Category Archives: Italy

HRW Briefing Paper: Hidden Emergency-Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean

Human Rights Watch released a briefing paper on 16 August entitled “Hidden Emergency-Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.”  The briefing paper, written by Judith Sunderland, a senior researcher with HRW, reviews recent events in the Mediterranean, provides updates on new developments, including the EUROSUR proposal and IMO guidelines that are under consideration, and makes recommendations for how deaths can be minimized.

Excerpts from the Briefing Paper:

“The death toll during the first six months of 2012 has reached at least 170. … Unless more is done, it is certain that more will die.

Europe has a responsibility to make sure that preventing deaths at sea is at the heart of a coordinated European-wide approach to boat migration, not a self-serving afterthought to policies focused on preventing arrivals or another maneuver by northern member states to shift the burden to southern member states like Italy and Malta.

With admirable candor, EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said recently that Europe had, in its reaction to the Arab Spring, ‘missed the opportunity to show the EU is ready to defend, to stand up, and to help.’ Immediate, concerted efforts to prevent deaths at sea must be part of rectifying what Malmström called Europe’s ‘historic mistake.’

Europe’s Response to Boat Migration

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European countries most affected by boat migration—Italy, Malta, Greece and Spain—have saved many lives through rescue operations. But those governments and the European Union as a whole have focused far more effort on seeking to prevent boat migration, including in ways that violate rights. Cooperation agreements with countries of departure for joint maritime patrols, technical and financial assistance for border and immigration control, and expedited readmission of those who manage to set foot on European soil have become commonplace.

The EU’s border agency Frontex has become increasingly active through joint maritime operations, some of which have involved coordination with countries of departure outside the EU such as Senegal. Even though in September 2011 the EU gave Frontex an explicit duty to respect human rights in its operations and a role in supporting rescue at sea operations, these operations have as a primary objective to prevent boats from landing on EU member state territories. This has also prevented migrants, including asylum seekers, from availing themselves of procedural rights that apply within EU territory.

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Italy had suspended its cooperation agreements with Libya in February 2011, and has indicated it will respect the European Court’s ruling and will no longer engage in push-backs. However, past experience suggests that an immigration cooperation agreement signed with the Libyan authorities in April 2012, the exact contents of which have neither been made public nor submitted to parliamentary scrutiny, is unlikely to give migrants’ human rights the attention and focus they need if those rights are to be properly protected.

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Preventing Deaths in the Mediterranean

It may be tempting to blame lives lost at sea on unscrupulous smugglers, the weather, or simple, cruel fate. However, many deaths can and should be prevented. UNHCR’s recommendation during the Arab Spring to presume that all overcrowded migrant boats in the Mediterranean need rescue is a good place to start.

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Recognizing the serious dimensions of the problem, specialized United Nations agencies such as the UNHCR and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), have been working to produce clear recommendations. These include establishing a model framework for cooperation in rescue at sea and standard operating procedures for shipmasters. The latter should include a definition of distress triggering the obligation to provide assistance that takes into account risk factors, such as overcrowding, poor conditions on board, and lack of necessary equipment or expertise. UNHCR has also proposed that countries with refugee resettlement programs set aside a quota for recognized refugees rescued at sea.

The IMO has also been pursuing since 2010 a regional agreement among Mediterranean European countries to improve rescue and disembarkation coordination, as well as burden-sharing. The project, if implemented successfully, would serve as a model for other regions. A draft text for a memorandum of understanding is under discussion. Negotiations should be fast-tracked with a view to implementation as quickly as possible.

If Europe is serious about saving lives at sea, it also needs to amend the draft legislation creating EUROSUR. This new coordinated surveillance system should spell out clearly the paramount duty to assist boat migrants at sea, and its implementation must be subject to rigorous and impartial monitoring. Arguments that such a focus would create a ‘pull factor’ and encourage more migrants to risk the crossing are spurious. History shows that people on the move, whether for economic or political reasons, are rarely deterred or encouraged by external factors.

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From the HRW press statement:

The “briefing paper includes concrete recommendations to improve rescue operations and save lives:

  • Improve search and rescue coordination mechanisms among EU member states;
  • Ensure that EUROSUR has clear guidelines on the paramount duty of rescue at sea and that its implementation is rigorously monitored;
  • Clarify what constitutes a distress situation, to create a presumption in favor of rescue for overcrowded and ill-equipped boats;
  • Resolve disputes about disembarkation points;
  • Remove disincentives for commercial and private vessels to conduct rescues; and
  • Increase burden-sharing among EU member states.”

Click here or here for HRW Briefing Paper.

Click here for HRW press statement.

