Category Archives: Tunisia

PACE Report on “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?” Scheduled for Release on 29 March

The draft report prepared by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, will be considered on 29 March in a closed session by the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

If the draft report receives committee approval it will be released to the public by Ms. Strik at a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. CET.  Representatives from HRW and FIDH will participate in the press conference.  (Click here for HRW press release.) The report will be next be considered during “plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.”

Full text of PACE press release:  “Strasbourg, 26.03.2012 – Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on ‘Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?’ will present her draft report at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday 29th March 2012.

The report is the result of a nine-month inquiry, launched at the request of 34 Assembly members, following a March 2011 incident in which it is alleged that 63 people attempting to flee the conflict in Libya died at sea after their appeals for rescue were ignored, including by armed forces operating in the area.

Ahead of her presentation, Ms Strik commented: ‘Since the beginning of 2011 at least 1,500 people are known to have perished in the Mediterranean trying to reach European soil – despite this being one of the busiest and best-monitored seas in the world. My inquiry has focused on one particularly tragic incident, in which 63 people died, to try to establish who bears responsibility for their deaths. I have been deeply shocked by what I have learned.’

As part of her inquiry, Tineke Strik spoke at length with survivors, search and rescue authorities from Italy and Malta, as well as NATO and EU officials, and put detailed written questions to a number of governments, including those with vessels with aircraft-carrying facilities in the area at the time. She also obtained a reconstruction of the voyage using the science of forensic oceanography.

The same day, prior to the press conference, Ms Strik will present her report to PACE’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, meeting in closed session. If approved by the committee, the report will go forward for plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.

* * *

Notes for editors

Press conference

The press conference will take place at 2 p.m. on Thursday 29th March at the Council of Europe office in Brussels (Avenue des Nerviens 85 / Nerviërslaan 85, B-1040 Brussels). The rapporteur will be joined by representatives of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Watch. A video recording of the press conference will be made available at the link above, and on the PACE website, as soon as possible after it ends.

Copies of the report

If approved by the committee, the full text of the report will be posted on the Assembly’s website at around 2 p.m. Central European Time.

Contacts

Angus Macdonald, PACE Communication Division, mobile +33 (0)6 30 49 68 20.
Andrew Cutting, Council of Europe Office in Brussels, mobile +32 (0)485 21 72 02.

Motion: the request for an inquiry

PACE President’s statement, May 2011

Web file and timeline: Europe’s boat people

Video recording of press conference (when available)

Click here for PACE Press Release of 26 March.

Click here for Committee meeting agenda.

Click here for HRW Press Release of 26 March.

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UNHCR: “Mediterranean takes record as most deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants in 2011”

Full Text of UNHCR Briefing Note, 31 January:

“This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Sybella Wilkes – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 31 January 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

According to UNHCR estimates, more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in 2011. This makes 2011 the deadliest year for this region since UNHCR started to record these statistics in 2006. The previous high was in 2007 when 630 people were reported dead or missing.

Last year is also a record in terms of the massive number of arrivals in Europe via the Mediterranean, with more than 58,000 people arriving. The previous high was in 2008 when 54,000 people reached Greece, Italy and Malta. During 2009 and 2010, border control measures sharply reduced arrivals in Europe. The frequency of boat arrivals increased in early 2011 as the regimes in Tunisia and Libya collapsed.

Our teams in Greece, Italy, Libya and Malta, warn that the actual number of deaths at sea may be even higher. Our estimates are based on interviews with people who reached Europe on boats, telephone calls and e-mails from relatives, as well as reports from Libya and Tunisia from survivors whose boats either sank or were in distress in the early stages of the journey.

Survivors told UNHCR staff harrowing stories of being forced onboard by armed guards, particularly during April and May in Libya. The actual journey took place on unseaworthy vessels with refugee and migrant passengers often forced into having to skipper boats themselves. In addition, some survivors told UNHCR that fellow passengers beat and tortured them. Judicial investigations are ongoing in Italy following these reports.

The majority of last year’s arrivals by sea landed in Italy (56,000, of whom 28,000 were Tunisian) while Malta and Greece received 1,574 and 1,030 respectively. The vast majority arrived in the first half of the year. Most were migrants, not asylum-seekers. Only three boats landed from mid-August to the end of the year. In addition, according to Greek government figures, some 55,000 irregular migrants crossed the Greek-Turkish land border at Evros.

