From the Guardian: “More than 30 people have drowned after about 200 people fell from an overcrowded migrant boat off the coast of Libya, the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea…..” Photo from MOAS.eu.
Amnesty International: Italy may be circumventing obligation to protect persons by facilitating interception of migrant boats by Libya
AI Public Statement: “Amnesty International is deeply concerned that Italian authorities may be attempting to circumvent their obligation to protect people fleeing widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses in Libya by facilitating the interception of refugees and migrant boats by Libyan authorities in the central Mediterranean.
On 10 May 2017 a request for assistance from a refugees and migrant boat to the Italian coastguard resulted in a Libyan coastguard vessel intercepting the boat in distress in international waters and returning up to 500 people to face illegal detention, torture, rape, inhuman and degrading treatment and other grave abuses in Libya. The incident represented an extremely worrying departure from the procedures so far applied to search and rescue operations of refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean. …. Read full statement.
Source: Guardia Costiera; Excel spreadsheet with data: 2017-03_Guardia Costiera SAR statistics and FRONTEX statistics from 2016-Jan
Boats 4 People publishes information guide for families of migrants who die or go missing while crossing Central Mediterranean
From FIDH: “Boats 4 People published an information guide for the families of migrants –and their supporters- who died or went missing while crossing the Central Mediterranean sea on their way to Italy. According to the UNHCR since 2014, more than 12 000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea during their migration to Europe, 5 022 of them in the year 2016 alone. Most of them remain ‘non-identified’. … The document produced by Boats 4 People about the Italian process to establish the identity of the dead or missing, is the result of nearly 2 years of gathering information from institutional bodies, associations, activists, researchers and practitioners. It has been designed as an implementation step-by-step guide for the families and their supporters, given the indifference of the European countries about migrants’ fate. For these countries, dead migrants are only entitled to being counted and reported for statistics purposes.”
Mogherini : EU actions are responsible for significant reduction in migrants transiting Niger to Libya
EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini yesterday said that EU actions in Niger, “where more than 80% of the [migrant] flows [to Libya] transit”, have been responsible for a significant reduction in the number of persons reaching Libya: “I can tell you one number that will strike you probably – in the last 9 months through [EU] action with Niger, we moved from 76 000 migrants passing through Niger into Libya to 6 000.”
Libya Has Refused “International Requests” to Conduct Military Strikes Against Libyan Militias Engaged in Migrant Smuggling
An April 29th Libya Herald article by Sami Zaptia reported comments made by Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala (Presidency Council / Government of National Accord – PC/GNA) “that Libya has received ‘‘international requests’’ to carry out ‘military strikes within Libya against militias’ engaged in smuggling illegal migrants” and that Libya had refused the requests.
The article does not indicate who made the requests, but the requests probably came from the EU on behalf of the EUNAVFOR MED operation and stemmed from its mandate to disrupt, capture, or dispose of vessels or assets used by smugglers.
Libyan Coastguard Vessel – in Coordination with Italian SAR Authority – Intercepts Migrant Boat in International Waters and Returns 500 Migrants to Libya; de facto Push-Back
A Libyan coastguard vessel yesterday intercepted a large migrant boat in international waters and returned the approximately 500 migrants to Libya. This incident is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, it may represent the first such interception/rescue operation by Libya in international waters in recent years. Second, the Libyan vessel may have been one of coastguard vessels recently donated by Italy and whose personnel have been trained by the EUNAVFOR MED operation, though this is not clear. And third, an NGO rescue vessel operated by Sea-Watch was responding to the migrant vessel and beginning SAR operations, but according to press reports, the Rome Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre , directed the Libyan coastguard to assume “on-scene command.” The result of this was the return of the migrants to Libya. While this was perhaps not technically a “push-back” operation, the effect is the same. The orders issued by the Rome Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre determined where the intercepted/migrants would be taken.
The Libyan coastguard vessel also apparently almost collided with the NGO vessel.
Is Morocco Allowing More Migrant Boat Departures in Protest of CJEU Judgment Finding EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement Not Applicable to Western Sahara?
An article in Sunday’s Diario de Cadiz by Encarna Maldonado discusses a moderate but noticeable increase in the number of migrant boats reaching Spain from Morocco and the possibility that the Moroccan government may be relaxing its migration patrols to protest last month’s Court of Justice of the EU judgment in Council v Front Polisario, Case C-104/16 P, 21 Dec 2016, where the CJEU concluded that the agriculture and fisheries agreements the EU has with Morocco are not applicable to the Western Sahara because Western Sahara has a status that is separate and distinct from Morocco. Morocco previously suspended diplomatic relations with the EU over its disagreement with an earlier judgment in the case by the General Court.