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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Reports, Spain, Tunisia

400 Migrants Reach Lampedusa Over Past Weekend; Detention Centre Over Capacity; Former Interior Minister Maroni Calls for Resumption of Italy’s Push-Back Practice

Two large migrant boats reached Lampedusa over the past weekend.  One of the boats was carrying about 250 persons, believed to be Sub-Saharan Africans, and is thought to have departed from Libya.  The boat was a 15 meter wooden fishing vessel and appears to be one of the first non-inflatable boats used in many months. A second boat carrying about 125 Tunisians arrived around the same time.  Smaller boats carrying mostly Tunisians have been steadily reaching Lampedusa in recent weeks.  In response to the apparent increase in the numbers of persons reaching Lampedusa, former Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni (Northern League) wrote on his Facebook page and called for a resumption of Italy’s Push-Back practice to halt new boats. (“Tornano i barconi a Lampedusa. RESPINGIMENTI, come facevo io, questo serve per fermare l’invasione.”)  Given the decision in the Hirsi case by the European Court of Human Rights, Italy is not likely to resume the push-back practice.  81 Sub-Saharan migrants on a disabled boat were rescued by Italian authorities on Monday.  The detention centre on Lampedusa is over its 350 person capacity and Italian authorities have begun to transfer migrants to facilities elsewhere.

Click here, here, and here for articles. (IT)

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Boat with 120 Syrians Lands in Italy

A boat carrying about 160 persons, including 124 Syrians, was intercepted near Crotone in southern Italy.  Italian authorities arrested two Turkish nationals on board the vessel who are suspected of human smuggling.  It is doubtful that the boat sailed from Syria which is a distance of about 1,800 km by sea from this part of Italy.  Reuters quoted a local Italian official as saying that most migrant boats that reach the area originate from Greece.

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

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Article: M Tondini, “The legality of intercepting boat people under search and rescue and border control operations with reference to recent Italian interventions in the Mediterranean Sea and the ECtHR decision in the Hirsi case”

A new article by Matteo Tondini, Ph.D., “The legality of intercepting boat people under search and rescue and border control operations with reference to recent Italian interventions in the Mediterranean Sea and the ECtHR decision in the Hirsi case”, has been published in Vol. 18 of the Journal of International Maritime Law (subscription required).

Here is the abstract: “This article briefly addresses the legal grounds for the interception of boat people on the high seas by military vessels, taking into account the Italian Navy’s [experience] on the matter. If interceptions are conducted within the framework of an `extraterritorial’ border control operation, their legality is hardly sustainable. Conversely, when interventions are implemented as search and rescue (SAR) operations, their legal basis is much wider, provided that intervening states’ obligations under the SAR legal regime are coupled with those stemming from the prohibition of refoulement under international refugee law. As a result, rescued migrants can only be disembarked to `safe third countries’, namely countries in which they do not run the real risk of being persecuted or returned to other countries `at risk’. According to some very recent international and national jurisprudence, including the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in the Hirsi, before disembarking migrants, intervening states should in principle carry out a positive assessment on the functionality of the recipient country’s asylum system. In order to assess clearly the legality per se of interceptions, this article supports the necessity of applying a prevalence criterion, according to which if the SAR character prevails over the objective of preventing irregular migration, the intervention in question should be considered an authentic and lawful salvage operation.”

Also of note by the same author is his October 2010 paper, “Fishers of Men? The Interception of Migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and Their Forced Return to Libya.”

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CoE Human Rights Commissioner Welcomes Italian Declarations that Migrant Push-Back Policy Will No Longer Be Applied

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks completed a four day visit to Italy between 3-6 July.  The visit was “focused on the human rights of Roma and Sinti and on the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers.”  A report on the visit will be issued in the future.  In the meantime the Commissioner released a statement on 9 July in which he “welcomed recent declarations [in Italy] at the highest political level that the ‘push-back’ policy will no longer be applied, in the light of the Hirsi Jamaa judgment of the Strasbourg Court [and stated his appreciation for] the efforts throughout the country to accommodate persons arriving from North Africa in the first half of 2011…”  The Commissioner further “recommended that the system of reception centres be unified, guaranteeing an adequate level of protection everywhere, and capable of responding to fluctuating migratory flows. The Commissioner also pointed out that once officially recognized, refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection do not receive the crucial support they need to integrate into Italian society, and are therefore forced to live in destitute conditions. The Commissioner said ‘I personally witnessed the intolerable circumstances faced by 800 such persons, struggling to survive in an abandoned building in Rome. This is unacceptable in a country like Italy’.”

Click here for full statement.

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Statement from PACE Rapporteur Tineke Strik on Most Recent Deaths in Mediterranean Sea: “When will this ever end?”

Full Text (FR ci-dessous):  Strasbourg, 11.07.2012 – “Yet again, a dinghy with 55 people on board drifted for 15 days on the Mediterranean. This time, only one person survived. When will this ever end?,” today asked Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”. She expressed her great sadness and anger over the deaths of another 54 boat people fleeing Libya towards Italy.

“It is still not safe in Libya and the boats will continue to arrive. Europe knows that. I had hoped my report on the ‘left-to-die boat’ would serve as an eye-opener to prevent such tragedies happening time and time again. States must never hesitate to undertake immediate action to rescue people, even if they think someone else should be responsible: every minute counts,” said Senator Strik.