We are disturbed that since the beginning of 2012, despite high seas and poor weather conditions, three boats have attempted this perilous journey from Libya, with one going missing at sea. This boat, carrying at least 55 people raised the alarm on 14 January, warning of engine failure. Libyan coast guards informed UNHCR that 15 dead bodies, all identified as Somali, were found washed up on the beaches last week, including 12 women, two men and a baby girl. On Sunday, three more bodies were recovered. It was confirmed later that all those that perished were Somali residents of the makeshift site in Tripoli known as the Railway Project.

The other two boats that made it to Malta and Italy in January required rescuing. The first rescue of 72 Somali nationals by the Italian coast guard took place on 13 January. Those rescued included a pregnant woman and 29 children.

The second boat was rescued by the Maltese Armed Forces on 15 January with the support of the US Navy and a commercial vessel. In total 68 people were rescued from a dinghy found drifting some 56 nautical miles from Malta. A baby girl was born on one of the rescue vessels. Another woman reported a miscarriage during the voyage.

UNHCR welcomes the ongoing efforts of the Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities to rescue boats in distress in the Mediterranean. We renew our call to all shipmasters in the Mediterranean, one of the busiest stretches of water in the world, to remain vigilant and to carry out their duty of rescuing vessels in distress.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

In Rome: Laura Boldrini on mobile +39 33 55 403 194

In Valetta: Fabrizio Ellul on mobile +356 99 69 0081

In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38”

Click here for link to statement.

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Statewatch Analysis: The Arab Spring and the death toll in the Mediterranean: the true face of Fortress Europe

Statewatch released an Analysis by Marie Martin entitled “The Arab Spring and the death toll in the Mediterranean: the true face of Fortress Europe.”

Excerpt: “Throughout the uprisings in North Africa, the EU has maintained a discourse of double standards: supporting calls for freedom and democracy but greeting resulting population displacement with hostility. This has contributed to a record number of people dying at Europe’s borders during the first seven months of 2011. It is all about numbers when it comes to migration; about how large a flow came in, how many people asked for protection and how many applicants were “failed” or “rejected.” Numbers quantify the “threat” (e.g. the “invasion” of irregular migrants) and serve as a bargaining tool with third countries (allowing the acceptance of the externalisation of border controls in exchange for facilitating the mobility of a specific number of nationals). Numbers demonstrate whether the target of “x” thousands of annual deportations of irregular migrants is met. Numbers released by public authorities are meant to justify the need for migration policies and to show how efficiently they are implemented. Yet hidden numbers question the legitimacy of these policies – the death toll of people dying at Europe’s borders is such an example. For several years, Gabriele del Grande has monitored the situation at the EU’s external borders and kept a record of the number of deaths occurring in the context of irregular bordercrossings [2] on the Fortress Europe website. According to the website’s latest update, the EU’s borders have never been so “murderous” [3]: there were 1,931 deaths during the first seven months of 2011. [4] In 2008, a petition was brought before the European Parliament by the ProAsyl organisation, denouncing the  deathtrap at the EU’s borders” [5]: it was a particularly “murderous” year, with 1,500 deaths. It is terrifying to realise that this toll was exceeded in the first seven months of 2011. …”

Click here for Analysis.

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Filed under Algeria, Analysis, Egypt, European Union, France, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, UK

Malmström: Europe Failed Refugees in 2011

Commissioner Cecilia Malmström wrote an opinion article in The Times of Malta of 19 January:  “Refugees: How Europe failed- European promises of solidarity with people in need were tested in 2011. It is worrying to note that Europe, collectively, did not pass the test. Now, all member states of the European Union must take responsibility and make sure that 2012 will be a better year for asylum matters. … In the first half of 2011, over 75 per cent of all asylum applications were made in only six EU member states. That leaves a long row of European countries that can and must do more. And as over 700,000 people were forced to flee the violence in Libya, many ended up in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. Of the 8,000 people identified by the UN as being in particular need of help, all EU member states only managed to promise to receive 400. Norway, a non EU-country, accepted nearly as many by itself.  Meanwhile, more than 50,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean in rickety vessels to the EU. Far too many died trying. Others arrived at the Italian island of Lampedusa and Malta and, at a pledging conference last spring, European countries had the chance to show their solidarity. The result? A mere 300 refugees being relocated from Malta to other member states. …”

Click here for full article.

