Category Archives: Refugees

MaltaToday: Italy withholding data on Mediterranean rescue operations from Frontex

An article from yesterday in MaltaToday by Jurgen Balzan reports that Italian authorities are not sharing information with Frontex regarding the number of migrants and asylum seekers rescued at sea in the Central Mediterranean and suggests that the withholding of information may be related to an effort to minimize public concerns over migration as Italy nears a vote next month on a constitutional referendum supported by PM Renzi.

From the article: “…Italian authorities are not sharing the data [regarding rescued migrants] with Frontex … and are keeping the number of people rescued under wraps. A Frontex spokesperson told MaltaToday that although the agency is actively participating in the rescue operations, the Italian authorities ‘are not sharing’ the data on how many people were rescued or how many people lost their lives last week.  Sources close to the Armed Forces of Malta said that Frontex normally holds and provides such data and ‘if they don’t have the numbers then information is being withheld by the Italians.’…”

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Filed under Data / Stats, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Migrants, News, Refugees

Kaldor Centre’s web page with background and commentary on upcoming UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants and Leaders’ Summit on Refugees

Check out the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law’s new web page with “analysis and resources on two upcoming international summits on refugees: the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, and the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees hosted by US President Barack Obama on 20 September. This page will be regularly updated in the lead up and aftermath of the summits.”

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EUNAVFOR MED-Six Month Report: No Indication of Refugee Protection Plan for EU Operations within Libyan Territorial Waters and No Reports of Human Trafficking

There is a lot of information in the EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA Six Month Report   (also here: EEAS-2016-126) that was released last week by WikiLeaks, but there are two subjects not discussed which jumped out at me.

No Discussion of Refugee Protection Plan

First, the Report does not contain information regarding what the EU military force intends to do with migrants who are intercepted or rescued by EU vessels if and when EUNAVFOR MED patrols begin to operate within Libyan territorial waters.

The Report’s ‘Next Steps and Key Challenges’ section [pp 19-21] discusses different EU contingency plans for Phase 2B of the operation and specifically discusses how suspected smugglers arrested by EU forces within Libyan territorial waters would be handled. The Report says suspected smugglers should not be turned over by EU forces to Libyan officials for criminal prosecution unless it can be ensured ‘that they [will be] treated in accordance with human rights standards that are acceptable to the EU and Member States.’ According to the Report, forty-six suspected smugglers have been arrested by EUNAVFOR MED in international waters (between 22 June and 31 December 2015) and all of these individuals have been turned over to Italian authorities for prosecution by Italy’s DNAA – Direzione Nazionale Antimafia ed Antiterrorismo. Italy is so far the only EU Member State prosecuting suspected smugglers.

But unlike the discussion regarding the treatment of suspected smugglers, there is no discussion in the Report about where migrants who are intercepted or rescued in Libyan territorial waters will be taken or how they will be processed. It is certainly possible that intercepted migrants would continue to be taken from Libyan territorial waters to Italy, as is currently the case with operations on the high seas, but I suspect this may not be the plan once EUNAVFOR MED operations are expanded to Libyan territorial waters.

The fact that there is no discussion in the Report of where intercepted migrants will be taken does not mean that EUNAVFOR MED does not have appropriate plans in place, but the omission is troubling because the Report makes clear that once Phase 2B (territorial waters) operations begin, EUNAVFOR MED forces will be interacting and cooperating with the Libyan Navy and Coastguard. (The Report also notes that if requested and if its mandate is amended, EUNAVFOR MED is ready to begin quickly providing capability and capacity building to the Libyan Navy and Coastguard.)

EUNAVFOR MED’s interaction with Libyan forces in territorial waters would, according to the Report, initially include Libyan ‘cooperation in tackling the irregular migration issue’, with the expectation that at a later point in time ‘Libyan authorities could take the lead in patrolling and securing their Territorial Waters, with support being provided by EUNAVFOR Med.’ The Report therefore describes a changing scenario where EU forces would first act alone in Libyan territorial waters, which would lead to some level of cooperation with Libyan authorities (joint patrols? shipriders?), which would finally lead to Libyan authorities taking the lead on enforcement activities, with the EU playing a supporting role of some sort.

The legality of the Phase 2B operations will depend on the details of how intercepted or rescued migrants are processed and where they are taken. EU Member States operating within EUNAVFOR MED would necessarily be exercising effective control over migrants when operating unilaterally or jointly with Libyan forces within Libyan territorial waters and EU Member States would therefore be bound by the non-refoulement obligations in the ECHR, the Refugee Convention, the CAT, and the ICCPR. Any such operations would be subject to the 2012 Hirsi Jamaa v Italy judgment of the ECtHR which rejected Italy’s past push-back practices and close cooperation with the pre-Arab Spring Libya, finding the push-back practices to violate the ECHR’s prohibition on non-refoulement and to constitute collective expulsion.