“Governments in Europe, and not only in the countries on the southern shores of Europe, must react, and take an equal share in the protection of asylum seekers arriving from Africa,” she added.

“It is all the more important that the resolution adopted by the Assembly in April this year is implemented and that the remaining questions are answered by NATO and by European governments. I am therefore now making public my most recent requests to member States and NATO, which remain unanswered,” she concluded.

The UNHCR estimates that this year over 170 people have lost their lives attempting to reach Italy by sea. Over 1 300 have arrived from Libya to Italy, and over 1 000 to Malta.

Letter to the Defence Secretary the United Kingdom

Letter to the Defence Minister of Spain

Letter to the NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations

PACE Resolution 1872 (2012) (PDF)

Tineke Strik’s full report (PDF)

Strasbourg, 11.07.2012 – « Une fois de plus, un canot pneumatique avec 55 personnes à son bord a dérivé pendant 15 jours en Méditerranée. Cette fois, il n’y a eu qu’un seul survivant. Quand cela s’arrêtera-t-il ? », s’interroge Tineke Strik (Pays-Bas, SOC), l’auteur du rapport de l’Assemblée parlementaire du Conseil de l’Europe (APCE) « Vies perdues en Méditerranée : qui est responsable ? ». Elle a exprimé aujourd’hui sa profonde tristesse et sa colère à l’annonce de la mort de 54 personnes qui fuyaient la Libye pour l’Italie.

« La situation en Libye n’est toujours pas sûre et d’autres bateaux continueront d’arriver. L’Europe le sait. J’avais espéré que mon rapport sur le « bateau cercueil » provoquerait une prise de conscience et empêcherait que ces tragédies ne se reproduisent toujours et encore. Les États ne doivent jamais hésiter à prendre des mesures immédiates pour sauver des personnes, même s’ils estiment que quelqu’un d’autre devrait être responsable : chaque minute compte », a déclaré la sénatrice Strik.

« Les gouvernements européens, et pas seulement ceux des pays du rivage sud de la Méditerranée, doivent réagir et prendre une part égale dans la protection des demandeurs d’asile venant d’Afrique », a-t-elle ajouté.

« Il est d’autant plus important que la résolution adoptée par l’Assemblée en avril de cette année soit mise en œuvre et que l’OTAN et les gouvernements européens répondent aux questions encore en suspens. C’est pourquoi je rends publiques mes dernières demandes aux Etats membres et à l’OTAN, qui sont restées sans réponse », conclut-elle.

Le Haut-Commissariat de l’ONU pour les réfugiés estime que plus de 170 personnes ont péri cette année en tentant de gagner l’Italie par la mer. Plus de 1.300 personnes en provenance de Libye sont arrivées en Italie, et plus de 1.000 à Malte.

Lettre au Secrétaire d’Etat à la Défense du Royaume-Uni

Lettre au Ministre de la Défense de l’Espagne

Lettre au Secrétaire général adjoint délégué, Division des opérations de l’OTAN

Résolution 1872 (2012) de l’APCE

Rapport intégral de Tineke Strik (PDF)

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Boats4People Releases Mapping Platform to Monitor the Maritime Borders of the EU for Violations of Migrants’ Rights

Boats4People announced last week the release of a mapping platform to monitor “in almost real-time reported cases of migrants in distress at sea”. The project is called WatchTheMed and “is a collaboration between the Forensic Oceanography research project at Goldsmiths College and Boats4People, a campaign led by an international coalition of NGOs aiming at bringing an end to the death of migrants at sea and foster solidarity between both sides of the Mediterranean.”

Press Release: 03.07.2012 WatchTheMed

Boats4People Mapping Platform to Monitor the Maritime Borders of the EU for Violations of Migrants’ Rights

While Boats4People’s Oloferne boat is at sea, many other participants are contributing from the land in Italy, Tunisia, across Africa and Europe and even as far as the USA. Amongst them, researchers of the Forensic Oceanography research project at Goldsmiths, University of London, who, in the frame of the B4P campaign, have launched a new online mapping platform to monitor in almost real time the death of migrants and violations of their rights at the Maritime Borders of the EU.

Acting as a “civilian watchtower” over the Mediterranean, WatchTheMed aims to collect all possible sources of information concerning incidents at sea: distress signals send out by Coast Guards, news articles, reports by different partners, testimonies from migrants, satellite imagery. It inscribes these incidents within the complex political ecology of the Mediterranean: overlapping Search and Rescue zones, maritime patrols, radar coverage.

By assembling these multiple sources of information so as to document with the highest possible degree of precision incidents at sea and by spatialising this data, the aim is to develop a new tool to increase accountability in the Mediterranean.