 

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Hundreds of Tunisians Who Sailed to Lampedusa in 2011 Remain Missing

Hundreds of Tunisians who departed Tunisia for Lampedusa by sea in early 2011 remain missing.  Some of the missing almost certainly died at sea, but family members remain hopeful that others survived the voyage and are now in Italy or elsewhere in Europe.  Earlier this week dozens of mothers of the missing demonstrated outside the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs during a visit by an Italian parliamentary delegation led by Margherita Boniver. The mothers have been holding daily demonstrations calling for assistance from Tunisian and Italian authorities.  The two governments have been asked to cross check fingerprint information.  Tunisia collects fingerprint information for national identity cards and Italian authorities have collected fingerprint information from arriving migrants.  There is speculation that some of the migrants may have used false names upon reaching Italy and as a result are more difficult to locate.

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

Click here for Facebook Page dedicated to finding missing Tunisians.

Click here for Storie Migranti Petition for missing Tunisian migrants / Appello per i migranti tunisini disperse / نداء من أجل التونسيين المهاجرين المفقودين / Appel pour les migrants tunisiens disparus.

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Amnesty International Report: Year of Rebellion – The State of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa

Amnesty International this morning released a report entitled “Year of Rebellion – The State of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa” focusing on the events of 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and Iraq.  Additional chapters in the Report address the “International response”, the “Failure to put human rights first”, “Protection of displaced people”, and “Arms transfers”, among other topics.

Excerpts:

“This report describes the events of this historic, tumultuous year, one which saw so much suffering and sadness but also spread so much hope within the region and beyond, to countries where other people face repression and everyday abuse of their human rights. Amnesty International too was challenged, as never before, to respond to the events by documenting the violations that were committed and, most of all, by mobilizing its members and supporters to extraordinary lengths in support and solidarity with the people in the streets of Cairo, Benghazi, Sana’a, Manama, Dera’a and elsewhere who were truly “in the frontline” in demanding reform, accountability and real guarantees for human rights. This report is dedicated to them, their suffering and their momentous achievements.”

“Protection of Displaced People- … Many of those who fled Libya sought safety in neighbouring countries, mainly in Egypt and Tunisia. However, around 5,000 sub-Saharan refugees and asylum-seekers remain stranded in desert camps in Tunisia and makeshift tents in Saloum, a remote border point in Egypt. When Amnesty International visited the camps in June and July, poor conditions and insecurity prevailed, making life extremely challenging for those living there. Unlike the thousands of migrants who were repatriated during the initial stages of the conflict, these people cannot return to their home countries because they would then be at risk of persecution. Nor can they remain in Egypt and Tunisia, which have been unwilling to offer long-term solutions to refugees. Returning to Libya is also not an option, despite the fall of the al-Gaddafi regime, as Libya cannot currently offer a safe haven for refugees. The only solution is for other countries where they would be safe to resettle them. How many are resettled and how quickly this happens depends on the speed and extent with which the international community fulfils its responsibility to them. So far, the international community’s response has been miserably poor, with European countries offering fewer than 800 resettlement places between them in response to a refugee crisis unfolding on Europe’s doorstep. Many of those who fled Libya attempted the dangerous sea-crossing to Europe, often in overcrowded and barely sea-worthy boats. Among them were people who initially fled from Libya to Tunisia, but then crossed back into Libya frustrated at the lack of durable solutions for refugees in the camps. At least 1,500 men, women and children are estimated to have drowned while attempting this journey. The true total was probably far higher. Governments and institutions failed to put in place effective mechanisms to prevent such deaths at sea, including by increasing search and rescue operations, and by ensuring that rescue operations comply fully with human rights and refugee law….”

Click here for Report.

Click here for AI Press Release.

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Statewatch Analysis: The EU’s self-interested response to unrest in north Africa: the meaning of treaties and readmission agreements between Italy and north African states

Statewatch released an Analysis by Yasha Maccanico entitled “The EU’s self-interested response to unrest in north Africa: the meaning of treaties and readmission agreements between Italy and north African states.”  The Analysis provides a description of Italy’s responses to the migrant arrivals in 2011 caused by the unrest in North Africa.

