Category Archives: Aegean Sea

NATO Expands Aegean Sea Migrant Patrols Into Turkish and Greek Territorial Waters – Rescued Migrants to Be Automatically Returned to Turkey

NATO announced on Sunday, 6 March, that its Aegean Sea patrols have been expanded to Greek and Turkish territorial waters. NATO patrols have been operating only in international waters. And while NATO says its ‘mission is not to stop or turn back those trying to cross into Europe’, NATO has made it clear that NATO ships will return rescued migrants directly to Turkey: ‘In case of rescue at sea of persons coming via Turkey, they will be taken back to Turkey.’ NATO’s plan to summarily return intercepted migrants is consistent with previous statements made by the British and German defence ministers who have said that the purpose of the NATO mission is to stop migrants and return them to Turkey.

NATO’s characterisation of its operation seems to be an attempt to draw a distinction between a push-back practice where any migrant boat, regardless of whether it is in need of rescue, would be intercepted and pushed back and a search and rescue operation providing assistance to migrant boats in need of rescue. This is meaningless distinction given the current situation in the Aegean where every migrant boat is in need of assistance or rescue.

NATO ships are subject to the same rescue at sea obligations imposed by the SOLAS and SAR Conventions as all other ships and are obligated to disembark rescued persons in a ‘place of safety.’ And while disembarking in Turkey is safer than disembarking in Syria or Libya, there are serious questions as to whether Turkey is a place of safety. See the recent Q&A issued by Human Rights Watch concluding that Turkey is not a ‘safe third country’ as defined by EU law. While the question of a ‘place of safety’ under the SAR Convention is not identical to the ‘safe third country’ question under EU law, the fact remains that rescued migrants should not in all cases be automatically returned to Turkey without adequate screening and processing. The failure to screen rescued migrants is a clear violation of the non-refoulement obligations of the individual EU and non-EU States operating under the NATO command.

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HRVP Mogherini’s Summary of Informal Meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on Refugee Crisis: The meeting “was not an easy one…”

These are excerpts/highlights from comments made by HRVP Federica Mogherini at the conclusion of Saturday’s, 5 September, informal meeting of EU foreign ministers. The full text of her remarks is here.

  • The meeting  “was not an easy one…”
  • “[W]e need to start using the right words: [the crisis] is partially a migrant flow, but it is mainly a refugee flow, which puts us in a different situation when it comes to our legal and moral duties.”
  • “I hope – finally, finally – we all realise that these people are coming to Europe, not to one or another Member State. … Unfortunately, it took us some months to realise this, but maybe that awareness is finally there.”
  • “We are all facing a … dramatic event. I don’t say an emergency event, because this is not an emergency: it is an urgency we are facing, but it is not something that starts one day and finishes another day. It is here to stay and the sooner we accept it, politically and psychologically, the sooner we will be able to respond in an effective way and manage it in an effective way.”
  • “Now we agreed to strengthen our cooperation – not only within the European Union, but also with the Candidate Countries – on five different levels… Some of them have started already, some of them are going to be further defined … in particular with the package that the Commission is going to adopt in this coming week, with the decisions that the Ministers of Interior and Justice will be called to take within one week, ten days from now.”
  • “[W]e will have a Foreign Affairs Council, a European Council, which for the moment are planned for October…”
  • “[W]e agreed to strengthen cooperation on five different elements[:]
    • First of all, how to ensure better protection to those in need of protection: asylum seekers are entitled to the status of refugee.
    • Second, manage borders in full respect of our values, first of all respect for human rights.
    • Third, fighting against smugglers’ and traffickers’ networks. … And as I did with the Defence Ministers the day before yesterday, today I shared again with the Foreign Ministers my suggestion to transit to phase 2 of this operation, which would allow us to operate in high seas to fight the traffickers and smugglers. And I have found a large consensus about that need for the naval operation. Obviously, we will also need to increase the level of our actions against the traffickers organisations on the mainland, when it comes to the Western Balkans route.
    • Fourth, strengthening our partnership with third countries, mainly countries of origin and transit. Here, obviously, we are working on readmission and return agreements, but not only. We know very well that it is very important for our partners, especially in Africa and the Middle East, to work together with us on economic developments, opportunities for growth and jobs, especially for their young people. …
    • Fifth point, that is maybe the most important, even if it is the most long term plan – it is our common work on what we call the root causes. In this case, that has mainly two aims. One is Libya, when it comes to the Southern corridor. And here, we have re-expressed all our active support to the last phases… hopefully, the last phases of the UN-led negotiations to form a National Unity Government in Libya. … And [the other is] Syria…”