From Diario de Cadiz: “The arrival of migrants in small boats in Andalusia grew considerably since the start of 2016, almost coinciding with the [General Court’s] first statement (December 2015) supporting the complaint of the Polisario Front against the trade agreement that, among other things, allows part of the Spanish fishing fleet to fish in Moroccan waters. Although surveillance and rescue boats Andalusia recorded the less last year than in 2015 (354 vs. 491), the number of people traveling in these boats increased by 81% from 3,369 to 6,109 migrants. The appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Union and especially the judgment, issued on December 21, has coincided with a new surge in small boats to the Andalusian coast….”
The article also notes that some experts question whether the surge is related directly to the CJEU judgment.
Click here for article. [ES]
An article from yesterday in MaltaToday by Jurgen Balzan reports that Italian authorities are not sharing information with Frontex regarding the number of migrants and asylum seekers rescued at sea in the Central Mediterranean and suggests that the withholding of information may be related to an effort to minimize public concerns over migration as Italy nears a vote next month on a constitutional referendum supported by PM Renzi.
From the article: “…Italian authorities are not sharing the data [regarding rescued migrants] with Frontex … and are keeping the number of people rescued under wraps. A Frontex spokesperson told MaltaToday that although the agency is actively participating in the rescue operations, the Italian authorities ‘are not sharing’ the data on how many people were rescued or how many people lost their lives last week. Sources close to the Armed Forces of Malta said that Frontex normally holds and provides such data and ‘if they don’t have the numbers then information is being withheld by the Italians.’…”
Kaldor Centre’s web page with background and commentary on upcoming UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants and Leaders’ Summit on Refugees
Check out the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law’s new web page with “analysis and resources on two upcoming international summits on refugees: the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, and the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees hosted by US President Barack Obama on 20 September. This page will be regularly updated in the lead up and aftermath of the summits.”
NATO Expands Aegean Sea Migrant Patrols Into Turkish and Greek Territorial Waters – Rescued Migrants to Be Automatically Returned to Turkey
NATO announced on Sunday, 6 March, that its Aegean Sea patrols have been expanded to Greek and Turkish territorial waters. NATO patrols have been operating only in international waters. And while NATO says its ‘mission is not to stop or turn back those trying to cross into Europe’, NATO has made it clear that NATO ships will return rescued migrants directly to Turkey: ‘In case of rescue at sea of persons coming via Turkey, they will be taken back to Turkey.’ NATO’s plan to summarily return intercepted migrants is consistent with previous statements made by the British and German defence ministers who have said that the purpose of the NATO mission is to stop migrants and return them to Turkey.
NATO’s characterisation of its operation seems to be an attempt to draw a distinction between a push-back practice where any migrant boat, regardless of whether it is in need of rescue, would be intercepted and pushed back and a search and rescue operation providing assistance to migrant boats in need of rescue. This is meaningless distinction given the current situation in the Aegean where every migrant boat is in need of assistance or rescue.
NATO ships are subject to the same rescue at sea obligations imposed by the SOLAS and SAR Conventions as all other ships and are obligated to disembark rescued persons in a ‘place of safety.’ And while disembarking in Turkey is safer than disembarking in Syria or Libya, there are serious questions as to whether Turkey is a place of safety. See the recent Q&A issued by Human Rights Watch concluding that Turkey is not a ‘safe third country’ as defined by EU law. While the question of a ‘place of safety’ under the SAR Convention is not identical to the ‘safe third country’ question under EU law, the fact remains that rescued migrants should not in all cases be automatically returned to Turkey without adequate screening and processing. The failure to screen rescued migrants is a clear violation of the non-refoulement obligations of the individual EU and non-EU States operating under the NATO command.
EUNAVFOR MED-Six Month Report: No Indication of Refugee Protection Plan for EU Operations within Libyan Territorial Waters and No Reports of Human Trafficking
There is a lot of information in the EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA Six Month Report (also here: EEAS-2016-126) that was released last week by WikiLeaks, but there are two subjects not discussed which jumped out at me.