Excerpts:  “The ‘crisis’ reveals questionable practices and routine abuses – The measures adopted in response to the increasing number of migrants arriving from north African countries serve to highlight a number of practices that have become commonplace in Italy in recent years.

The first of these is a widening of the concept of ‘emergency.’ Calling an emergency gives the government a wider remit to derogate from specified laws so as to resolve situations that cannot be dealt with through ordinary measures….

Although the situation in north Africa was worrying, the emergency was called when slightly over 5,000 migrants had arrived. An analysis by Massimiliano Vrenna and Francesca Biondi Dal Monte for ASGI notes that the government has repeatedly called and extended states of emergency since 2002 to deal with immigration, which is treated as though it were a “natural calamity” even when there is a wholly predictable influx of people from third countries. The urgent need specified in decrees declaring a state of emergency is to conduct ‘activities to counter the exceptional – later referred to as massive – influx of immigrants on Italian territory’ (as happened on 11 December 2002, 7 November 2003, 23 December 2004, 28 October 2005, 16 March 2007, 31 December 2007, 14 February 2008 for Sicily, Calabria and Apulia and was extended to the whole nation on 25 July 2008 and 19 November 2009), stemming from a prime ministerial decree of 20 March 2002. Thus, Vrenna and Biondi Dal Monte’s observation that the emergency is ‘structural’ appears well-founded. It has serious repercussions for the treatment of migrants (see below) and the awarding of contracts outside of normal procedures, with the involvement of the civil protection department whose competencies have been expanding considerably.

The second practice involves the expulsion, refoulement or deportation of migrants outside the limits and procedures established by legislation for this purpose. The failure to identify people, to issue formal decisions on an individual basis to refuse them entry or expel them, or to give them the opportunity to apply for asylum or other forms of protection, was a key concern when boats were intercepted at sea and either the vessels or their passengers were taken back to Libya between May and September 2009, when 1,329 people were returned. These rights were also denied to people arriving from Egypt and Tunisia in application of readmission agreements in the framework of the fight against illegal migration. Their presumed nationality was deemed sufficient to enact expulsions to these countries, because ongoing cooperation and good relations with Italy appeared sufficient to indicate that they were not in need of protection, regardless of the situation in their home countries. ….

The third practice is the ill-treatment of migrants held in detention centres. Without dealing with this issue in depth, it is worth noting that what could be viewed as arbitrary detention is occurring on a large scale, in the absence of formal measures decreeing detention and without the possibility of appealing against decisions. In fact, after landing, migrants are summarily identified as either ‘illegal’ migrants or asylum seekers, largely on the basis of their nationality….”

Click here for Analysis.

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Migrant Boat Reaches Lampedusa

A rubber dinghy carrying 69 sub-Saharan migrants landed on Saturday on Lampedusa without having been intercepted.  The migrants are believed to be Somali.  At least one media report states that the migrants are believed to have departed from Tunisia.  Several of the boat’s passengers were hospitalized.  The main migrant detention centre on Lampedusa remains closed.

Click here and here for articles. (IT)

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ECRE Interview with Tineke Strik Regarding PACE Investigation into Migrants Deaths in Mediterranean

ECRE last week published an interview with Ms Tineke Strike regarding the PACE Migration Committee’s ongoing investigation into the almost 2000 migrant deaths that have occurred in the central Mediterranean this year.  The Committee is focusing in particular on the incident that occurred in late March 2011 when unknown ship(s) and aircraft observed and then failed to rescue a disabled migrant boat.  Approximately 60 persons subsequently died.

Excerpts from the ECRE interview:

“[***]  What are the main findings of your report on the death at the Mediterranean so far?

We have spoken with survivors and with the priest who received the request for assistance from the boat in distress, Italian border guards, and the Italian refugee agency, as well as the Italian Refugee Council (CIR), a Member of ECRE. We also talked to different people in Brussels, including NATO, the ambassador of the Council of Europe, Amnesty and several MEPs. Today, during the PACE hearing on November 30 in Paris, we had a discussion with a number of experts in international law, Frontex, UNHCR and ICRC. All in all a lot of information has been gathered.

We have already sent requests for information to find out via satellite maps and logs if there were boats near the distressed boat Once we know under which flags these boats were sailing, we will be able to track which governments might have been responsible and ask them whether they knew that the boat asking for help was in danger or not and how they acted upon that information.