EUNAVFOR MED’s Phase 2B operation seeks to replicate what Frontex and Spain have done off the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal and Morocco since 2006 pursuant to Joint Operation HERA where Spain and Frontex initially deployed naval patrols in international waters, then negotiated bilateral agreements to move patrols to territorial waters, deployed joint patrols and shipriders within territorial waters, and then continued to provide various forms of support to Mauritania and other West African states to patrol their own territorial waters. Operation HERA succeeded in stopping most boat migration from West Africa, but did so in a manner which did not provide any process to screen intercepted migrants for claims for international protection and subjected intercepted migrants to refoulement.

In order to ensure that non-refoulement obligations are respected and that rights of migrants are otherwise protected, as the EU and EUNAVFOR MED move towards implementation of Phase 2B operations within Libyan territorial waters, more information and transparency is needed to determine and monitor the legality of all aspects of the operations.

No Reports of Human Trafficking

The second perhaps less significant piece of information that jumped out at me as I read the Report was the lack of any suggestion that EUNAVFOR MED patrols have discovered evidence of human trafficking. The Report makes multiple references to trafficking, but always in conjunction with human smuggling, eg, ‘smuggler and traffickers’ business model’, ‘smuggler and trafficker vessels’. The use of the trafficking term seems to be a continuation of the use of imprecise terminology (and possible ongoing confusion over the differences between human trafficking and smuggling as well?). But the Report’s ‘Smugglers’ Business Model’ section [pp 6-8] is clearly only discussing acts of smuggling.

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Filed under Analysis, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Refugees, Reports, UN Security Council, UNHCR

UN Security Council Likely to Consider Resolution Authorising EU Action Against Migrant Vessels

AP is reporting that the Russian UN Ambassador has said that “the United Nations Security Council is discussing a draft resolution to address Europe’s migrant crisis, likely by authorizing the inspection of suspected migrant ships [in international waters and not in Libyan territorial waters].” A resolution may be adopted this month.

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Filed under European Union, Migrants, Refugees, Russia, UN Security Council

The Detention of Asylum Seekers in the Mediterranean Region – A Global Detention Project Background Paper

The Global Detention Project just released a Background Paper, “The Detention of Asylum Seekers in the Mediterranean Region,” which “is intended to highlight some of the vulnerabilities that people seeking international protection face when they are taken into custody in Mediterranean countries and to underscore the way that European Union-driven policies have impacted the migratory phenomenon in the region.”  GDP Cover-Backgrounder Det of Asy Seekers in Med_April 2015

Summary: “With the recent tragic surge in the number of deaths at sea of asylum seekers and other migrants attempting to reach Europe, enormous public attention is being focused on the treatment of these people across the Mediterranean. An important migration policy employed throughout the region is detention, including widespread deprivation of liberty of asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups. …

The report focuses on eight key countries in Europe and North Africa. While there are clear differences in treatment from one side of the Mediterranean to the next, looked at collectively, the protection environment across all the countries in the region is bleak. Not surprisingly, the conditions of detention asylum seekers face in North African countries are often horrific and inhumane. However, in Europe, there are also serious shortcomings. In fact, as this backgrounder reports, reception and detention conditions in three of Europe’s main asylum receiving countries (Greece, Italy, and Malta) are so inadequate that many of their EU counterparts have been forced to halt returns to these countries under the Dublin III Regulation.”

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Filed under Egypt, European Union, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Refugees, Reports, Spain, Tunisia

The EU’s Proposed Plan to Destroy Migrant Boats in Libya Must be Rejected by the European Council

A plan for EU Member States to capture or destroy the boats used by people smugglers in the Mediterranean is one of ten possible courses of action that will be considered during the Extraordinary European Council Meeting on the Situation in the Mediterranean that will be held on 23 April.

The boat destruction proposal should be rejected for multiple reasons. There is no basis in law for the proposal and it would endanger lives of innocent people including migrants and fishermen, among others. It would certainly have little effect on its intended target, the people smugglers.

EU migration commissioner Avramopoulos described the plan, which has been recommended by the Foreign Affairs Council which met on 20 April, as a civil-military operation which would “capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers.” Avramopoulos reportedly compared the proposed EU boat destruction plan to Operation ATALANTA, the EU’s maritime operation against piracy off Somalia, saying that Atalanta “should inspire us for new operations against smugglers in the Mediterranean.”

As is always the case, the specific details of the proposed plan matter. There are situations where the destruction of a migrant boat under certain circumstances may be perfectly legal and otherwise appropriate. For example after a rescue operation when migrants have been safely removed from an unflagged and unseaworthy vessel, it may be appropriate for that vessel to be destroyed at sea rather than taking it in tow or leaving it adrift and thereby creating a navigational hazard. In such circumstances, there is no reason for an EU coast guard vessel, after migrants have been transferred from a migrant boat, to stand by and allow smugglers to take possession of the now empty migrant boat.

But if the EU boat destruction plan were to authorise the use of armed force to capture or destroy a smuggling boat at sea, particularly in the face of armed resistance from people smugglers, or if it were to authorise the destruction of boats at anchor in Libyan harbours, it is difficult to imagine how such a plan could be carried without endangering the lives of migrants and fisherman and thereby violating international humanitarian and human rights law.

