Tag Archives: Interception at sea

650 Tunisians Repatriated by Italy Since 6 April

650 Tunisians have been summarily repatriated by Italy to Tunisia under the terms of the Italy-Tunisia agreement which took effect on 5 April.  The agreement reportedly allows Italy to return up to 60 Tunisian nationals per day on two flights.  Amnesty International’s Briefing Paper of 21 April, “Amnesty International findings and recommendations to the Italian authorities following the research visit to Lampedusa and Mineo”, is highly critical of Italy’s expedited return practice.

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

Click here for AI’s Briefing Paper.

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Tunisian Migrant Boats Stop Arriving in Italy (for the time being) – Amnesty Int’l Criticises “Collective Summary Removals”

Italy has been continuing to deport newly arriving Tunisian migrants pursuant to the terms of its new agreement with Tunisia, the terms of which have not been made public.  Under the agreement, Tunisia has apparently agreed to the expedited returns of its nationals from Italy.  300 Tunisians were flown to Tunisia from Italy last week.

The mayor of Lampedusa, Bernardino De Rubeis, declared that the “immigration crisis” on Lampedusa is over (only 27 migrants remain on the island as of 26 April). The mayor called for the 500 extra police and military personnel who were brought to the island to deal with the migrants to leave as soon as possible so that tourists can use the hotel rooms currently occupied by the security personnel.

Amnesty International issued a Briefing Paper on 21 April: “Amnesty International findings and recommendations to the Italian authorities following the research visit to Lampedusa and Mineo.”  Amnesty is highly critical of the expedited return practices that have been implemented by Italy.

Excerpts from the Briefing Paper:

“Collective summary removals, reportedly of Tunisian nationals, from Lampedusa, from 7 April 2011 onwards, following the signing of an agreement between the Italian and Tunisian authorities.

Amnesty International is extremely concerned by the enforced removal that began on 7 April from Lampedusa, following the recent signing of an agreement between the Tunisian and Italian authorities. At the time of writing these forcible returns were ongoing and had reportedly been carried out twice a day by air since 11 April.

On 6 April, the Italian Ministry of Interior announced that Italy had signed an agreement with Tunisia pursuant to which the latter committed itself to strengthening border controls with a view to preventing departures, and to accepting the speedy readmission of people who had recently arrived and who will be arriving in Italy. Amnesty International is particularly concerned that, according to the above-mentioned announcement, Tunisian migrants arriving onto Italian shores may be “repatriated directly” and with “simplified procedures”.

In the light of this announcement, and given, in particular, Amnesty International’s findings in relation to the total inadequacy of asylum procedures on Lampedusa, the organization believes that those people who have been subjected to “direct repatriations” following “simplified procedures” have been victims of collective summary removals.

As far as Amnesty International could ascertain, people have been removed from the island within one or two days of arrival. Thus, it appears highly unlikely that they would have had access to any meaningful or adequate opportunity to assert that they should not be returned to Tunisia on international protection or other grounds. In the circumstances those removals would amount to summary expulsions (cf. the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Hassanpour-Omrani v Sweden and Jabari v Turkey). Such practices are strictly prohibited under international, regional and domestic human rights and refugee law and standards. Additionally human rights and refugee law and standards require that the removing state must provide an effective remedy against removal. Removing people without giving them the chance of exercising their right to challenge their removal through an effective procedure gives rise per se to a human rights violation. This is independent of whether removal would place the individuals concerned at a real risk of serious human rights violations, which, in turn, would constitute a breach of the non-refoulement principle.

Amnesty International calls on the government of Italy to:

  • disclose the agreement reached with the Tunisian authorities;
  • immediately desist from any further summary removals;
  • ensure that anyone arriving on Italian shores is adequately screened to assess any potential protection needs, and that they are provided with adequate information about their right to challenge removal on international protection or other human rights grounds; and
  • ensure access to fair and effective asylum procedures as well as access to procedures to challenge removal on other grounds.”

Click here and here for articles. (IT)

Click here for Amnesty’s Briefing Paper.

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120 Tunisians Who Departed for Italy Remain Missing

Family members of missing Tunisian migrants held a sit-in at the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday of this week.  They are seeking assistance in learning the fate of their family members who left Tunisia by boat for Italy and who have not been heard of since their departures.  Among the missing are 40 migrants who left from Sfax on 14 March and a second group of 80 who left on 29 March.  Some of the families say that they have received reports that the migrant boats may have landed in Libya and not Italy.