No Discussion of Refugee Protection Plan
First, the Report does not contain information regarding what the EU military force intends to do with migrants who are intercepted or rescued by EU vessels if and when EUNAVFOR MED patrols begin to operate within Libyan territorial waters.
The Report’s ‘Next Steps and Key Challenges’ section [pp 19-21] discusses different EU contingency plans for Phase 2B of the operation and specifically discusses how suspected smugglers arrested by EU forces within Libyan territorial waters would be handled. The Report says suspected smugglers should not be turned over by EU forces to Libyan officials for criminal prosecution unless it can be ensured ‘that they [will be] treated in accordance with human rights standards that are acceptable to the EU and Member States.’ According to the Report, forty-six suspected smugglers have been arrested by EUNAVFOR MED in international waters (between 22 June and 31 December 2015) and all of these individuals have been turned over to Italian authorities for prosecution by Italy’s DNAA – Direzione Nazionale Antimafia ed Antiterrorismo. Italy is so far the only EU Member State prosecuting suspected smugglers.
But unlike the discussion regarding the treatment of suspected smugglers, there is no discussion in the Report about where migrants who are intercepted or rescued in Libyan territorial waters will be taken or how they will be processed. It is certainly possible that intercepted migrants would continue to be taken from Libyan territorial waters to Italy, as is currently the case with operations on the high seas, but I suspect this may not be the plan once EUNAVFOR MED operations are expanded to Libyan territorial waters.
The fact that there is no discussion in the Report of where intercepted migrants will be taken does not mean that EUNAVFOR MED does not have appropriate plans in place, but the omission is troubling because the Report makes clear that once Phase 2B (territorial waters) operations begin, EUNAVFOR MED forces will be interacting and cooperating with the Libyan Navy and Coastguard. (The Report also notes that if requested and if its mandate is amended, EUNAVFOR MED is ready to begin quickly providing capability and capacity building to the Libyan Navy and Coastguard.)
EUNAVFOR MED’s interaction with Libyan forces in territorial waters would, according to the Report, initially include Libyan ‘cooperation in tackling the irregular migration issue’, with the expectation that at a later point in time ‘Libyan authorities could take the lead in patrolling and securing their Territorial Waters, with support being provided by EUNAVFOR Med.’ The Report therefore describes a changing scenario where EU forces would first act alone in Libyan territorial waters, which would lead to some level of cooperation with Libyan authorities (joint patrols? shipriders?), which would finally lead to Libyan authorities taking the lead on enforcement activities, with the EU playing a supporting role of some sort.
The legality of the Phase 2B operations will depend on the details of how intercepted or rescued migrants are processed and where they are taken. EU Member States operating within EUNAVFOR MED would necessarily be exercising effective control over migrants when operating unilaterally or jointly with Libyan forces within Libyan territorial waters and EU Member States would therefore be bound by the non-refoulement obligations in the ECHR, the Refugee Convention, the CAT, and the ICCPR. Any such operations would be subject to the 2012 Hirsi Jamaa v Italy judgment of the ECtHR which rejected Italy’s past push-back practices and close cooperation with the pre-Arab Spring Libya, finding the push-back practices to violate the ECHR’s prohibition on non-refoulement and to constitute collective expulsion.
EUNAVFOR MED’s Phase 2B operation seeks to replicate what Frontex and Spain have done off the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal and Morocco since 2006 pursuant to Joint Operation HERA where Spain and Frontex initially deployed naval patrols in international waters, then negotiated bilateral agreements to move patrols to territorial waters, deployed joint patrols and shipriders within territorial waters, and then continued to provide various forms of support to Mauritania and other West African states to patrol their own territorial waters. Operation HERA succeeded in stopping most boat migration from West Africa, but did so in a manner which did not provide any process to screen intercepted migrants for claims for international protection and subjected intercepted migrants to refoulement.
In order to ensure that non-refoulement obligations are respected and that rights of migrants are otherwise protected, as the EU and EUNAVFOR MED move towards implementation of Phase 2B operations within Libyan territorial waters, more information and transparency is needed to determine and monitor the legality of all aspects of the operations.
No Reports of Human Trafficking
The second perhaps less significant piece of information that jumped out at me as I read the Report was the lack of any suggestion that EUNAVFOR MED patrols have discovered evidence of human trafficking. The Report makes multiple references to trafficking, but always in conjunction with human smuggling, eg, ‘smuggler and traffickers’ business model’, ‘smuggler and trafficker vessels’. The use of the trafficking term seems to be a continuation of the use of imprecise terminology (and possible ongoing confusion over the differences between human trafficking and smuggling as well?). But the Report’s ‘Smugglers’ Business Model’ section [pp 6-8] is clearly only discussing acts of smuggling.
