Week in Review – 16 December 2018

A Review of Events of the Previous Week in the Mediterranean

The death toll

IOM: Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals Reach 111,237 in 2018; Deaths Reach 2,216

“This year is the fifth straight during which the arrival of irregular migrants and refugees has topped the 100,000 threshold – although 2018’s total is low compared to those recorded at this time in 2017 (166,737) and 2016 (358,018).”

Libyan Coast Guard pull backs / interceptions remain at 14,795

According to the UNHCR, there have been no reported Libyan Coast Guard interceptions so far in December.

54 people believed to have been lost at sea without a trace in October

IOM reports that it learned that a boat disappeared without a trace in the Western Mediterranean after departing from Nador, Morocco, more than a month ago. The shipwreck is believed to have occurred between 26 and 27 October, when at least 54 people – including 11 women and three children – are now thought to have lost their lives. Soon after the boat’s departure, the NGO Alarm Phone, which runs a hotline for people crossing the Mediterranean, received a distress call from those onboard. No one on board has been heard from since. Spanish and Moroccan authorities confirmed that they, too, conducted search and rescue operations for this vessel but were unable to locate the boat or any survivors. In the weeks since the boat’s disappearance, dozens of family members have posted on social media channels searching for information about their loved ones. For its part the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, which is in contact with families of those on board, also reported that the boat may have disappeared without a trace.  It has now been over a month since the boat went missing. The fate of these 54 people remains a mystery and a source of agony to the many family members left behind. When a boat vanishes without a trace, it often goes unnoticed and unrecorded by the media or databases….”

90-Day Extension for EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia Remains Under Consideration

Italy has agreed to a 90-day extension of the EUNAVFOR MED mandate in order to permit continued EU negotiations regarding changes to EUNAVFOR MED’s mission, including changes relating to the places rescued migrants could be disembarked. The current mandate expires on 31 December 2018.  Italy has to date refused to agree to a longer extension of the mandate in the absence of changes to the disembarkation rules or to the Dublin Regulation.  Italy’s insistence on changes to disembarkation rules have become less important given the very small numbers of migrants rescued by the EUNAVFOR MED mission.  ANSA reported that the “Italian government decided to extend the mission after a meeting convened by Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta, Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Enzo Vecciarelli, Mission Commander Adm. Enrico Credentino, and Foreign Ministry Secretary General Elisabetta Belloni. … Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta …wished to avoid a brusque closure of the mission….”

It is time for EUNAVFOR MED to drop the “Operation Sophia” name

EUNAVFOR MED is not engaged in search and rescue operations, though it continues to hold itself out as a humanitarian mission.  It was just over three years ago in September 2015 when HR Mogherini announced in a speech that the operation’s official name would include “Operation Sophia”:

“Sophia is a baby who was born on 24 August 2015 at 04.15 am on board the German frigate Schleswig-Holstein, operating in the Central Mediterranean Sea as part of EUNAVFOR MED Task Force. Born from a Somali mother rescued together with other 453 migrants and disembarked on the evening of the same day in the harbour of Taranto, Sophia was named after the German ship dedicated to the Prussian princess Sophia of Schleswig-Holstein. I will suggest to Member States that we change the name of our Operation: instead of calling it EUNAVFOR MED, I suggest we use the name: Sophia. To honour the lives of the people we are saving, the lives of people we want to protect, and to pass the message to the world that fighting the smugglers and the criminal networks is a way of protecting human life.”

The Brussels 2 website reports that EUNAVFOR MED has only rescued 106 migrants over the past five months whereas the Libyan Coast Guard has intercepted and pulled back over 14,000 migrants and refugees in 2018.

Libyan Navy welcomes EU’s halting of NGO rescue boats

From the Libya Observer: “The spokesman for the Libyan Naval forces, Brigadier General Ayoub Qassem, said that the suspension of non-governmental organizations activities in the field of rescuing migrants will be positive to the Libyan Navy….Qassem accused these organizations of being a catalyst for increasing immigration, by transferring migrants to European countries, giving no caution to the thousands who drown, annually, in the sea.”