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

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Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, & Spain Issue Joint Communiqué Regarding Response to North African Migration

Ministers of Home Affairs and Internal Security from Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain, met in Nicosia on 19 April and issued a Joint Communiqué.  Here is the full text (HT to EASO Monitor):

“Joint Communiqué II

(Nicosia, 19 April, 2011)

Following the meeting in Rome on the 23rd February 2011, the Home Affairs and Internal Security Ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta as well as the representative of the Minister of Interior of Spain, met again today in Nicosia and discussed the continuing dramatic developments in the Southern Mediterranean region. At the end of the meeting it was decided to issue the following Joint Communiqué.

The Home Affairs and Internal Security Ministers of the Mediterranean Member States of the EU:

Recalling our February 23rd,2011 Joint Communiqué, we have repeated our utmost concern for the unfolding events in relation to the humanitarian situation as well as to the massive illegal immigration flows and movements of possible beneficiaries of international protection that affect our countries;

Taking into account that the escalating events in countries of Northern Africa and the greater Middle East are destabilising the region and acknowledging that political reforms and democratic transitions will not take effect immediately and that their outcome is still uncertain;

Bearing in mind Europe’s longstanding tradition and commitment to the provision of international protection to people in need, in accordance with the Geneva Convention and in line with humanitarian principles and full respect of human rights;

Underlying that security and stability in the Mediterranean is directly linked to the security and stability of the EU as a whole and that effective response to this challenge requires joint efforts, commitment and solidarity from all EU Member States;

Stressing that the current emergency situation with regard to the massive illegal immigration flows and movements of possible beneficiaries of international protection brings upon the Mediterranean Member States additional social, economic, administrative and demographic burden, to that already prevailing;

Recalling the already existing intense and continuous migratory pressure at the south eastern external borders of the EU;

Expressing deep concern about the conflict in Libya and its consequences in terms of sufferings of countless human beings and growing number of displaced persons fleeing the war and taking into account that huge number of people in need of international protection could arrive at the most exposed Mediterranean Member States in the immediate future;

Emphasizing that the possible prolongation of such influxes of illegal migrants and asylum seekers to the Mediterranean Member States, cannot be managed without the concrete and substantial support and solidarity from the rest of the EU’s Member States; alternatively, the situation will seriously jeopardize our ability, and subsequently the Union’s ability, to manage the displaced persons and provide those in need with international protection as well as undermine our common security;

Stressing that the arising situation will challenge and undermine the efforts of those Member States to reform their overburdened national asylum systems;

Reaffirming the urgent necessity for EU to provide concrete and immediate support to Member States on the EU southern external borders;

Stressing the need for additional actions and policies with a view to implement the EU principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility as expressed in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and in line with the Stockholm Programme, the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, the Global Approach to Migration, the relevant European Council Declaration of 11 March 2011 and Conclusions of 24 and 25 March 2011, the JHA Council Conclusions of 11and 12 April 2011 on the management of migration from the Southern Neighbourhood and the JHA Council Conclusions of 25 and 26 February 2010 on 29 measures for reinforcing the protection of the external borders and combating illegal immigration;

Therefore we, the Ministers of Home Affairs and Internal Security of the EU Mediterranean Countries, have adopted a common position on the emerging situation in our region and urge the European Union to practically offer operational as well as financial support to Member States which face mass and disproportionate mixed migration flows, by fully mobilizing all available EU assets, instruments and capabilities, either existing or additional ones,.

Particularly, as the competent Ministers of the EU Mediterranean Member States, urge the European Union to:

Urgently present and implement proposals on the Global Approach to Migration as well as on Mobility Partnerships, in a spirit of genuine cooperation with the countries of the Southern Neighbourhood Region, also to effectively control and manage the current and the anticipated mass migration flows as well as situation-specific schemes on return and readmission.

Call on FRONTEX to immediately implement the provisions set out in section 5 of the JHA Council Conclusions of 11 April 2011, to speed up negotiations with the countries of the region – and in particular with Tunisia – with a view to concluding operational working arrangements, and organising joint patrolling operations in cooperation with Tunisian authorities and in application of all relevant international Conventions, in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (“the Montego Bay Convention”).