During the three weeks of the B4P journey, the WatchTheMed platform will be regularly updated. Help us monitor the maritime borders of the EU by reporting an incident, maritime patrols or means of surveillance on the website www.watchthemed.crowdmap.com or send us an email at: obs@boats4people.org.

For more information on the Forensic Oceanography project visit:
http://www.forensic-architecture.org/investigations/forensic-oceanography/

WatchTheMed
Una piattaforma per mappare le violazioni dei diritti dei migranti ai confini marittimi dell’ EU.

WatchTheMed è una collaborazione fra Boats4People e il progetto di ricerca Forensic Oceanography del Goldsmiths College.

WatchTheMed vuole essere uno strumento per mettere fine all’impunità per la morte dei migranti in mare e la violazione dei loro diritti ai confini marittimi dell’UE. Per fare questo, monitora e mappa in tempo (quasi) reale casi di migranti in difficoltà in mare, di violazioni dei loro diritti e di decessi. Questi episodi vengono inscritti nell’ambito della complessa ecologia politica del Mediterraneo, con un attenzione particolare al Canale di Sicilia.

Questa mappa è un progetto pilota partito nel luglio 2012. Aiutaci a monitorare i confini marittimi dell’ Unione Europea, visita il sito www.watchthemed.crowdmap.com.

WatchTheMed
Une plateforme pour cartographier les violations des droits des migrants aux frontières maritimes de l’UE

WatchTheMed est une collaboration entre Boats4People et le projet de recherche Forensic Oceanography de l’Université de Goldsmiths, Londres.

WatchTheMed vise à être un outil pour mettre un terme à l’impunité qui entoure les morts des migrants et les violations de leurs droits aux frontières maritimes de l‘ UE. A cette fin, le projet observe et cartographie en temps presque réel les cas rapportés de détresse, de violations du droit et de morts en mer, et inscrit ceux-ci dans la structure complexe de la Méditerranée, en mettant l’accent sur le Canal de Sicile.
Cette carte est un projet pilote lancé en juillet 2012. Aidez nous à observer les frontières maritimes de l’UE, rapportez un incident en visitant le site www.watchthemed.crowdmap.com.

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UNHCR Reports 54 Persons Dead After Migrant Boat Drifts in Mediterranean for 15 Days

The UNHCR reported yesterday that UNHCR staff interviewed the sole survivor of a migrant boat that departed from Tripoli for Italy in late June with 55 people on board.  The survivor was interviewed in Zarzis, Tunisia. “According to the survivor, there was no water on board and people started to die of dehydration within days. Many drank sea water, including the man who survived. He was rescued [off the coast of Tunisia] floating on the remains of the [inflatable] boat and a jerry can. According to the survivor over half of the deceased were from Eritrea, including three of his relatives.”  According to the UNHCR press statement “[s]o far in 2012, over 1,300 people have arrived by boat from Libya in Italy. A boat, reportedly carrying 50 Eritreans and Somalis, is currently at sea. They refused to be rescued by Maltese military forces [on 9 July].  Over 1,000 people on 14 boats have arrived in Malta from Libya so far this year. Two other boats were intercepted by Maltese authorities, but the majority elected not to be rescued and continued to Italy.  UNHCR Italy estimates that so far this year some 170 people have been declared dead or lost at sea attempting to make the journey from Libya to Europe.”

Click here for UNHCR press statement.

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AI Report: S.O.S. Europe – Human Rights and Migration Control

Amnesty International today has released a report, “S.O.S. Europe: Human Rights and Migration Control,” examining “the human rights consequences for migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers that have occurred in the context of Italy’s migration agreements with Libya.”

The Report is accompanied by the “the launch of Amnesty International’s ‘When you don’t exist campaign‘, which … seeks to hold to account any European country which violates human rights in enforcing migration controls. When you don’t exist aims to defend the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe and around its borders. …  Today, Europe is failing to promote and respect the rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. Hostility is widespread and mistreatment often goes unreported. As long as people on the move are invisible, they are vulnerable to abuse. Find out more at www.whenyoudontexist.eu.”

Excerpts from S.O.S. Europe Report:

WHAT IS EXTERNALIZATION?

Over the last decade, European countries have increasingly sought to prevent people from reaching Europe by boat from Africa, and have “externalized” elements of their border and immigration control. …

European externalization measures are usually based on bilateral agreements between individual countries in Europe and Africa. Many European countries have such agreements, but the majority do not publicize the details. For example, Italy has co-operation agreements in the field of “migration and security” with Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia,2 while Spain has co-operation agreements on migration with Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Mauritania.3

At another level, the European Union (EU) engages directly with countries in North and West Africa on migration control, using political dialogue and a variety of mechanisms and financial instruments. For example in 2010, the European Commission agreed a cooperation agenda on migration with Libya, which was suspended when conflict erupted in 2011. Since the end of the conflict, however, dialogue between the EU and Libya on migration issues has resumed.