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UNHCR Launches Web Data Portal on Mediterranean Refugee/Migrant Situation

UNHCR has launched a comprehensive data portal on the Mediterranean refugee and migrant situation and the various responses.  The portal contains data, statistical information, maps, reports, situation updates, and other information.

 

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Highlights from Frontex Annual Risk Analysis 2015 – Detections of Illegal Border-Crossing Between Border Crossing Points

Frontex released its Annual Risk Analysis 2015 (also here) on 28 April. Over the next few days I will post some key points and excerpts from portions of the 70 page report which are most relevant to migration by sea. See Executive Summary and Statistical Annex. 2015-04-28_Frontex_Annual_Risk_Analysis_2015-COVER

This post contains excerpts and key points from the ARA, Section 3, Situational Picture in 2014 / Detections of illegal border-crossing between border crossing points:

• In 2014, detections of illegal border-crossing reached a new record, with more than 280 000 detections. This was twice as many as the previous record of 140 000 detections in 2011, the year of the Arab Spring;
• With a record level of migrants crossing the border illegally, resources are devoted to their immediate care, but not towards screening;
• Syrians and Eritreans did not apply for asylum in the Member States of entry but rather in other Member States;
• As in 2013 and in 2011, the Central Mediterranean route was the main area for illegal border-crossing into the EU, representing 60% of all detections in 2014;
• Around 3 400 people died or went missing at sea in 2014;
• Civilian vessels have been increasingly involved in the detection and rescue of migrants at sea. More than 600 merchant ships have been diverted from their routes to rescue persons at sea in 2014;
• An increasing number of cases have been reported of cargo vessels being used to smuggle migrants from Turkey directly to Italy. This new trend affects the Eastern Mediterranean route, as the departure area, and the Central Mediterranean area, as the arrival area;
• In 2014, 50 800 detections were reported in the Eastern Mediterranean area, representing 18% of the EU total. This was twice as many as in 2013, mostly due to a sharp increase in detections in the Aegean Sea (from 11 829 in 2013 to 43 377 in 2014);
• In 2014 there were 7 842 detections of illegal border-crossing in the Western Mediterranean region, which consists of several areas of the southern Spanish coast and the land borders of Ceuta and Melilla. This total shows an increase of 15% compared to the total of 6 838 reported in 2013.;
• Detections of illegal border-crossing on the Black Sea were extremely rare. However, since 2013, Bulgaria and Romania have reported an increasing number of detections, totalling 433 migrants in 2014.

Excerpts:

“3.3. Detections of illegal border-crossing between BCPs [along land and sea routes in 2014]

In 2014, detections of illegal border-crossing reached a new record, with more than 280 000 detections. This was twice as many as the previous record of 140 000 detections in 2011, the year of the Arab Spring. This unprecedented number of migrants crossing illegally the external border has roots in the fighting in Syria that have created the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Indeed, most of the detections at the borders concern migrants from Syria, who later applied for asylum within the EU. [***]

With a record level of migrants crossing the border illegally, resources are devoted to their immediate care, but not towards screening and obtaining information on basic characteristics like their nationality. As migrants quickly continue their journey to other Member States, increasing the movements of persons staying illegally within the EU, this puts the EU internal security at risk. [***]

Indeed, Syrians alone (79 169) represented more than a quarter (28%) of the total as shown in Figure 3. [SEE BELOW.] They were also the top nationality for other indicators, in particular asylum applications, reflecting the dire situation in Syria and the desperate plight of Syrian asylum seekers. However, the vast majority of Syrians did not apply for asylum in the Member States of entry but rather in other Member States for many different reasons, notably because they expect to receive more attractive welfare benefits.