Call on FRONTEX to intensify the monitoring of the situation based on risk analysis and encourage Member States to provide the Agency with further human and technical resources so as to continue its ongoing operations (Joint Operation Hermes, Joint Operation Poseidon Land and Sea and the possible deployment of a RABIT operation in Malta) in the light of the emerging situation. Furthermore, call FRONTEX to expand its operations, where and when necessary, to prevent illegal flows in the eastern Mediterranean area of Egypt and Syria. To this end, further adequate financing of FRONTEX should be considered so as to increase the Organization’s capabilities to fulfil successfully its tasks.

Enhance the operational capacity and the coordinating role of the FRONTEX Operational Office in Piraeus in order to effectively deal with the situation;

Accelerate work on the FRONTEX Amending Regulation with a view to an agreement by June 2011 which will strengthen its capacity, make it truly operational and improve its synergy with other bodies.

Promote practical cooperation with the countries of origin or transit of illegal migrants in the region in preventing and fighting illegal migration flows, inter alia by concluding Readmission Agreements, developing Voluntary Return Programmes, enhancing their capacity of border management and surveillance, expanding the Immigration Liaison Officers Network, promoting legal migration by exploring the possibility of concluding mobility partnerships;

Encourage Member States to expedite discussions on the proposal for recasting the Dublin II Regulation, including a mechanism to suspend the transfers to Member States facing particular pressure on their national asylum systems.

Urgently mobilize all available financial assistance through the External Borders Fund and European Refugee Fund and in addition, as section 4 of the JHA Council Conclusions of 11 April, 2011 reads, activate supplementary funds that can be made available to Member States or FRONTEX at short notice when needed. In this vein establish a special solidarity Fund, when necessary, to tackle exceptional emergency situations and humanitarian crisis.

Deploy every available possibility by the European Asylum Support Office to offer practical support to the Member States of the Mediterranean Region in need. A permanent specialised mechanism should be set up through the EASO, which, at exceptional emergency situations, will provide Member States in need with the necessary logistical and technical support.

As a matter of priority, present a proposal for implementing a coherent and comprehensive mechanism for distributing responsibilities, on a voluntary basis, specifically regarding the relocation of beneficiaries of international protection among member states, in case of European countries faced with particular pressures, as a consequence of their geographical or demographic situation, especially when facing the sudden arrival of third country nationals in need of international protection.

Commit to the work on establishing a Common European Asylum System with a view to respect the 2012 deadline.

We the Ministers of the Mediterranean Member States of the EU agreed to meet again soon, at a date to be agreed, in order to further coordinate our efforts before the European Council of June this year.”

Click here for document.

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French PM Fillon: Frontex Should Intercept and Return Migrants Directly to Tunisia

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, after meeting yesterday with  EC President Jose Manuel Barroso, said that it does not make sense to intercept Tunisian migrants at sea and then bring them to Lampedusa; it would make better sense if the Frontex mission based in Italy intercepted Tunisian migrant boats at sea and returned them directly to Tunisia.

Fillon said: “There is no rule that provides for the reception and free movement on European territory of illegal economic migrants. A large portion of the Tunisian migrants who have arrived in Italy, are not destined, as some suggest, to be resettled in different European countries, they are destined to return to their country.” («Il n’y a aucune règle qui prévoit l’accueil sur le territoire européen et la libre circulation des immigrants économiques clandestins. Une grande partie des ressortissants tunisiens qui sont arrivés en Italie, n’ont pas vocation, comme certains le proposent, à être répartis dans les différents pays européens, ils ont vocation à retourner dans leur pays.»)  Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini praised Fillon’s proposal.

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

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COE Parliamentary Assembly Adopts Resolution Regarding North African Migrants & Asylum Seekers

Earlier today PACE approved a resolution based on a report by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) addressing the large influx of migrants and asylum seekers on Europe’s southern borders.  From the PACE press statement: the Assembly “welcomed the efforts so far of the ‘frontline states’ to provide humanitarian assistance in line with their international obligations, and urged other European countries to ‘show solidarity’ with them, including by agreeing to resettle refugees and other persons with international protection needs. Malta was in a ‘particularly difficult situation’ given its small size, high population and limited resources… If the current wave of arrivals in Europe increases because of an even greater exodus of persons from Libya, in particular Libyans fleeing terror from Colonel Gaddafi’s regime or an entrenched civil war, the EU should consider applying its temporary protection directive….”