The European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the EU (known as FRONTEX) also operates outside European territory. FRONTEX undertakes sea patrols beyond European waters in the Mediterranean Sea, and off West African coasts, including in the territorial waters of Senegal and Mauritania, where patrols are carried out in cooperation with the authorities of those countries.

The policy of externalization of border control activities has been controversial. Critics have accused the EU and some of its member states of entering into agreements or engaging in initiatives that place the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers at risk. A lack of transparency around the various agreements and activities has fuelled criticism.

This report examines some of the human rights consequences for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers that have occurred in the context of Italy’s migration agreements with Libya. It also raises concerns about serious failures in relation to rescue-at-sea operations, which require further investigation. The report is produced as part of wider work by Amnesty International to examine the human rights impacts of European externalization policies and practices.

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AGREEMENTS BETWEEN ITALY AND LIBYA

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The implementation of the agreements between Libya and Italy was suspended in practice during the first months of the conflict in Libya, although the agreements themselves were not set aside. While the armed conflict was still raging in Libya, Italy signed a memorandum of understanding with the Libyan National Transitional Council in which the two parties confirmed their commitment to co-operate in the area of irregular migration including through “the repatriation of immigrants in an irregular situation.”8 In spite of representations by Amnesty International and others on the current level of human rights abuses, on 3 April 2012 Italy signed another agreement with Libya to “curtail the flow of migrants”.9 The agreement has not been made public. A press release announced the agreement, but did not include any details on the measures that have been agreed, or anything to suggest that the present dire human rights predicament confronting migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya will be addressed.

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HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATION BEYOND BORDERS

Human rights and refugee law requires all states to respect and protect the rights of people within their jurisdiction: this includes people within the state’s territorial waters, and also includes a range of different contexts where individuals may be deemed to be within a certain state’s jurisdiction.

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States must also ensure that they do not enter into agreements – bilaterally or multilaterally – that would result in human rights abuses. This means states should assess all agreements to ensure that they are not based on, or likely to cause or contribute to, human rights violations. In the context of externalization, this raises serious questions about the legitimacy of European involvement – whether at a state-to-state level or through FRONTEX – in operations to intercept boats in the territorial waters of another state, when those intercepted would be at a real risk of human rights abuses.

A state cannot deploy its official resources, agents or equipment to implement actions that would constitute or lead to human rights violations, including within the territorial jurisdiction of another state.

CONCLUSION

Agreements between Italy and Libya include measures that result in serious human rights violations. Agreements between other countries in Europe and North and West Africa, and agreements and operations involving the EU and FRONTEX, also need to be examined in terms of their human rights impacts. However, with so little transparency surrounding migration control agreements and practices, scrutiny to date has been limited.

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RECOMMENDATIONS

Amnesty International urges all states to protect the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, according to international standards, This report has focused on Italy.

THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT SHOULD:

  • set aside its existing migration control agreements with Libya;
  • not enter into any further agreements with Libya until the latter is able to demonstrate that it respects and protects the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and has in place a satisfactory system for assessing and recognizing claims for international protection;
  • ensure that all migration control agreements negotiated with Libya or any other countries are made public.

EUROPEAN COUNTRIES AND THE EU SHOULD:

  • ensure that their migration control policies and practices do not cause, contribute to, or benefit from human rights violations;
  • ensure their migration control agreements fully respect international and European human rights and refugee law, as well as the law of the sea; include adequate safeguards to protect human rights with appropriate implementation mechanisms; and be made public;
  • ensure their interception operations look to the safety of people in distress in interception and rescue operations and include measures that provide access to individualized assessment procedures, including the opportunity to claim asylum;
  • ensure their search-and-rescue bodies increase their capacity and co-operation in the Mediterranean Sea; publicly report on measures to reduce deaths at sea; and that Search and Rescue obligations are read and implemented in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of refugee and human rights law.”

Click here (EN), here (EN), or here (FR) for Report.

See also www.whenyoudontexist.eu

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Moderately Large Numbers of Migrants Reaching Malta and Italy

Hundreds of migrants have been arriving in Malta and Italy over the past month.  According to Maltese officials 712 persons have arrived in Malta over the past five weeks.  A total of 832 people have arrived since the beginning of the year.  Hundreds of migrants have also reached Italian territory, landing on Sicily or elsewhere.  Good weather has facilitated the voyages.

Click here (EN), here (EN), here (EN), here (IT), and here (IT) for articles.

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Report- “Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat Case”

A report has been released which addresses new details surrounding the deaths of 63 migrants who died one year ago after their disabled boat drifted for days within an area that was heavily patrolled by NATO warships.  The report, Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat Case- 11April2012, was prepared by researchers at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London, and by others, and was released earlier today in conjunction with the announcement in Paris by a coalition of NGOs that a legal process against the French military for alleged failure to rescue has been commenced by several survivors from the migrant boat.

Click here for today’s Guardian article on the Report.