Regarding Eritreans, their detections in 2014 reached a record level (more than 34 500, compared to 11 300 in 2013). They were mostly arriving through Libya on the Central Mediterranean route. Like Syrians, they did not apply for asylum in the Member States of entry, but rather continued to other Member States. Many of the Eritreans stated that they had lived for some time in Libya but decided to leave because of the violence.

Detections of Afghans sharply increased from about 9 500 in 2013 to more than 22 000 in 2014. Afghans were detected on the Eastern Mediterranean route (mostly crossing the Eastern Aegean Sea), and then once again on the Western Balkan route. [***]

Central Mediterranean route

In 2014, more than 170 000 migrants arrived irregularly in the EU through the Central Mediterranean route (see Fig. 4).[SEE BELOW.] As in 2013 and in 2011, the Central Mediterranean route was the main area for illegal border-crossing into the EU, representing 60% of all detections in 2014. Detections were the largest between June and September at over 20 000 per month, but throughout the year, monthly detections were larger than in 2013. Most migrants were Syrians and Eritreans departing from the Libyan coast.

The vast majority were rescued by border-control authorities after issuing a distress call; however, despite best efforts there were many fatalities. Smugglers typically make use of frail, overcrowded boats, with limited fuel available to maximise their profits, putting migrants’ lives at considerable risk. The role of the Italian Navy and the JO Hermes/ Triton was crucial in rescuing an unprecedented number of migrants. Despite these efforts, around 3 400 people died or went missing at sea in 2014 and around 2 800 since the beginning of July according to UNHCR estimates.

Besides naval assets, civilian vessels have been increasingly involved in the detection and rescue of migrants at sea (see Fig. 5). [SEE BELOW.] According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), more than 600 merchant ships have been diverted from their routes to rescue persons at sea in 2014. These deviations are, in the words of the Secretary General, detrimental to shipping and are not offset by any realistic prospects of salvage awards.

In addition to migrants leaving from Libya, since September 2014, an increasing number of cases have been reported of cargo vessels being used to smuggle migrants from Turkey directly to Italy. This new trend affects the Eastern Mediterranean route, as the departure area, and the Central Mediterranean area, as the arrival area. This practice is further developed under the section related to the Eastern Mediterranean route.

As migrants were rescued in high-sea, they were reported as part of the Central Mediterranean route. Many were disembarked in Apulia and Calabria, to alleviate the burden on reception capacity in Sicily. From a statistical point of view, these disembarkations artificially inflated the number of migrants usually reported on the Apulia and Calabria route. In 2014, there were fewer migrants departing from Egypt and targeting this area of the Italian coast than in 2013. [***]

Eastern Mediterranean route

Since data collection began in early 2008, the Eastern Mediterranean has maintained its status as a hotspot of irregular migration (see Fig. 6). In 2014, 50 800 detections were reported from the area, representing 18% of the EU total. This was twice as many as in 2013, mostly due to a sharp increase in detections in the Aegean Sea (from 11 829 in 2013 to 43 377 in 2014). Detections remained comparatively much lower at the Bulgarian and Greek land borders with Turkey (12 262 in 2013 and 5 938 in 2014).

Sea border

Aegean Sea

Compared to the previous year, the sharp increase in the Aegean Sea in 2014 meant that migrants departed from more areas, and also arrived on a larger number of islands. While the islands reporting the largest number of arrivals remained Lesbos, Chios and Samos, detections were also reported from small islands from North to South, stretching capacity of surveillance. Many migrants claimed to be Syrian, and were thus handed an administrative notice allowing them to stay in Greece for up to six months, even without applying for asylum.

Screening processes of some migrants revealed a high degree of falsely claimed nationalities to avoid return. Not knowing the nationality of migrants who are illegally crossing the border and travelling within the EU is evidently a vulnerability for EU internal security. [***]

Increasing use of cargo ships

Since August 2014 the number of irregular migrants arriving in the Central Mediterranean from Turkey sharply increased compared to earlier in the year and to the same period in 2013. This sharp increase was directly related to the use of cargo ships to facilitate migrants and asylum seekers from Turkey to Italy (for example, see Fig. 7).