Excerpts from PACE Resolution 1805 (2011):

The large-scale arrival of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees on Europe’s southern shores

“[***]

6.       The Parliamentary Assembly recognises that one of the first priorities is to deal with the humanitarian and international protection needs of those who have arrived on Europe’s shores, primarily in Italy and Malta. Member states, the European Union, international organisations, civil society and others all have a contribution to make and need to show solidarity with the front-line states. This solidarity and willingness to share responsibility needs to extend to the coast of North Africa and the many thousands of refugees and displaced persons still seeking ways to return home after fleeing from Libya. It should also extend to those migrants and refugees who are trapped in Libya awaiting the chance to flee.

7.       The Assembly notes that while there has been a wave of arrivals, there has not yet been the feared total deluge. This distinction is important because it has not always been clearly made by politicians, the media and others, leading to heightened fear and misunderstanding among the general public and calls for exaggerated responses.

8.       The Assembly recognises the pressure that the front-line countries of the Council of Europe are under, and welcomes their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in line with international obligations and encourages them to continue with these efforts. The Assembly reminds states of their international obligations not to push back boats which are carrying persons with international protection needs.

[***]

12.       The Assembly, recognising that events in North Africa are of concern to all member states of the Council of Europe, therefore calls on member states to:

12.1.        acknowledge that the arrival of a large number of irregular immigrants on the southern shores of Europe is the responsibility of all European states and requires a solution which envisages the need to share this responsibility collectively. The Assembly reminds member states of the repeated appeals of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights for the need for effective responsibility sharing;

12.2.       provide urgent humanitarian aid and assistance to all those persons arriving on Europe’s southern shores and other borders, including through the provision of adequate accommodation, shelter and health care, as highlighted previously in Assembly Resolution 1637 (2008) on Europe’s boat people: mixed migration flows by sea into southern Europe;

12.3.       refrain from automatic detention and have recourse to detention only where there is no other reasonable alternative, ensuring that conditions comply with minimum human rights standards as outlined in Assembly Resolution 1707 (2010) on detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe;

12.4.       ensure that vulnerable persons, including women and children, victims of torture, victims of trafficking, and the elderly, are not detained and receive appropriate care and assistance;

12.5.       guarantee the right of asylum and non-refoulement through, inter alia:

12.5.1.       ensuring that states give access to their territory to persons in need of international protection;

12.5.2.       assuring the quality and consistency of asylum decisions in line with Assembly Resolution 1695 (2009) on improving the quality and consistency of asylum decisions in the Council of Europe member states;

12.6.       ensure that, in screening arrivals and carrying out asylum determinations, these are carried out without delay, but that speed is not given preference over fairness;

12.7.       provide full support to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other international and national organisations providing humanitarian and other assistance, both in North Africa and in the European countries of arrival, and generously take part in resettlement programmes for refugees stranded in North African countries;

12.8.       show solidarity in the challenges faced, which includes sharing responsibility with front-line states, including by:

12.8.1.       giving further support to the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex) and the newly established European Asylum Agency (EASO), and encouraging further use of European Union funding available through the External Borders Fund, the Return Fund, the European Refugee Fund and the Integration Fund;

12.8.2.       looking into the possibility of taking on commitments for resettlement of those with international protection needs from the European countries of arrival and on suspending the application of the Dublin Regulations or on considering other forms of responsibility sharing, through the use of existing mechanisms provided for in the Dublin Regulation, including the solidarity clause in Article 3(2) and the humanitarian clause in Article 15;

12.8.3.       working together, including with the European Union, on the issue of voluntary and forced returns, taking into account necessary human rights safeguards when relying on readmission agreements in line with Assembly Resolution 1741 (2010) on readmission agreements: a mechanism for returning irregular migrants;

12.8.4.        acknowledging the particularly difficult situation in which Malta finds itself, in view of the size of its territory, its high population density and limited human and material resources, and committing to the resettlement of those with international protection needs.

[***]

14.       If a mass exodus of Libyan refugees occurs because of increasing terror by Colonel Gaddafi or the emergence of a civil war, the Assembly encourages the European Union member states to consider applying the temporary protection directive (Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof). It is important, however, to ensure that no states are considering returning Libyans at this stage and that at least a form of temporary protection is provided in practice.