WikiLeaks yesterday released the ‘EUNAVFOR MED Op SOPHIA – Six Monthly Report’. (Also available here: EEAS-2016-126.) The 22 page document is classified as EU RESTRICTED and provides a detailed description of EUNAVFOR MED’s operations during the period 22 June-31 December 2015 and discusses the next steps for the operation, including the move to Phase 2B which would entail operations within Libyan territorial waters. The operation currently operates outside of Libyan territorial waters consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2259 (2015). The report is signed by Rear Admiral Enrico CREDENDINO, EUNAVFOR MED Op SOPHIA Operation Commander.
Here are some selected excerpts from the report:
Smugglers’ Business Model –
…Wooden boats are mainly used for migrant smuggling to the west of Tripoli, and rubber boats are more common to the east of Tripoli. Wooden boats are more valuable than rubber dinghies because they can carry more people, hence more profit for smugglers and are more resilient to bad weather and can be re-used if recovered by smugglers. However, following operation SOPHIA entering into Phase 2A (High Seas), smugglers can no longer recover smuggling vessels on the High seas, effectively rendering them a less economic option for the smuggling business and thereby hampering it.
Inflatable boats are used in two thirds of the cases and wooden boats in one third of the cases. According to intelligence sources, the wooden boats used are purchased from Libyan fishermen or imported from Tunisia and Egypt. EUNAVFOR MED are monitoring, within capabilities, the supply routes for these, but no detection has been obtained to confirm beyond any reasonable doubt this supply method.
Reports of rubber boast being imported from China and transhipped in Malta and Turkey are supported by a recent interception by Maltese customs of 20 packaged rubber boats in a container destined for Misratah, Libya. As there are no legal grounds for holding such shipments, it was released for delivery to the destination….
Legal Basis for Phase 2A – High Seas –
…The legal basis applicable to phase 2A (High Seas) relies on the international law applicable to the Operation (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Palermo protocol against the smuggling of migrants by land and sea) and on individual Member States’ application of the EU mandate through domestic legislation to board, seize and divert vessels and to detain suspected smugglers and traffickers. The adoption of UNSCR 2240 (2015) by the UN Security Council on 9 October, reinforces the legal framework applicable to EUNAVFOR MED activities in international waters. The resolution now provides the legal basis for all Member States to undertake these activities against suspected smugglers and traffickers coming from Libya….
Cooperation with International Organisations –
…In particular we have embedded the training initially provided by UNHCR on migrant handling and international law and this is now a core part of the inchop [command zone] package for new units joining the operation. We are further building on this training with input from UNICEF….
Campaign Assessment –
…Entry into Libyan Territorial Waters will undoubtedly allow us to achieve further success as we get towards the heart of [smuggler and trafficker] networks….
…From a military perspective, EUNAVFOR MED is ready to proceed to Phase 2B (Territorial Waters), though the political and legal challenges ahead remain a significant challenge….
…Transition from phase 2A to 2B [Libyan Territorial Waters] will require for a number of significant challenges to be resolved before I can actually recommend the transition.
Next Steps and Key Challenges-
From a military perspective, and to be more effective against the smugglers’ business model, I need to move to phase 2B (Territorial Waters) as soon as possible. However there are a number of key issues that need to be addressed. These are:
The Legal Finish.
As we will be operating in Libyan Territorial Waters, the current legal finish, of prosecuting suspected smugglers in Italy will not apply. We will therefore need a new legal basis; either an agreement with the Libyan authorities that they will waive their right to prosecute suspected smugglers in Libya and allow them to be prosecuted by another Member State, or to have a transfer agreement in place for apprehended smugglers to be transferred to the Libyan authorities for prosecution. Both options have specific challenges end rely on the consent of the Libyan authorities. If we were to transfer suspected persons to the Libyan authorities, we would need to ensure that they are treated in accordance with human rights standards that are acceptable to the EU and Member States….