We are actually still waiting for information for this information. It is unfortunate that it takes time to get this information but we are trying to get hold of it through different channels. We have approached High Representative Ashton and asked for her consent to provide us with information from the European Satellite Centre. We have already used this kind of information at the Council of Europe, for example to detect the illegal detention centres that the CIA was using. We therefore hope that Ashton once again will cooperate.

We also asked NATO to provide us with information and have asked all the countries who took part in the NATO action in Libya and who had ships in that region during that period to give us data on where their boats were and when. NATO has promised to request the Member States to provide us with this information, also if these boats were not under the command of NATO. If this does not succeed, we still have our own national parliamentarians that could push their governments in their own country if it is necessary to gather the information.

If countries were involved they might not want to admit that, which makes my position difficult. I am not a judge and I don’t have enforcement powers so I’m partly dependent on the cooperation of various parties.  But I think all parties can benefit from transparency on what has happened, in order to avoid such tragedies in the future.

[***]

How do you think the EU has responded to the turmoil and war in North Africa and, in particular, the following displacement of people in the region and the arrival of some of them to Europe?

In my report following the protests in North Africa, we see that by far the largest part of the people who have fled Libya went to Tunisia and Egypt. There was a lot of fuss in the EU about the 25,000 who eventually fled to Italy. Tunisia took half million, Egypt took a half a million which shows how big the contrast with the EU was, especially considering that Member States were reluctant to resettle refugees from camps in Tunisia. This while Tunisia and Egypt were in a very vulnerable position in the post-revolutionary period. If we really want to help and strengthen stability in the region, we must show these states that they are not alone. These countries generously opened their borders, they understood the situation of the people there and to a great extent we stood aside and just watched.

Then we failed to help out Italy and Malta, especially when countries like France and Denmark wanted to close their borders. This shows exactly how much we are still not politically ready for a common asylum system. We provide beautiful public statements but when it comes down to it, Member States do not want to lose their sovereignty or be troubled by developments elsewhere. I do not think you can have both: either you have a joint system and you show solidarity, or you close all the borders and reinvent the wheel.

Common policies go hand in hand with solidarity and in fact we should look beyond the European borders.  What you see now is that border controls at the external borders of the EU continue to shift to North Africa and sometimes even further. One cannot claim that our responsibilities only begin when people have reached our territory. I was therefore very disappointed when the European Commission replied to a question by MEP Hélène Flautre on this incident saying that the boat was in Libyan waters and therefore they had no power to get involved. If certain acts like push backs at high sea or bilateral agreements with unsafe third countries such as Libya, lead to death or inhumane treatment, EU member states or other countries of the Council of Europe are accountable for a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In that sense I have high expectations of the decision of the ECHR in the case of Hirsi and others v. Italy.

[***]

What do you think the impact of your work and the investigation will be?

I hope the report will raise the awareness of the international obligations and also the awareness of the importance of avoiding such tragedies. It is important that violating the obligation to rescue does not remain unmentioned or lead to impunity. If we succeed in proving which actors were wrong. Member States will be more careful and there will be more pressure to cooperate and share the responsibilities, and to establish practical and binding solutions. Being a parliamentary assembly of national parliamentarians, I also hope that the discussion will also take place in Member States. I find it really outrageous that such a tragedy can occur so close to our borders and that we have been so silent about it.

[***]”

Click here for full interview.

Click here for my last post on this topic.

 

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Update Regarding PACE Investigation into Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean

I have sought additional information from NATO and PACE regarding the 29 November hearing held in Paris by the PACE Migration Committee regarding the deaths of boat people in the Mediterranean.  I was informed by a PACE official that the minutes of the 29 November hearing will be released during or after the Committee’s next scheduled meeting which will take place in late January 2012.

In my previous post on this topic I incorrectly said that NATO officials attended the 29 November hearing.  Instead Ms Strik, the Committee’s rapporteur, met with a senior NATO official in Brussels on 28 November.  A NATO official informed me that “during the meeting [with Ms Strik], NATO offered to look into new details of the 28 March 2011 incident which were provided to NATO by Ms Strik. This process is ongoing and we will reply to the Council of Europe in due course.”