[***]”

Click here for Resolution. (Resolution 1805 (2011))

Click here for Recommendation. (REC 1967 (2011))

Click here for PACE press statement.

Click here for Report, Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, Rapporteur: Ms Tineke STRIK, (Doc. 12581, 13 April 2011).

 

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Migrant Boat From Libya Sinks Off Pantelleria – 2 Dead, 100+ Rescued

A migrant boat sank yesterday just off shore of Pantelleria, an Italian island approximately 150 km northwest of Lampedusa.  The boat was carrying approximately 250 people and ran around on rocks near the entrance to the port.  The boat had been intercepted earlier in the night by an Italian naval vessel and was being escorted to Pantelleria.  It is not clear why the migrant boat was unable to enter the harbour safely.  Two young women died.

Click here and here for articles.  (IT)

AFP PHOTO/ Francesco Malavolta/Getty Images

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Statement: European Commission’s response to the migratory flows from North Africa

The European Commission released a statement on 8 April summarising its actions.  Excerpts:

“[***]

Measures addressing the migration flows towards the European Union

Urgent measures already undertaken

The massive displacement of populations from several North African countries has been putting the protection and reception systems of some of the EU Member States, in particular in Italy and Malta, under increasing strain. The European Union has responded to these serious challenges in a rapid and effective manner with the aim of stabilizing the situation.

Frontex has deployed the Joint Operation EPN Hermes Extension 2011 to assist the Italian authorities in managing the influx of migrants from North Africa, most of whom have been arriving on the island of Lampedusa. This mission was launched on 20 February 2011, only four days after receiving the official request from the Italian authorities, a clear signal of solidarity between Member States. FRONTEX stands ready to continue the mission as long as it will be necessary, and to expand it, provided that Member States will make available the necessary staff, vessels and equipment. In view of the above the Commission is launching the necessary procedures for reinforcing the FRONTEX 2011 budget with an additional EUR 30 million.

Europol has also deployed a team of experts to Italy in order to help the national authorities to assist in detecting and preventing possible criminal of trafficking of human beings.

Regarding the financial needs linked with the displacement, the Commission’s four migration-related funds (the External Borders Fund, Return Fund, Refugee Fund and Integration Fund) are available to Member States. For example, Italy, one of the major beneficiaries of these funds, has been allocated €55 million for 2010 and €75 million for 2011. Moreover, the Commission makes available an additional €25 million of emergency funding which can be quickly mobilised under the External Borders Funds and European Refugee Fund.

What measures could be undertaken in the short-term?

Should the inflow of irregular migrants and possible refugees continue, the Commission envisages a number of short-term measures that might be taken.

Reinforcing Frontex

  • 1) The Joint Operation EPN HERMES Extension coordinated by FRONTEX could be considerably strengthened, with additional technical resources made available by Member States, and adequate financial resources.
  • 2) It is essential that FRONTEX is finally given a stronger operational mandate through a revision of its legal basis, which the Commission tabled in February 2010 (IP/10/184)
  • 3) FRONTEX should speed up negotiations to conclude working arrangements with the countries of origin and transit of irregular migration in the Mediterranean in the region (for example, with Egypt, Morocco and Turkey), and receive a mandate to negotiate similar working arrangements with other relevant countries (for instance Tunisia)

Resettlement of third country nationals

The continuous and possible increase in the flow of refugees (e.g. Somalis, Eritreans etc.), in need of international protection, coming from Libyan territory is an issue of major concern. The EU will not only continue to provide humanitarian assistance through its humanitarian office (ECHO), but it is also ready to offer through the European Refugee Fund financial support in view of facilitating the resettlement of persons in need of international protection. Resettlement represents not only a life-saving measure for the refugees concerned, but is also an important responsibility-sharing gesture towards the countries hosting them. Showing solidarity with the countries neighbouring Libya that are under pressure through resettlement can help to maintain ‘protection space’, as well as contributing to dialogue and cooperation on other issues of migration and border management.

The Commission has therefore been encouraging EU Member States to offer resettlement places, in a spirit of responsibility-sharing and in close cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). A meeting was held with Member States on 25 March at which details of the most urgent needs were explained by the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), both of whom are actively engaged on the ground in the region.