Excerpt: “1.1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The UNHCR defined 2011 as the “deadliest year” in the Mediterranean since the organisation began recording these statistics in 2006, estimating that over 1,500 migrants died while fleeing Libya during the initial stages of the violent conflict.  This number is extremely high in comparison to the 13,417 deaths documented from 1988 to March 2012 at the maritime borders of the EU, and the 6,226 deaths occurred solely in the Sicily Channel during the same period.  Furthermore, the loss of lives at sea in 2011 occurred despite the significant naval and aerial presence in the area due to the military intervention in Libya launched by an international coalition of states and NATO (hereafter referred to as ”participating states/NATO”) under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

One particular event, reported by the international press, provoked widespread public outrage. In the case of what is now referred to as the “left-to-die boat”, 72 migrants fleeing Tripoli by boat on the early morning of March 27 2011 ran out of fuel and were left to drift for 14 days until they landed back on the Libyan coast. With no water or food on-board, only nine of the migrants survived. In several interviews, these survivors recounted the various points of contacts they had with the external world during this ordeal. This included describing the aircraft that flew over them, the distress call they sent out via satellite telephone and their visual sightings of a military helicopter which provided a few packets of biscuits and bottles of water and a military ship which failed to provide any assistance whatsoever. The events, as recounted by these survivors, appeared to constitute a severe violation of the legal obligation to provide assistance to any person in distress at sea, an obligation sanctioned by several international conventions.

In response to this incident, several initiatives were undertaken to shed light on these deaths and demand accountability for them. On 10 May 2011, Human Rights Watch demanded that NATO and its member countries conduct a full investigation of the case.  On 9 June 2011, the French NGO GISTI sent out a public call which led to the formation of a coalition of NGOs (constituted primarily by CIRÉ, FIDH, GISTI, LDH, and Migreurop) that sought accountability for the non-assistance of migrants at sea during and in the aftermath of Arab Spring in general and in the case of the “left-to-die boat” in particular.  The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) appointed the Dutch Senator Tineke Strik to prepare an in-depth report on the deaths that have occurred in the Mediterranean in 2011. Her report titled “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” was presented in Brussels on 29 March 2012.

The enclosed report focuses on the spatial analysis of data surrounding the case of the “left-to-die boat” and includes a series of visualizations that supplement the written reports produced by the organisations and institutions mentioned above. In order to generate our analysis and report we employed a wide range of digital mapping and modelling technologies, which included the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery, geospatial mapping, and drift modelling. In combining these technologies to elucidate the chain of events of this particular case we also suggest new ways in which these emergent technologies could be applied to the field of international law and human rights advocacy.

In collecting, analysing, and synthesising data, reports, and human testimonies related to the case, this report reconstructs as accurately as possible what happened to this vessel. It ultimately aims to answer the following question: what happened to the “left-to-die boat” and who was involved in the events leading to the deaths of 63 migrants? While some differences between oral testimonies occur on specific points and while there are some instances in which more data would have been desirable, overall a coherent picture emerges from the synthesis of these disparate bodies of information, a picture that demonstrates how the migrants were lead to a slow death despite repeated contacts with several parties. An abbreviated summary of key events is outlined as follows (fig. 2):

  • • In the early morning of 27 March 2011, between 00:00 and 02:00 GMT, a Zodiac-style rubber boat, approximately 10 metres in length with 72 people on-board left the port next to the Medina (Old City) of Tripoli, Libya and headed in the direction of the island of Lampedusa in Southern Italy.
  • • At 14:55 GMT an aircraft flew over the migrants’ vessel notifying the Italian Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) of its sighting. This fly-over generated a photograph and provided the exact location of the vessel (fig. 2A).
  • • At the end of the afternoon of the same day, with little fuel and almost no food and water left and no sight of land, the migrants called Father Zerai, an Eritrean priest based in Rome, by satellite phone to ask for help. After receiving the call, Father Zerai informed of the situation Rome MRCC, which after obtaining the GPS location of the boat at 16:52 GMT from the satellite provider (fig. 2B), informed their Maltese counterparts, NATO’s Naples Maritime HQ and sent out a distress signal to all ships in the area.
  • • Two to three hours after having placed the call and while the migrants’ vessel continued sailing in the direction of Lampedusa, it was flown over by a military helicopter, which bore the writing “ARMY” or “RESCUE ARMY” on its side. Despite the migrants’ clearly identifiable gestures for help – waving, holding the babies on board at arms length, showing the empty tanks of petrol -, the helicopter hovered over the boat but left without providing any immediate assistance. The migrants now believed they would soon be saved, and the “captain” therefore threw overboard the satellite phone, which had failing batteries and could have been used as evidence of his involvement in a smuggling network. The last GPS position registered by the satellite provider at 19:08 GMT (fig. 2C) thus corresponds in all likelihood to the location of the first helicopter encounter.
  • • After 4-5 hours of waiting, floating in approximately the same position and with no sign of rescue, the migrants decided to ask for help from some fishermen, whose boats they noticed around them. They attempted to reach those boats but the fishermen too left without providing any assistance. Shortly afterwards, and still in approximately the same position, the same helicopter came back. This time, military personnel on-board threw down 8 bottles of water and a few packets of biscuits before leaving again.
  • • Following this second helicopter visit, the migrants were shown the direction of Lampedusa by yet another fishing vessel. Between 00:00 and 01:00 GMT on 28 March 2011, they resumed movement in this direction for 5-8 hours until they ran out of fuel in the early morning (fig. 2D). From this moment, until they landed back on the Libyan coast, their boat drifted on the open sea without any use of its motor.
  • • After several days of drifting, between the 3rd and 4th of April, the migrants encountered a military ship with one or two helicopters on its deck (fig. 2E). The migrants got as close as 10 metres to this ship in their plea for help. The crew on the deck of the military ship did not provide assistance and only took photos before departing.
  • • The migrants’ vessel continued to drift until it eventually landed back on the coast of Libya, near Zlitan, on April 10th. In total, the boat drifted for 14 days. Of the 72 people who departed from Tripoli only 11 survived. One woman died shortly after arriving ashore, while the others were caught and imprisoned by Libyan soldiers. During the imprisonment another person died. In total nine people survived the journey and 63 perished.

