claims and less able to provide care for asylum seekers relative to Malta, Italy, or Spain (or any of the NATO countries participating in Operation Unified Protector).
[17 July update – NATO’s OUP Press Office informed me earlier today that any questions regarding who made the decision to transfer the migrants to Tunisia and whether any of the migrants were screened for claims for international protection had to directed to the Spanish Ministry of Defence.]
Click here for Spanish Ministry of Defence press statement and additional photos. (ES)