To date, Mersin has been the place where those wishing to travel to the EU in an irregular fashion have made contact with the smuggling networks. Wooden boats, however, have departed from various points along south-eastern Turkish coast such as Mersin, Adana and Hatay provinces to reach cargo vessels waiting off shore.

Smuggling migrants from Turkey on board large cargo vessels is extremely profitable, and such funds are likely to be an important source of income for smuggling networks also engaged in other criminal activities. This means that the criminal networks might be financing other criminal activities by exploiting and putting at risk vulnerable groups of displaced families from Syria.

Specifically, the cargo ships, which are often bought as scrap, tend to cost between EUR 150 000 and 400 000. There are often as many as 200–800 migrants on board, each paying EUR 4 500–6 000 for the trip, either in cash a few days before the departure or by Hawala payment after reaching the Italian coast. The cost is high because the modus operandi is viewed as being safe and has been demonstrated as being successful.

Hence, the gross income for a single journey can be as high as EUR 2.5 or even 4 million depending on the size of the vessel and the number of migrants on board. In some cases, the profit is likely to be between EUR 1.5 and 3 million once other overheads such as recruiters, safe houses, shuttle vessels, crew and fuel have been taken into account. Given this level of financial gain it is important to act against this modus operandi not only to stem the flow of irregular migration but also to limit the financial assets of the smuggling networks. [***]

Western Mediterranean route

In 2014 there were 7 842 detections of illegal border-crossing in the Western Mediterranean region, which consists of several areas of the southern Spanish coast and the land borders of Ceuta and Melilla. This total shows an increase of 15% compared to the total of 6 838 reported in 2013.

Like in 2013, the first half of 2014 showed most detections being reported at the land border, mostly from Melilla. Indeed, the Spanish authorities reported several violent attempts to cross the fence.

As mitigating measures, the fence has been upgraded. As a result, in the second half of the year, Spain reported more detections at the sea border than at the land border.

Once in Melilla, migrants are turned over to Spanish Police Headquarters for identification, and many are transferred to the Temporary Centre for Immigrants (CETI – Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes). However, this centre only has a limited capacity and some migrants had to be transferred to mainland Spain.

In terms of nationality, most of the migrants are from Western Africa, in particular from Cameroon and Mali. Algerians and Moroccans have also been reported among the top ten nationalities, but mostly at the sea border.

Since November 2014, Spain also reported an increase in detections of illegal border-crossing of Syrians at the land border (more than 250 in November and December), then applying for asylum. This increase, combining with increasing detections of Syrians using forged document to enter to the EU, has prompted Spain to open asylum and international protection offices at the borders of Ceuta and Melilla in March 2015.

Black Sea route

Detections of illegal border-crossing on the Black Sea were extremely rare. However, since 2013, Bulgaria and Romania have reported an increasing number of detections, totalling 433 migrants in 2014.

These incidents still constitute isolated cases, and are possibly linked to the increased surveillance on the Eastern Mediterranean route and the increasing number of migrants waiting in Turkey to reach the EU illegally. [***]”

 

Figure 3

 

Figure 4

 

Figure 5

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IOM Report on Recent Use of Cargo Ships to Transport Syrians to Italy

Excerpts from a short IOM report released on 6 January 2015 on the recent use of cargo ships, specifically the Blue Sky M and the Ezadeen, to transport Syrians towards Italy:

“IOM analysts do believe the prospect of single-nationality cargoes – on these latest voyages, migrants fleeing Syria – creates opportunities for smuggling rings to employ certain economies of scale that were not apparent in the more ‘mixed’ passenger manifests seen leaving Egypt and Libya in 2014.”

“‘The predictability of thousands now fleeing Syria every month allows smugglers to plan for a reliable stream of customers, which of course allows them to set a price point,’ explained Joel Millman, a spokesperson for IOM in Geneva. ‘So they can predict how much revenue each trip will bring, and then quickly deploy vessels and crews’. Millman added that Lebanon’s recent decision to require visas of Syrian migrants seeking to enter Lebanon may divert new migrant traffic to Turkey’s coasts, which will swell demand for smugglers’ services.”