The current crisis in the Mediterranean clearly demonstrates how imperative it is that the Council and the European Parliament make an effort to rapidly reach an agreement on the adoption of the Commission’s proposal for the establishment of an EU joint resettlement programme. This proposal would provide a structured basis for annual priority-setting, and linking those priorities with financial incentives, thereby encouraging more Member States to become involved in resettlement activities, and enhancing practical cooperation between Member States to that end.

Solidarity / Temporary Protection Directive

In the event of a massive inflow of persons who are likely to be in need of international protection, the Commission would expect Member States to demonstrate concrete solidarity with each other by directly assisting the States bearing the greatest burden. This could involve the relocation to other Member States of some persons seeking protection, or who have already received an international protection status.

Concrete assistance could likewise be provided by the newly-created European Asylum Support Office, one of whose central tasks is coordination of assistance to Member States whose asylum systems are under exceptional pressure. This could involve the deployment of so-called ‘asylum support teams’ to reinforce the capacities of a State to process asylum claims and to ensure appropriate reception conditions for asylum seekers.

The Commission would also be ready to consider proposing the use of the mechanism foreseen under the 2001 Temporary Protection Directive (2001/55/EC), if the conditions foreseen in the directive are met. Consideration could only be given to taking this step if it is clear that the persons concerned are likely to be in need of international protection, if they cannot be safely returned to their countries-of-origin, and if the numbers of persons arriving who are in need of protection are sufficiently great. Resort to this mechanism would allow for the immediate protection and reception in the territory of EU Member States for persons concerned, as well as offering a “breathing space” for the national asylum systems of the Member States most directly affected.

[***]”

Click here for full Statement.

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Frontex Will Not Participate in Joint Italian-French Naval Patrols Along Tunisian Coast

Frontex Director Ilkka Laitinen said at a Friday press conference that Frontex will not participate in the naval patrols that France and Italy have said they will carry out along the Tunisian coast in an effort to block the departures of migrant boats from Tunisia.  Laitinen said Frontex could not enter Tunisian territorial waters without a specific agreement with Tunisia and no such agreement exists.

A statement on the Italian Foreign Ministry web site seems to suggest that France and Italy are contemplating joint naval patrols along the North African coast in general, not just along the Tunisian coast: France and Italy will conduct patrols “on the North African coast, especially Tunisia, to stop the departures.”  (sulle coste nordafricane, in particolare quelle tunisine, per bloccare le partenze.)

Click here (IT) for article.

Click here (IT) for statement on Italian Foreign Ministry web site.

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Italy to Begin Two Daily Repatriation Flights to Tunisia; Frontex Also Seeking Agreement with Tunisia to Expedite Returns

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said two daily repatriation flights to Tunisia will begin today, Monday.  Frontex Director Ilkka Laitinen said Frontex is “trying to put in place ‘as soon as possible’ a new protocol with Tunisia on sending back irregular migrants….  Laitinen told a group of journalists in Brussels on Friday (9 April) that: ‘For the time being there have been no joint returns to Tunisia co-ordinated by Frontex, as we have no working arrangement with the relevant authority.’”

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

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Italy Refused to Allow Maltese Patrol Boat to Disembark Rescued Migrants in Lampedusa

On Thursday last week, a Maltese AFM patrol boat searching for survivors from Wednesday’s sinking of the migrant boat near Lampedusa encountered another migrant boat with 171 migrants and removed the migrants from the overcrowded boat.  The rescue occurred approximately 54 nautical miles from Lampedusa and 91 nautical miles from Malta.  The Maltese patrol boat attempted to disembark the migrants at the closer port in Lampedusa but was denied entry into the port.  The migrants were then taken to Malta – an eight hour sail from Lampedusa.  Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, Malta’s Interior Minister, accused Italy of reneging on its “legal and humanitarian obligations” due to its failure to allow the migrants to be taken to the closer port.  The migrants involved have said they are Eritrean and Libyan.  If accurate, these may be the first Libyans to have been detected leaving by sea.

Click here, here, and here for articles.