While the involvement of all actors in these dramatic events will be discussed in greater detail in chapter three, the reconstruction of the events will clearly demonstrate that the actions or inactions of different actors contributed to the death of 63 migrants. At least one patrol aircraft, one helicopter, two fishing boats, and a military ship, whose identities still remain unknown, allegedly had direct contact with the boat. Moreover, the Italian and Maltese MRCC as well as participating states/NATO forces present in the area were informed of the distress of the boat and of its location, and had the technical and logistical ability to assist it. Despite all this, none of these actors intervened in a way that could have averted the tragic fate of the people on the boat.

In her report “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” Senator Tineke Strik has spoken of a “catalogue of failures” that led to the loss of “many opportunities for saving the lives of the persons on board the boat.” Furthermore, these deaths occurred in an area that was under strict surveillance by NATO to enforce an arms embargo as provided for by UNSCR 1973 and where at least 38 naval assets were present at some time during the event. While this report focuses on the “left-to-die boat” case specifically, it should be recalled once again that this is only one amongst the many incidents that have caused the death of more than 13,417 deaths at the maritime borders of the EU over the last 20 years.”

Click on following link, Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat 11April2012  , for report.

Click here for Guardian article on report.

 

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PACE Migration Committee Report: Lessons Learned and Recommendations for States

The PACE Migration Committee report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, released yesterday, is a must read for anyone concerned with this topic.  In addition to documenting the events of March-April 2011 and the resulting deaths of 63 persons, the report makes a series of recommendations as to how search and rescue should be carried out in the future:

“13. While the [rapporteur’s] investigation focused on a single incident, the lessons learnt have implications for the way in which search and rescue should be carried out in the future. As a consequence, the [Parliamentary] Assembly recommends that member States:

13.1. fill the vacuum of responsibility for an SAR zone left by a State which cannot or does not exercise its responsibility for search and rescue, such as was the case for Libya. This may require amending the International Maritime Search and Rescue Convention (SAR Convention). In the case in question, two Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (Rome and Malta) were aware that a boat was in distress, but neither took the responsibility to start a search and rescue operation. Rome, being the first MRCC informed of the distress situation, had a greater responsibility to ensure the boat’s rescue;

13.2. ensure that there are clear and simple guidelines, which are then followed, on what amounts to a distress signal, so as to avoid any confusion over the obligation to launch a search and rescue operation for a boat in distress;

13.3. avoid differing interpretations of what constitutes a vessel in distress, in particular as concerns overloaded, unseaworthy boats, even if under propulsion, and render appropriate assistance to such vessels. Whenever safety requires that a vessel be assisted, this should lead to rescue actions;

13.4. tackle the reasons why commercial vessels fail to go to the rescue of boats in distress. This will require dealing with:

13.4.1. the economic consequences for the rescuing vessel and its owners, and the issue of compensation;

13.4.2. the disagreement between Malta and Italy as to whether disembarkation should be to the nearest safe port or to a port within the country of the SAR zone. The International Maritime Organization should be urged to find a solution to the matter and step up its efforts towards a harmonised interpretation and application of international maritime law;

13.4.3. the fear of criminalisation (trafficking or aiding and abetting irregular migration) by those who go to the rescue of boats carrying irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees;

13.4.4. legislation to criminalise private shipmasters who fail to comply with their duty under the law of the sea, as is already the case in certain Council of Europe member States;

13.5. ensure that, in accordance with the Hirsi v. Italy judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, after the rescue operation, people are not pushed back to a country where they risk being treated in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

13.6. tackle the issue of responsibility sharing, particularly in the context of rescue services, disembarkation, administration of asylum requests, setting up reception facilities and relocation and resettlement, with a view to developing a binding European Union protocol for the Mediterranean region. The heavy burden placed on frontline States leads to a problem of saturation and a reluctance to take responsibility;

13.7. respect the families’ right to know the fate of those who lose their lives at sea by improving identity data collection and sharing. This could include the setting up of a DNA file of the remains of those retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea. In this context, the ongoing work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organisations should be acknowledged and supported;

13.8. follow up Assembly Resolution 1821 (2011) on the interception and rescue at sea of asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants;

13.9. ensure that the lack of communication and understanding between the Rome Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and NATO, which led to no one taking responsibility for the boat, is not reproduced in future NATO operations, and ensure that NATO introduces a mechanism to co-ordinate its assets in SAR operations in direct contact with relevant Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres wherever possible.”