Frontex and Italian patrol boats have already experienced armed threats at sea during rescue operations. One situation occurred on 13 April when armed people smugglers fired into the air to recover an empty migrant boat after an Italian tugboat and the Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Týr deployed by Frontex had rescued a group of migrants.  The Frontex vessel did not engage the people smugglers with force and allowed the smugglers to return to Libya with the empty migrant boat. If Frontex vessels or coast guard vessels were now to be called upon to use some level of appropriate force to prevent such incidents, rescue operations would be delayed, further complicated, and the rescued migrants would be placed in danger.

In regard to the possible destruction of boats at anchor in a Libyan harbour, the EU cannot engage in the proposed civil-military operation without having a legal basis to do so. One possible source of authority would be the invocation of Chapter VII of the UN Charter by the UN Security Council, but this would require the finding that the flow of migrant boats constitutes a threat to international peace and security. While the security situation in Libya or Syria might well constitute such a threat, the large scale movement of migrants by people smugglers does not.

Chapter VII has of course been invoked to authorise the EU Operation ATALANTA after the Security Council authorised of the use of force off Somalia in international waters and in Somalian territorial waters (as well as within Somalian territory). But the legal basis for Operation ATALANTA has no relevance to the proposed EU boat destruction plan. The suppression of piracy in international waters is authorised and governed by specialized international law and customary international practice relating to the suppression of piracy. There is no equivalent basis in international law for the suppression of people smuggling.

Chapter VII was likewise invoked in 2011 to authorise the use of force by NATO in Libya. The Security Council again made the necessary determination that the situation in Libya at the time was a threat to international peace. Among the factors referenced by the Security Council in Resolution 1973 was the plight of refugees and foreign workers who were subject to violence and who were forced to flee Libya. The resolution praised Tunisia and Egypt for protecting the fleeing refugees and called on the international community to support the efforts. It would be repugnant if today the ongoing violence in Libya was somehow used as a legal basis for a use of force which would serve to trap and endanger migrants, rather than making them safer.

In addition to the serious legal questions relating to the use of force to capture and destroy smugglers’ boats, there are serious practical concerns. Take the example of the unprecedented boat disaster and the 900 deaths that occurred earlier this week. One of the likely reasons for the massive death toll was the large number of persons who were locked below the main deck of the boat. What precautions would prevent the destruction of a suspected smuggling vessel at anchor with hundreds of people below deck and out of sight? Would the EU boat destruction plan require that any capture or destruction of a suspected smuggling boat be carried out by deploying EU military personnel on the ground in Libya with the resulting ability to more closely inspect a vessel before its destruction? Or would the plan permit destruction of a suspected smuggling boat by armed drones or military aircraft? If the destruction could occur through the use of aircraft, people will be killed, and it is more likely that those who will be killed will be migrants or innocent fisherman and not the people smugglers.

The easiest targets for destruction will be the larger fishing vessels that are being used by the people smugglers. But not so long ago the smuggling boats of choice were the Zodiacs and other large or medium–sized inflatable boats powered by outboard engines. This type of boat can be easily stored in vehicles or storage buildings and quickly moved into the water when needed. It would be an easy tactical shift on the part of the people smugglers to resume the use of inflatables if the larger fishing vessels were no longer obtainable.

The European Council needs to take new and significant steps to respond to this crisis. A focus on people smugglers should certainly be something that is addressed, but while the people smugglers are taking advantage of the crisis, they are not the cause. The EU response needs to instead focus on expanded search and rescue (i.e. Mare Nostrum plus – not Operation Triton plus) and creating alternative safe paths for people to seek protection in the EU or in other appropriate countries. The boat destruction plan should be rejected.

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Filed under Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Refugees, United Nations

Very Few Migrants Reaching Italy Apply for Asylum

While roughly 170,000 migrants over the past 14 months have reached Italy or been rescued and brought to Italy, according to UNHCR and Eurostat figures, very few of them are applying for asylum in Italy. Eurostat data through November 2014 indicate approximately 25,200 asylum applications from all nationalities were filed in Italy during the first six months of 2014; the number increased to approximately 27,000 during the period July-November 2014.

Eurostat data further show that only 455 asylum applications were submitted by Syrians in Italy during the January-November 2014 period, whereas over the same period over 28,000 Syrian asylum applications were submitted in Germany.

According to Italian press reports, “[n]ew figures from the UN’s refugee agency showed 25,077 people applied for asylum in Italy during the first six months of 2014. The highest number in Europe was recorded in Germany, which received 77,109 applications, followed by France (54,131) and Sweden (38,792).”

Click here for Eurostat “Asylum and new asylum applicants – monthly data”.

Click here for Eurostat “Asylum and new asylum applicants by citizenship, age and sex Monthly data (rounded)”. (Conduct search by modifying “+Citizen” option at upper right.)

Or click here for main Eurostat website and search for “asylum.”

Click here for news article.

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Filed under Data / Stats, Germany, Italy, Migrants, Refugees, Syria