The NATO official reiterated to me that NATO ships were “fully aware of their responsibilities” to respond to vessels in distress and noted that during Operation Unified Protector “NATO ships have directly assisted in the rescue of more than 600 people in distress at sea.”  The official provided information about two incidents which have previously been reported on:

  • “[O]n 26 March 2011, NATO ships responded to information that two migrant ships with over 500 people on board were in distress, which were then provided direct assistance by the Italian authorities. That included a NATO ship using its helicopter to airlift two women and a newborn child to medical help”; and
  • “On 10 July 2011, a NATO ship responded to a vessel in distress approximately 75 miles off the coast of Libya. The NATO vessel provided medical support, food and offered mechanical assistance to the distressed migrants. In response to a deterioration of the humanitarian situation onboard, the 114 migrants were transferred onto the NATO ship in accordance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) protocol and delivered to safety in Tunisia.”

The reference to the 26 March incident presumably relates in part to the Canadian warship, HMCS Charlottetown, which made contact with a disabled migrant boat carrying over 250 migrants on 25 March.  The Charlottetown provided food, waters, and repairs to the migrant boat and escorted it until 26 March when the Italian Coast Guard arrived on scene.  As far as I can tell from news reports from the time of this incident, there was only one migrant boat involved.   NATO’s current statement indicates there was a second migrant boat encountered by NATO at this time.

Click here and here for my previous posts on the March 2011 incident.

The 10 July incident relates to the rescue of over 100 migrants by the Spanish Navy frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón.  The rescued migrants remained onboard the Spanish frigate for six days after Malta and Italy refused to permit the NATO ship to enter port to disembark the rescued migrants.  The migrants were transferred to a Tunisian navy ship on 16 July and presumably then taken to Tunisia.

Click here and here for my previous posts on the July 2011 incident.

Neither of these two incidents relates to the events that occurred between 25 March and 10 April 2011 when a disabled migrant boat drifted for days during which time approximately 60 persons died.  Survivors from the migrant boat reported that at various times military ships and helicopters ignored their requests for assistance.  The Guardian reported extensively on this subject and the PACE Committee has been seeking information from NATO about this particular incident.

Click here and here for Guardian articles.

Click here for my last post of the PACE 29 Nov. hearing.

HMCS Charlottetown and migrant boat 25 March 2011.

Photo Credit: Lt(N) Michael McWhinnie, Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces

Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón rescuing migrant boat on 10 July 2011 and transferring migrants to Tunisian navy vessel on 16 July 2011.

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

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EJML Article, B Nascimbene and A Di Pascale: “The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Extraordinary Influx of People who Arrived in Italy from North Africa”

The latest edition of the European Journal of Migration and Law, Volume 13, Number 4, contains an article by Bruno Nascimbene, Professor of European Union Law, Faculty of Law, University of Milan, and Alessia Di Pascale, Research Fellow, European Union Law, Faculty of Law, University of Milan, entitled “The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Extraordinary Influx of People who Arrived in Italy from North Africa”.

Abstract: “The ‘Arab spring’ which spread in early 2011 and the consequent exceptional influx of people that arrived on the Italian coasts from North Africa put the national reception and asylum systems under particular pressure, also raising the debate on the status to be attributed to these people. Faced with a situation out of the ordinary, Italy immediately addressed a request for help to the European Union, which has revealed the difference of views and mistrust existing between Member States in relation to these issues. This episode also calls into question the scope and effectiveness of the EU migration management framework, particularly in case of strong and unexpected pressure, and its implementation in a true spirit of solidarity.”

Click here for link.  (Subscription or payment required.)

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NATO Reportedly Agrees to Provide Additional Information to PACE Regarding Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean

The PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, in connection with the preparation of a report by Ms Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) on the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean, conducted a hearing in Paris on 29 November.  NATO officials who met with Ms Strik in Brussels before attended the hearing reportedly agreed to provide additional information, which might include satellite imagery, to the PACE Committee.