Click on the following links for:

PACE Press Statement

Full report – provisional version (PDF)

Last letter from NATO (PDF)

Graphic: map showing reconstruction of the voyage and other annexes (PDF)

“Boat people” web file

Video recording of press conference 

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PACE Migration Committee Approves Report on “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean” and Calls on NATO and Responsible States to Conduct Full Inquiries into the Failures to Rescue

The report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, was adopted this morning by the PACE Committee on Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.  It will next be debated in a plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly, probably on 24 April.

Here is the full text of the PACE press statement and links to the provisional version of the report:

“Strasbourg, 29.03.2012 – A failure to react to distress calls and a ‘vacuum of responsibility’ for search and rescue are among a ‘catalogue of failures’ which led to the deaths of 63 people fleeing the conflict in Libya by sea during a tragic 15-day voyage in March 2011, according to a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

A report by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), adopted this morning in Brussels by PACE’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, says Italian search and rescue authorities, NATO, the flag states of naval vessels in the area, the Libyan authorities and reckless smugglers are among those who share responsibility.

The boat, which left Tripoli with 72 people on board a week after the beginning of international air strikes on Libya, washed up on the Libyan coast 15 days later with only nine people still alive – even though distress messages giving its last known position were regularly broadcast to all ships in the area.

NATO ‘failed to react to distress calls’ in a military zone under its control, the committee says, pointing out that the Spanish Navy frigate Méndez Núñez, under NATO command, was reported to be only 11 miles away, although the Spanish authorities dispute the distance. An Italian military vessel, the Borsini, was 37 nautical miles away. Both vessels can carry a helicopter.

The committee says it finds ‘credible’ the testimonies of the nine survivors of the incident, who said that a military helicopter dropped water and biscuits to them and indicated it would return, but never did. On the tenth day of the voyage – with half the passengers dead – they said ‘a large military vessel’ approached, close enough for them to see crew with binoculars, but sailed away without effecting a rescue.

‘Many opportunities of saving the lives of the persons on board were lost,’ the committee concludes. It demands that NATO conduct an inquiry into the incident and provide comprehensive answers to outstanding questions, and calls on the European Parliament to seek further information, including satellite imagery. National parliaments of the states concerned should also carry out inquiries. There should also be an overhaul of maritime regulations to fill the ‘vacuum of responsibility’ when a state cannot carry out search and rescue in its assigned zone, and to deal with the dispute between Italy and Malta over which country should be responsible for disembarkation of those rescued at sea.

The report is due to be debated at the April plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April.

Full report – provisional version (PDF)

Last letter from NATO (PDF)

Graphic: map showing reconstruction of the voyage and other annexes (PDF)

“Boat people” web file

Video recording of press conference

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The Guardian’s Advance Coverage of PACE Report – “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?”

The Guardian has reviewed a copy of the report prepared by Ms. Tinke Strik which will be presented to the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons on Thursday, 29 March.  The Guardian describes the report as “a damning official report” that documents “[a] catalogue of failures by Nato warships and European coastguards [which] led to the deaths of dozens of migrants left adrift at sea [ ].”

Click on the following links for the Guardian’s articles:

Migrants left to die after catalogue of failures, says report into boat tragedy

How a migrant boat was left adrift on the Mediterranean

Drastic action needed to prevent more migrants dying in boat tragedies

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Human Rights Organisations Renew Call for NATO and Governments to Release Information Regarding Migrant Deaths in Mediterranean Sea

Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and 9 other human rights groups on 26 March sent letters to NATO and the defence ministers of France, Italy, Spain, Canada, the UK, and the US calling for the release of information to clarify events surrounding the deaths of 63 migrants who died approximately one year ago after their disabled boat drifted for days within an area that was heavily patrolled by NATO warships.  The renewed call for release of information is being made in connection with the scheduled release on 29 March of the PACE Migration Committee Report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”  Representatives of HRW and FIDH will participate in a press conference on 29 March, 2 p.m. CET, with Ms. Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), when Ms. Strik releases the report.

Click on the following links for copies of the letters sent to: NATO, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States. (EN)

Click here for the 26 March PACE press release and information regarding 29 March press conference.

Click here for the 26 March HRW press release.

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