Week in Review – 25 November 2018

A Review of Events of the Previous Week in the Mediterranean

The death toll

IOM: Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals Reach 104,506 in 2018; Deaths Reach 2,075

“As colder weather conditions arrive, the sea passage to Europe grows ever deadlier. [IOM] has recorded 2,075 people who have died or gone missing on one of three migratory routes across the Mediterranean in 2018.…”

Mogherini warns that EUNAVFOR MED Sophia operation will end on 31 December in the absence of interim agreement on disembarkation practices

At the conclusion of the 20 November Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) meeting, HR Mogherini warned of the imminent end of the EUNAVFOR MED Sophia operation (the current mandate expires on 31 December 2018):

“I clearly said to the [Defence] Ministers that they either find an interim solution on the issue of disembarkation [of rescued migrants] within the next couple of weeks, or we will need to dismantle the Operation and the Operation will come to an end. … I would now expect Ministers to instruct their ambassadors in the PSC [Political and Security Committee] to work on an interim solution for this particular aspect of the Operation, so that the Operation can continue….

Everybody agrees that [EUNAVFOR MED Sophia] has to be kept in place; everybody agrees that the point on disembarkation which is a minor part of a military operation would need to be resolved in the broader context of the Dublin discussions….

Ministers have two choices: to close the [EUNAVFOR MED Sophia] operation or to find an interim solution that only relates to the disembarkation of people that are rescued by Operation Sophia and does not create any precedent for the following-up of the conversation and the decision making on Dublin reform. Any broader solution on the Dublin reform would immediately also apply to the Sophia rules, once Member States get there. But in the meantime, we have to find an interim solution to give clarity to the Operation commander on what to do in case there are some search and rescue activities….”

The Political and Security Committee last week reportedly considered a proposal presented by the European External Action Service to change EUNAVFOR MED’s disembarkation practices.  The proposed change would allow the relevant Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) to decide where rescued migrants are to be disembarked and would require new criteria to be considered, including the circumstances of the rescue, the need for EUNAVFOR MED vessels to resume their mission, and principles of efficiency and speed. As a last resort, the proposal would require the country of the MRCC to make available one of its ports for disembarkation, provided that an immediate screening of migrants is organized and an expeditious redistribution of disembarked asylum seekers to other states occurs. Media reports on the proposal here, here, here, here, and here.

Mogherini reminds us that EUNAVFOR MED Sophia is a military operation and is not in the business of SAR – EUNAVFOR MED responsible for only 9% of Mediterranean rescues

In remarks after the 20 November Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) meeting, HR Mogherini also emphasised that the primary mission of EUNAVFOR MED Sophia is not one of Search and Rescue:

“….Operation Sophia is not a search and rescue operation. It is a military operation that has the task to dismantle criminal networks. As a result of that, the overall number of people that have been rescued by Operation Sophia over time represents only 9% of all the people that have been saved in the Mediterranean Sea. This means – because I want to translate things into concrete numbers – in the last 11 months, an average of 180 people per month, divide them by 28 and it is six people per Member State per month. Would you dismantle a military operation in the Mediterranean Sea that is doing what [Operation] Sophia is doing for that number of people?”

Migrant arrivals in Spain remain high and deaths spike; overall arrivals in EU remain low compared to past two years

IOM: As of 18 November, arrivals in “Spain topped 50,962 – more irregular arrivals to Spain through 45 weeks of 2018 than all arrivals during the past three years combined.”  Overall, 2018 is “the fifth straight year [where] arrivals of irregular migrants and refugees [to the EU] have topped the 100,000 mark, although this year’s totals are low compared to those at this time in 2017 (157,323) and 2016 (345,831).”

“[I]rregular migrants to Spain continue to arrive at a rate of over 120 per day during the month of November. October was Spain’s busiest month for sea arrivals on month on record, with migrants or refugees entering by sea at a rate of over 350 people per day.”

Since the beginning of 2018, at least 631 people have lost their lives trying to reach Spain. A recent report by a Spanish foundation for investigative journalism, porCausa.org, found that more than 6,700 people have died or disappeared while trying to reach Spain since 1988. [A]t least 1,144 people died or were lost in the Western Mediterranean in the last five years (data for 1 January 2014 – 21 November 2018), more than half of those – 631 of 1,144 – just in the 325 days of 2018, or almost two victims per day.  [IOM] Missing Migrants also has recorded deaths these years on Spain’s other seaborne migratory route, from the West African mainland to the Islas Canarias. Since 2014, 319 men, women and children have perished on this route.”

“[M]onthly arrivals to Italy have averaged fewer than 2,500 men, women and children entering Italy by sea after departing North Africa since the start of November 2017. July 2017 was the last time monthly sea arrivals of irregular migrants and refugees surpassed 10,000 men, women and children – a total that arrived in 12 of the previous 13 months before that date – and had been arriving regularly in previous years of the Mediterranean emergency.”

No reports of Libyan Coast Guard pull backs / interceptions over previous week

UNHCR did not report any new Libyan Coast Guard pull backs, but the Libyan Coast Guard did conduct an operation to forcibly remove 79 migrants and refugees from a commercial vessel docked at Misrata.

Libyan coast guard forcibly removes 79 refugees and migrants from commercial vessel in Misrata

10 days after being rescued at sea by the Nivin, a Panama-flagged commercial vessel, “‘a joint force raided the cargo ship and used rubber bullets and tear gas to force ([migrants and refugees] off the ship),’ the commander of the [Libyan] central region coastguards, Tawfiq Esskair, told Reuters by phone…. Some had been injured during the disembarkation but were now ‘in good condition’ after treatment in hospital, and all had been taken to a detention center in the city, he said.”

Condemnations of the action were made by Human Rights Watch: “‘This is the worst possible conclusion to the desperate plea of the people on board the Nivin to avoid inhuman detention in Libya,’ said Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ‘The situation is the result of efforts by Italy and the European Union to obstruct rescue operations by nongovernmental organizations and empower the Libyan Coast Guard even when Europe knows that Libya is not a safe place.’”; and by

MSF: “We are appalled to see that after 10 days, despite our repeated calls to avoid a violent outcome, no compromise was reached to implement an alternative to detention. What happened instead has once again demonstrated a failure to provide much-needed protection for people seeking safety. The reality today is that people being intercepted at sea and brought back to Libyan shores in violation of international law and maritime conventions are left with no other option than indefinite arbitrary detention. This tragic situation is the result of deliberate and concerted efforts by Europe to prevent refugees, migrants and asylum seekers from reaching its doorsteps at any cost.”

UNHCR does not consider Libya safe place for disembarkation and calls for end to detention of refugees and migrants intercepted by Libyan coast guard

Roberto Mignone, UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Libya: “It is reprehensible that [refugees and migrants intercepted by the Libyan coast guard] are detained instead of protected. This is despite the fact that viable alternatives to detention within Libya can be found, including through a Gathering and Departure Facility that [UNHCR has] been waiting to open since July, which could offer immediate protection and safety for those most vulnerable….”

“In light of the dangers for refugees and migrants in Libya, UNHCR does not consider it to be a safe place for disembarkation and also has advised against returns to Libya following search and rescues at sea.”

Full statements here and here.

Calais: Worsening living conditions and a steep increase in Channel crossings

InfoMigrants article by Bahar MAKOOI: “The situation in Calais is growing tenser by the day. The number of migrants trying to cross the English Channel is increasing as the freezing cold weather is contributing to the rapidly deteriorating living conditions. Last week, more than 60 migrants illegally made their way into Britain from France, and at least two-thirds of them are believed to have made the perilous crossing by sea, the Guardian newspaper reported on November 18. Although authorities seem to have good idea of the number of successful crossings, the number of fatal attempts have proven more difficult to quantify. On Sunday, the body of a migrant was found stuck under a truck in the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone. And on October 2, the body of a migrant who had gone missing a week before was fished out of the canal in Calais….”

Al Jazeera Q&A: Morocco’s border chief hits back at criticism over migrants

Interview by Faras Ghani Khalid Zerouali, Morocco’s border control chief.  Full interview here.

[***] Al Jazeera: How much is it costing Morocco to patrol the border and the sea?

Zerouali: If we talk just about the north apparatus – I’m talking 13,000 guards in the north, equipment, basically functioning from Oujda to Tangier and down south to Kenitra, around 1,100km in total – that’s costing Morocco more than 200m euros ($228m) annually.

Now that the pressure is increasing, the EU proposed financing part of the effort. We’re talking about around 140m euros ($160m). But we said it should not be one shot but sustainable assistance.

Al Jazeera: This is costing a lot. Do you see another solution?

Zeoruali: We shouldn’t be afraid of migration, it’s not a problem. It’s not a mathematical equation. It’s a human matter that needs to be managed. We have to delve into the real causes and things that push people or the ones that attract them.

It costs around 4,000 to 7,000 euros ($4,600 to $8,000) to attempt to reach Spain. It’s not only the poor people who are migrating. One of the factors if the emergence of GoFast boats and that’s coming from the other side. Another factor is some NGOs who are not serious about what they do.


Al Jazeera: What about Moroccans who want to cross into Spain? Has that been looked into?

Zerouali: In 2002-03, we used to intercept around 20,000 migrants and 18,000 of those used to be Moroccans. This year has been an exception; but say 2015, out of 65,000 there were only 5,000 Moroccans. This year, because of GoFast again, the Moroccan figure is 12-13,000 out of 70,000 interceptions. [***]”

Christian Science Monitor: “In high stakes experiment, EU migration policy moves front lines to Niger”

Article by Peter Ford (@peterfordcsm):

“…As divisive political tensions around migrants rise in Europe, governments there are making their broadest-ever bid to choke off the flow close to its source. … [Niger] has become ‘a centerpiece of EU policy’ in northwest Africa, says the European ambassador to Niger, Denisa-Elena Ionete…. ‘Europe has long been an important partner of ours,’ explains Nigerien Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum in an interview. ‘Being helpful to the EU is somehow giving them something back’ in return for their longstanding aid. There is little doubt that the new policy has helped cut the number of illegal migrants heading north very substantially. The International Organization for Migration counted 334,000 of them passing through Niger in 2016 and fewer than 50,000 so far this year. A foreign aid worker estimates that there are likely no more than 300 migrants at any one time hiding in houses in Agadez now, compared to at least 2,000 before the law came into effect. ‘The law has had an impact,’ says Harouna Aggalher, a field officer in Agadez for the International Rescue Committee, a New York based non-profit…. That doesn’t mean that they have all got out of the business. Smugglers are taking new and rarely used routes, or simply trusting their GPS and satellite phones and heading into uncharted desert…. ‘People die by the hundreds in the desert,’ says Ahmadou Bossi, commander of the Agadez National Guard contingent, whose patrols have come across three abandoned truckloads of migrants by chance this year. That makes Johannes Claes, the local representative of Doctors of the World, a Belgian NGO that helps migrants, wonder about European policy. ‘If you see the problem as just one of stopping migrant flows, it is a success,’ he says. ‘But if you are causing human suffering and migrants to die, you should consider whether your policy is working.’…”

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