From PACE Press Statement, 30 November 2011:  “‘With 1971 boatpeople having perished in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach European soil from North Africa, the year 2011 sets a sad record as the deadliest year for boatpeople,’ PACE rapporteur Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) said at the end of a hearing on this issue, organised by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Migration Committee.  ‘Never before the Mediterranean Sea has been as closely monitored as this year because of the war in Libya and still more boat people than ever perished or disappeared,’ the rapporteur added.  ‘Is there a common understanding of a “distress situation”? Is it clear which legal framework is applicable and by whom? Do all ships, even warships, have to proceed with rescue operations even if they are situated beyond established search and rescue zones? Where does legal responsibility start and where does political responsibility end? These are some of the issues we are currently trying to clarify,’ she said.  Mrs Strik’s report will focus on an incident reported in March this year, during which 63 boat people escaping from Libya died after their appeals for rescue had allegedly been ignored. ‘The testimonies of survivors of this incident are coherent, but we have to continue to collect more data and information on who was when and where in the area and we now expect Nato and the EU to provide us with satellite imagery and other relevant information,’ she concluded.”

Click here, here, here, and here for articles.

Click here for PACE Press Statement.

Click here for my last post on the topic.

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PACE to Conduct Hearing: “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?” (Paris, 29 Nov)

The PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, in connection with the preparation of a report by Ms Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) on the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean, will conduct a hearing in Paris on 29 November.  Ms Strik was appointed in June 2011 by the PACE Committee as Rapporteur to prepare a report on the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean since January 2011.

“The hearing will look at the loss of human life at sea, it will examine the right of families to receive information on the victims, and it will consider the rules applicable under international law and maritime law relevant to rescue at sea. The hearing will also examine international co-ordination regarding interception and rescue at sea, as well as the role of the national authorities, NATO and FRONTEX.  The participants include representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, FRONTEX, the Italian Council for Refugees, and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law.”

The hearing seems to be open only to members of the press and will be held at the Council of Europe, 55 avenue Kléber, 75016 PARIS (Metro: Boissière).

Click here and here for more information.

Click here for my last post on this topic.

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Director Laitinen Describes Frontex Response to the 2011 Migratory Flows from North Africa

In a recent opinion article published on Publicservice.co.uk, Frontex Director Ilkka Laitinen described the challenges faced by Frontex and provided a description of Frontex’s “unprecedented” activities over the past 12 months in the operational theatre, referring to the first RABIT deployment in October 2010 and the response to the migratory flows from North Africa beginning in January 2011.

Extensive excerpts regarding the response to the migratory flows from North Africa:

“…  Since January 2011, world attention has been focused as never before on the Arab world. The ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East once again redrew the European migration map, and Frontex’s operational capacity was tested again. With the arrival of almost 5,000 migrants on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, the agency was once more called upon to assist. However, the support required was in a very different form than that in Greece.

African exodus
The migratory flows from North Africa towards the EU external borders – predominantly to Italy and Malta – have been very different from those to Greece. Initially, almost all were economic migrants from Tunisia seeking work in Europe.

The modus operandi of the facilitation networks behind the phenomenon was a familiar one to Frontex, namely, over-packing unseaworthy vessels with inadequately experienced crews and little life-saving equipment, if any. This created a predominantly humanitarian need for search and rescue activities at sea. It also created an administrative challenge on shore, to process usually undocumented migrants, establish their nationalities and identities and take care of their immediate needs, as well as to transfer them to better equipped facilities on the mainland and start return procedures where appropriate. There was no call from Italy for a RABIT deployment, however. Italy is very well equipped for maritime border control, as well as for search and rescue activities. Where the Italian authorities requested most support was in Frontex’s other areas of specialisation – intelligence gathering, situational awareness, and the deployment of experts to the field to assist in the screening and debriefing of migrants (establishing probable nationality and gathering evidence of people smuggling respectively). Long before being called on by the Italian Ministry of Interior, Frontex’s Situation Centre and Risk Analysis Unit were busy identifying the full range of possible scenarios in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, as well as monitoring developments in other countries in the region.

Since the first waves of migrants from Tunisia, the situation has evolved constantly, with ever more sub-Saharan migrants and refugees seeking international protection. Such changeable flows require flexibility and constant adjustment to the operational response. For each possible scenario, an appropriate operational response was planned by the Joint Operations Unit and all necessary steps were taken to ensure that a rapid response could be launched anywhere in the operational area at any time.