…Regardless of the challenges with both options, we are working very closely with the EEAS to come to a workable solution. It is however clear that regardless of the solution taken, the Libyan authorities are fundamental in making this happen, either by providing the agreement to prosecute in another country, or to agree to prosecute in Libya through a judicial system which meets those standards required by the EU. I want to underline the fact that this issue must be solved before we can move to phase 2 Bravo. Without the required legal finish we will be compelled to release suspected smugglers apprehended in Libyan Territorial Waters, with a subsequent loss of credibility for the operation in the media and EU public opinion.
Legal mandate – UNSCR and Libyan Invitation.
In order to move to phase 2 in Libyan territorial waters, we need firstly an invitation from the GNA, as the sole legitimate Government of Libya under UNSCR 2259(2015), and secondly a UN Security Council Resolution to provide the necessary legal mandate to operate. Whilst the transition to phase 2 in Libyan TTW with only a UNSCR without an invitation from the Libyan authorities is theoretically possible, it is unlikely that the UNSCR would be adopted as Russia and China have previously stated that a Libyan invitation would be required by them so as not to block the resolution….
Capacity and Capability Building –
As we move into Territorial Waters, our interaction with the Libyan Navy and Coastguard will increase and we will need to gain confidence in their activities. The capability and capacity of the Libyan Coastguard to protect their borders needs to be developed and therefore preventing illegal migration from Libyan shores, so that we can reach the end state of the mission where illegal migration is at a manageable level without the need for EUNAVFOR Med. This will have to be shaped with Libyan authorities to match their expectations and could benefit from cooperation with other EU missions….
Clarification of Frontex Data On Persons Detected at EU External Borders – Includes Significant Double Counting
Yesterday Frontex released updated monthly data showing that 710,000 migrants crossed the EU’s external borders from January to September 2015. In a Twitter exchange with Nando Sigona (Univ. of Birmingham and Univ. of Oxford), Frontex clarified that it counts an individual migrant each time she crosses an external border; according to Frontex, “[t]his means that a large number of the [710,000] people who were counted when they arrived in Greece were again counted when [after passing through Greece, they entered] the EU for the second time through Hungary or Croatia.”
The 710,000 figure that was widely reported yesterday may overstate the number of individuals crossing the external borders by several hundred thousand. For example, Frontex reported that 350,000 migrants arrived in the Greek islands during the first nine months of 2015 and that 204,000 migrants crossed into Hungary during the same time period. Presumably a majority (or at least a very significant portion) of the migrants crossing into Hungary initially entered the EU via Greece and were counted at that time. Many of the tens of thousands of migrants who crossed into Croatia likewise presumably first entered the EU through Greece.
Frontex did add a disclaimer to its web site explaining the double counting: “Clarification: Frontex provides monthly data on the number of people detected at the external borders of the European Union. Irregular border crossings may be attempted by the same person several times in different locations at the external border. This means that a large number of the people who were counted when they arrived in Greece were again counted when entering the EU for the second time through Hungary or Croatia.”
And to be fair, Frontex has at times previously acknowledged that its figures include double counting. See the press statement from 14 September reporting 500,000 migrants having been detected at the external border: “However, a large number of the persons detected at the Hungarian border with Serbia had already been counted when they arrived in Greece from Turkey a few weeks earlier.” But the fact remains that much of the news coverage generated by the Frontex data will not explain the double counting.
While the use by Frontex of satellite imagery is not new, Frontex released a copy of a satellite image used last week to detect and rescue 370 people on board three inflatable boats off the Libyan coast. (It is unclear whether the image made available by Frontex shows the actual spatial resolution available to Frontex.)
According to Frontex, the imagery is part of “Frontex’s Eurosur Fusion Services … made possible by the cooperation between experts at Frontex and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), Italian authorities and EUNAVFORMED. … The Eurosur [fusion] services already include automated large vessel tracking and detection capabilities, software functionalities allowing complex calculations for predicting positions and detecting suspicious activities of vessels, as well as precise weather and oceanographic forecasts. Fusion Services use optical and radar satellite technology to help locate vessels at sea. Recent upgrades of their technical capabilities make it possible to spot smaller vessels.”
Frontex has used satellite imagery for years, for example in 2008 during Frontex Operation Hera off Mauritania, Amnesty International reported that satellite photos would be presented to Mauritanian authorities to demonstrate that migrants on board a particular migrant boat had departed from Mauritania territory. (Amnesty International, “Mauritania: ‘Nobody Wants to Have Anything to Do With Us,’ Arrests and Collective Expulsions of Migrants Denied Entry Into Europe,” 1 July 2008.)