“In the last four months of 2014 IOM learned of larger ‘mother’ ships waiting in open water to receive passengers ferried out by smugglers. Larger ships leaving Turkey loaded with migrants from Syria began appearing in greater numbers late last year in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

“Maritime experts calculate that such ships normally would be available for between USD 100,000 and USD 150,000, allowing smugglers to earn upwards of USD 3 million for voyages like the two that ended in recent days, with up to 900 migrants crammed on board.”

“‘This new route is a direct consequence of the Syrian crisis,’ added IOM’s [Federico] Soda. ‘Despite the end of the Mare Nostrum’s rescue-at-sea operations, arrivals continue because of the many crises close to Europe.’”

Click here for report.

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Turkish Coast Guard Reports Intercepting 12,872 Migrants in Aegean Sea in 2014; Some Migrants Pushed-Back into Turkish Territorial Waters

“A total of 12,872 migrants trying to cross into Greece from Turkey over the Aegean Sea were captured by Turkish Coast Guard Command teams in 524 separate incidents in 2014, while 74 people were also arrested on charges of smuggling migrants, Anadolu Agency has reported. The number of migrants who were captured in 2013 was 8,047, including 6,937 on the Aegean Sea. The total number of migrants captured by authorities across Turkey in 2012 was 2,531. The official number in 2011 was 546, which means that the number of captured migrants has increased 24-fold since then. …”

An unspecified number of the intercepted migrants were reportedly subjected to push-back practices where the affected migrants were returned to Turkish territorial waters [“Yasa dışı göçmenlerin bir kısmı da ‘geri atma olayı (gittiği ülkeden Türkiye karasularına geri gönderilme)’ olarak arz edilen olaylar sonucu yakalandı.”].

The push-backs were presumably carried out by Greek patrol boats or possibly by vessels operating pursuant to Frontex Joint Operation Poseidon Sea 2013 (which operated through 2014 Q1).

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

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Statewatch Analysis – “New EU rules on maritime surveillance: will they stop the deaths and push-backs in the Mediterranean?”

Statewatch last month released a new Analysis of the EU Regulation for Frontex-coordinated surveillance of external sea borders which is scheduled for a plenary vote in the European Parliament in April.  The Analysis, written by Prof. Steve Peers, Univ. of Essex Law School, reviews the enhanced protections to be afforded to intercepted or rescued migrants relative to the earlier Council Decision which was annulled by the CJEU.  The Analysis also highlights concerns with various provisions within the Regulation, including:

  • One significant concern with the Regulation is due to the fact that “the Regulation does not contemplate the scenario of migrants being intercepted in the territorial waters of third States.”  (Frenzen’s Note: This raises a serious concern in regard to the push-back and interception practices which have been carried out for many years within the territorial waters of Mauritania and Senegal within Frontex’s Operation Hera.  Additionally, prior to the Libyan revolution, Libya authorised Italy to conduct joint maritime patrols within Libyan territorial waters.  It is safe to assume that Frontex and some EU Member States will continue to seek the ability to intercept migrant boats within the territorial waters of third States.);
  • While the Regulation requires that migrants intercepted in the territorial sea or contiguous zone of an EU Member State be disembarked in that Member State, “this [requirement] is subject to a crucial exception: it is possible under the Regulation that a vessel that has made it this close to a Member State could still be ordered to alter course towards another destination.”;
  • While the bulk of the EU’s asylum legislation does not apply [to interceptions which occur outside of the territorial sea of a Member State,] the EU’s qualification Directive does – since there is nothing in the text of that Directive to limit its territorial scope. But the wording of the Regulation is confusing in this regard, since it does not refer to the detailed text of that Directive but rather to general standards on non-refoulement, which are different from that Directive in some respects….”;
  • Member States are required to “use all means” to identify intercepted migrants, assess their particular circumstances, and inform them of the intended place of disembarkation, in order to give the migrants the opportunity to assert a non-refoulement claim.  The Regulation states that the Frontex operational plan, “where necessary,” must provide for interpreters and legal advisors on shore. “[T]he Council Presidency points out the ‘wiggle room’ granted by the words ‘where necessary’ and ‘use all means.’”

Click here or here for Statewatch Analysis.

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