This is an ongoing process and a challenge to which expert staff at the agency’s Warsaw HQ, and the Frontex Operational Office in Piraeus, Athens, continue to respond. This readiness ensures operational flexibility. It also demonstrates another important area in which Frontex adds value to member states’ activities at the EU’s external borders. It must always be borne in mind that it is the member states themselves that remain at all times responsible for their own borders; Frontex’s role is to provide support when requested. Keeping member states up to date with detailed and accurate intelligence is one of the ways the agency works behind the scenes to maximise member states’ effectiveness. Another way is by providing a platform for exchange of data and other information. Equally, experts in the field debrief migrants to build up a clearer picture of the routes used, prices paid and other modi operandi of the smuggling networks involved.

The cruel sea
The maritime domain remains the most complicated for border control, not least legally. The provisions of national and international maritime law and their impact on migration management, make the seas the most challenging environment for operations. It is for this reason that for many years, Frontex has been encouraging greater coordination between the southern member states themselves through the European Patrols Network (EPN) – an initiative to increase efficiency, improve information sharing and reduce overlapping of efforts and the incumbent gaps they leave in surveillance. It was the existing EPN provisions in the Mediterranean that formed the basis of Frontex’s operational response to the migration flows from North Africa. And it is the EPN that will be strengthened as a combined surveillance response going forward. EPN will form an essential component of EUROSUR, the common European surveillance system now being developed. It will also help to enhance Europe’s search-and-rescue capacity in the Mediterranean.

But as has been said many times, border control is no panacea. It is the last line of control and rescue. Its rightful place is at the heart of a far-reaching IBM [Integrated Border Management] system that includes deterrents against illegal migration as well as incentives for legal migration, and that tackles the root causes of such migration in countries of origin and transit. To put it simply, prevention is better than cure, and by the time migrants reach the external EU border it is often too late.

The most effective way to tackle the dangers of illegal migration by sea is to deter migrants from setting out in the first place. Only when this principle is enshrined at the EU policy level can it be claimed that the Union is seriously tackling illegal migration and cross-border crime.”

Click here for link to full text of article.

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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia

Italy Extends Temporary Permits for Tunisians Who Arrived Before 6 April 2011 and Extends Declaration of State of Emergency Relating to Influx of Migrants from North Africa

Italy has extended for an additional six month period the temporary residency permits issued to Tunisian migrants who arrived in Italy after 1 January 2011 and before 6 April 2011.  Italy also extended until 31 December 2012 the “Declaration of a state of humanitarian emergency in relation to the exceptional influx of citizens from the countries of North Africa.” (“Proroga dello stato di emergenza umanitaria in relazione all’eccezionale afflusso di cittadini appartenenti ai paesi del Nord Africa.”)

The decree granting the extension of the temporary residency permits noted the positive actions that have been undertaken by the Tunisian government pursuant to the bi-lateral agreement of 5 April 2011 between Italy and Tunisia, specifically the increased supervision of the Tunisian coast, Tunisia’s actions to prevent and fight against illegal immigration, and Tunisia’s cooperation with the repatriation of Tunisian nationals.  The decree noted that the new Tunisian government which will be formed after elections later this month will be expected to confirm and strengthen bi-lateral relations, especially in regard to the voluntary return programme and immigration controls.

(… “Rilevato che, in base all’accordo del 5 aprile 2011 tra il  Governo italiano e quello  tunisino,  sono  proseguite  con  risultati  molto positivi sia l’attivita’  di  vigilanza  sulle  coste  tunisine,  sia l’azione di prevenzione e di  contrasto  dell’immigrazione  illegale, sia le operazioni di  rimpatrio  dei  cittadini  tunisini  giunti  in Italia successivamente alla citata data del 5 aprile 2011; Preso atto delle rinnovate richieste, che  pervengono  dal  Governo provvisorio tunisino, di proseguire nelle  linee  di  cooperazione  e collaborazione gia’ avviate;  Considerato altresi’ che tale  rapporto  di  collaborazione  dovra’ essere confermato ed ulteriormente rafforzato con  il  nuovo  Governo tunisino che si insediera’ all’esito delle  consultazioni  elettorali per l’Assemblea Costituente del 23 ottobre 2011, in  particolar  modo per  il  proseguimento  dei  programmi  di  rimpatrio  volontario  e assistito e per una efficace politica di programmazione dei flussi;…”)

Click here for text of temporary residency decree.  (IT)

Click here for text of extension of humanitarian emergency decree.  (IT)

Click here and here for articles.  (IT)

Click here for link to ASGI web page with relevant information.

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Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia