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.
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.
A great legal analysis and overview of the situation by Prof. Steve Peers (Professor of EU Law & Human Rights Law, University of Essex) from EU Law Analysis blog:
“…. How should the EU address [the refugee crisis] next? Should it abolish or reform the Schengen and/or Dublin rules? Are Member States complying with EU and international law in their response? To answer these questions, I will examine in turn (a) the international law framework; (b) the EU law framework; (c) whether Schengen is at ‘fault’; (d) whether Dublin is at ‘fault’; and (e) what the EU should do next. My main purposes are to explain the legal background, to point out some legal errors, and to suggest the best way forward in light of the international refugee law framework…..”
Click here for article.
These are excerpts/highlights from comments made by HRVP Federica Mogherini at the conclusion of Saturday’s, 5 September, informal meeting of EU foreign ministers. The full text of her remarks is here.
- The meeting “was not an easy one…”
- “[W]e need to start using the right words: [the crisis] is partially a migrant flow, but it is mainly a refugee flow, which puts us in a different situation when it comes to our legal and moral duties.”
- “I hope – finally, finally – we all realise that these people are coming to Europe, not to one or another Member State. … Unfortunately, it took us some months to realise this, but maybe that awareness is finally there.”
- “We are all facing a … dramatic event. I don’t say an emergency event, because this is not an emergency: it is an urgency we are facing, but it is not something that starts one day and finishes another day. It is here to stay and the sooner we accept it, politically and psychologically, the sooner we will be able to respond in an effective way and manage it in an effective way.”
- “Now we agreed to strengthen our cooperation – not only within the European Union, but also with the Candidate Countries – on five different levels… Some of them have started already, some of them are going to be further defined … in particular with the package that the Commission is going to adopt in this coming week, with the decisions that the Ministers of Interior and Justice will be called to take within one week, ten days from now.”
- “[W]e will have a Foreign Affairs Council, a European Council, which for the moment are planned for October…”
- “[W]e agreed to strengthen cooperation on five different elements[:]
- First of all, how to ensure better protection to those in need of protection: asylum seekers are entitled to the status of refugee.
- Second, manage borders in full respect of our values, first of all respect for human rights.
- Third, fighting against smugglers’ and traffickers’ networks. … And as I did with the Defence Ministers the day before yesterday, today I shared again with the Foreign Ministers my suggestion to transit to phase 2 of this operation, which would allow us to operate in high seas to fight the traffickers and smugglers. And I have found a large consensus about that need for the naval operation. Obviously, we will also need to increase the level of our actions against the traffickers organisations on the mainland, when it comes to the Western Balkans route.
- Fourth, strengthening our partnership with third countries, mainly countries of origin and transit. Here, obviously, we are working on readmission and return agreements, but not only. We know very well that it is very important for our partners, especially in Africa and the Middle East, to work together with us on economic developments, opportunities for growth and jobs, especially for their young people. …
- Fifth point, that is maybe the most important, even if it is the most long term plan – it is our common work on what we call the root causes. In this case, that has mainly two aims. One is Libya, when it comes to the Southern corridor. And here, we have re-expressed all our active support to the last phases… hopefully, the last phases of the UN-led negotiations to form a National Unity Government in Libya. … And [the other is] Syria…”
UNHCR has launched a comprehensive data portal on the Mediterranean refugee and migrant situation and the various responses. The portal contains data, statistical information, maps, reports, situation updates, and other information.
In an interview published earlier this week in Les Echos, Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri noted that there already exists a small shift in migration flows from the central Mediterranean to the eastern Mediterranean: “The pressure is growing stronger on the eastern Mediterranean. … Since early 2015, and before last weekend, there were slightly more arrivals from Turkey: 40.000 irregular crossing in the Greek islands, against 37,000 in Italy. The number of Syrian refugees is decreasing steadily in Italy. Syrian families prefer to avoid Libya because the security conditions there have worsened significantly. The smugglers are much more violent in Libya.”
[“La pression est de plus en forte sur la Méditerranée orientale. … Depuis le début 2015, et avant le week-end dernier, il y avait légèrement plus d’arrivées en provenance de Turquie : 40.000 franchissement irréguliers dans les îles grecques, contre 37.000 en Italie. Le nombre de réfugiés syriens diminue de manière constante en Italie. Les familles syriennes préfèrent éviter la Libye car les conditions de sécurité s’y sont nettement dégradées. Les passeurs sont beaucoup plus violents en Libye.”]
Director Leggeri noted that an EU military operation near Libya may simply move some of the migration flow further to the east: “Migration routes are extremely flexible and can change rapidly. There is strong pressure [migratory] on the European Union in general from those who come from the African continent and the Middle East. … If there is a military operation in the vicinity of Libya, this may change the migration routes and make them move to the eastern route.”
[“Les routes migratoires sont extrêmement flexibles et peuvent se modifier rapidement. Il y a une forte pression sur l’Union européenne de manière générale qui vient du continent africain et du Proche-Orient. … S’il y a une opération militaire au voisinage de la Libye, cela peut changer les routes migratoires et les faire basculer vers la route de l’Est.”]
“A total of 12,872 migrants trying to cross into Greece from Turkey over the Aegean Sea were captured by Turkish Coast Guard Command teams in 524 separate incidents in 2014, while 74 people were also arrested on charges of smuggling migrants, Anadolu Agency has reported. The number of migrants who were captured in 2013 was 8,047, including 6,937 on the Aegean Sea. The total number of migrants captured by authorities across Turkey in 2012 was 2,531. The official number in 2011 was 546, which means that the number of captured migrants has increased 24-fold since then. …”
An unspecified number of the intercepted migrants were reportedly subjected to push-back practices where the affected migrants were returned to Turkish territorial waters [“Yasa dışı göçmenlerin bir kısmı da ‘geri atma olayı (gittiği ülkeden Türkiye karasularına geri gönderilme)’ olarak arz edilen olaylar sonucu yakalandı.”].
The push-backs were presumably carried out by Greek patrol boats or possibly by vessels operating pursuant to Frontex Joint Operation Poseidon Sea 2013 (which operated through 2014 Q1).
Click here (EN) and here (TR) for articles.