Cyprus sees sharp increase in arrivals

Article by AP reporter Menelaos Hadjicostis in the Washington Post: “[T]housands of migrants … have slipped into Cyprus this year [from Turkish Cyprus] across its porous 180-kilometer-long (120-mile-long) buffer zone. Migrant arrivals by sea have also increased, turning tiny Cyprus into the EU’s top recipient of asylum-seekers relative to its population size, as other EU countries have tightened their borders.  Government statistics show that about 5,000 people — mostly from Syria but also Somalia, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cameroon — had claimed asylum in Cyprus by the end of August. That’s expected to reach 8,000 by year’s end, up from 3,000 in 2016. While that’s a fraction of the hundreds of thousands seeking asylum in the EU, it’s putting pressure on a country with just over 1 million people….Despite its proximity to the conflict zones of the Middle East, Cyprus received relatively few asylum-seekers during the peak of Europe’s migrant crisis three years ago, when most migrants arrived in Greece and made their way through the Balkans toward countries in northern Europe. An island nation just emerging from a severe economic crisis, Cyprus wasn’t seen as an attractive destination for migrants and refugees seeking shelter and a new life in Europe. But that changed as nations in Europe shut their borders and the economic situation improved….”

See also article by Helena Smith from the Guardian: ‘Cyprus is saturated’ – burgeoning migrant crisis grips island. “The island has exceeded every other EU member state in asylum claims in 2018, recording the highest number per capita with almost 6,000 applications for a population of about 1 million. By August requests were 55% higher than for the same eight-month period in 2017, a figure itself 56% higher than that for 2016, according to the interior ministry….Illicit crossings from the north have made Cyprus’ woes much worse. Reports have increased in recent months of irregular migrants flying into Ercan airport in the Turkish-controlled breakaway state. Hamstrung by politics, not least Turkey’s refusal to recognise the government in the southern part of Cyprus since its 1974 invasion of the island, authorities are unable to send them back….”

EU promises additional emergency funding to Morocco “in response to increased migratory pressure along the Western Mediterranean Route”

Press release from the European Commission: “The EU is intensifying its support to Morocco to address irregular migration in response to increased migratory pressure along the Western Mediterranean Route. The additional funding adopted under the EU emergency Trust Fund for Africa will bring the overall migration-related assistance to Morocco to €148 million in 2018. It will help step up the fight against migrant smuggling and trafficking of human beings, including through reinforced integrated border management….”

See also ANSA article: Cooperation increases between Spain and Morocco on migration.

European Defence Agency producing geospatial information in support of EUNAVFOR MED operations

The European Defence Agency’s GISMO project (Geospatial Information to Support decision Making in Operations project) is producing geospatial information in support of EUNAVFOR MED operations and aims at full operational capability by mid-2019.  From the EDA:  “Since [2014] and working in partnership with the EU Satellite Centre (EU SatCen), GISMO has produced a first operational output in the form of ‘GeohuB’, a software application which allows for the safe and reliable sharing of geospatial information (GI) within a mission’s operational headquarter. After a successful field trial, GeohuB was successfully deployed in November 2017 to the Italian Operation Headquarters, Rome, in support of EU Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED). In practical terms, this means that operation participants with access to the classified mission network of EUNAVFOR MED’s operational headquarters in Rome can upload, share and manage geospatial data related to the operation…Last June, GISMO started the transition of the GeohuB application from the current status of Initial Operating Capability (IOC) to Full Operating Capability (FOC) by the summer. …”

Speech by MSF president: “Migration is not a crime. Saving lives is not a crime”

MSF International President Dr Joanne Liu’s speech on a panel discussion at the Global Compact on Migration conference in Marrakesh, Morocco: “…Last week MSF was forced to stop search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea. A concerted, sinister campaign of legal challenges and administrative obstacles, means the ship we were working aboard—the Aquarius—is no longer authorised to leave port, let alone rescue people at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean. With the sabotage of the Aquarius, gone is the most basic humanitarian and legal commitment: saving lives at sea. Last week, 15 people stranded in a boat off the Libyan coast died of thirst and starvation. How many may be similarly dying or drowning, without anyone even aware?  Citizens and mayors around Europe have mobilised to receive rescued people and to show their humanity. Meanwhile, European governments have refused to provide search and rescue capacity, and – worse – have actively sabotaged the efforts of others to save lives. Saving lives is non-negotiable. Saving lives is what we do, what we will continue to do and fight for, and what we urge you to defend.  Saving lives is indeed a fundamental part of the Global Compact….”

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