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UNHCR Calls on EU to Improve Rescue at Sea Measures; NATO Should Also Actively Participate in Rescue at Sea in Regard to All Overcrowded Boats

UNHCR issued a statement on Friday, 8 April, calling “on the European Union to urgently put into place more reliable and effective mechanisms for rescue-at-sea” in the aftermath of last week’s disaster that saw “[m]ore than 220 Somali, Eritrean and Ivorian refugees drowned early on Wednesday morning when their boat capsized some 39 nautical miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. This is the worst such incident in the Mediterranean in recent years.  ‘It is hard to comprehend that at a time when tens of thousands are fleeing the Libyan conflict and pouring across the land borders into Tunisia and Egypt where they enjoy safety and receive shelter and aid, the protection of people fleeing via Libya’s maritime border does not appear to have the same priority’ said Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller.” “‘We also appeal to shipmasters to continue to render assistance to those in distress at sea. Any overcrowded boat leaving Libya these days should be considered to be in distress’ [, said Feller.]”

While NATO was not mentioned in the UNHCR statement, the call for improved measures to save the lives of migrants who flee North Africa by boat should also be heard and considered by the NATO Maritime Command Naples which is conducting the maritime embargo of Libya known as Operation Unified Protector.   NATO has a significant naval force patrolling the area through which migrant boats leaving Libya are passing and this force should be actively engaged in protecting fleeing civilians.  (Click here for earlier post regarding NATO’s maritime embargo.)

While UN Security Council Resolution 1973 does not speak directly to this issue, it does call for the protection of civilians.  Relevant portions from Security Council Resolution 1973:

  • “Expressing [the Security Council’s] determination to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian populated areas and the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance and the safety of humanitarian personnel, [***];
  • Reiterating [the Security Council’s] concern at the plight of refugees and foreign workers forced to flee the violence in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, welcoming the response of neighbouring States, in particular Tunisia and Egypt, to address the needs of those refugees and foreign workers, and calling on the international community to support those efforts, [***];
  • Protection of civilians – 4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,… [***].”

As with UNHCR’s call to EU states, NATO ships should also render assistance to any migrant boat detected by NATO forces – any overcrowded boat leaving Libya should be considered to be in distress.

Click here for UNHCR statement.

Click here for article.

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France and Italy Agree to Joint Naval Patrols Along Tunisian Coast to Block Migrant Departures

French and Italian Interior Ministers Claude Guéant and Roberto Maroni today have announced an agreement for “joint air and naval patrols” off the Tunisian coast to block departures from Tunisia. Guéant is quoted by Le Figaro as saying that the new measures would be carried out with assistance from Frontex, but the report is unclear whether he is calling for Frontex participation or announcing that Frontex will participate.

While there are no specifics details being reported about this agreement, it seems to constitute a new push-back practice where there will be little or no opportunity for asylum seekers or other persons of concern to be identified and afforded the protection to which they are entitled.  It is simply not possible to intercept vessels at sea and adequately identify who is on board an overcrowded migrant boat and assess whether international protection is needed by anyone on board.

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

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Italy Criticises Malta Regarding Search and Rescue Response

Italian Interior Minister Maroni has criticised Malta for failing to immediately deploy rescue ships to assist the migrant boat that sank near Lampedusa.  The Armed Forces of Malta said that the migrant boat did not capsize until after two Italian coast guard boats had responded and were on scene attempting to render assistance.  The AFM said the first call for assistance was received Wednesday at 0025, the Rescue Co-ordination Centre of the AFM notified Italian Coast Guard headquarters in Rome and NATO headquarter in Naples at 0120, two Italian coast guard boats and an Italian fishing vessel, the Cartagine, were on scene by 0416, and the migrant boat capsized around 0535.  The migrant boat was closer to Italian territory than to Malta, but was located within Malta’s large Search and Rescue Area.  Italy and Malta have had past disputes over the boundaries of the SAR with Italy calling for the Maltese SAR to be reduced in size.

The Secretary-General of International Maritime Organization, Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, issued a statement saying that “[i]t was ironic that the devastating news of this latest tragedy reached us while we were holding a [Legal Committtee] meeting with representatives of Italy and Spain to consider what measures countries in the Mediterranean Basin should take to deal with the increasing number of persons leaving north African and eastern Mediterranean countries to seek refuge in Europe.”

The statement also said that “IMO is in contact with Italy, Malta and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The [Legal Committee] meeting mentioned above was hosted by IMO and held against a background of increasing movement of persons by sea for political and socio-economic reasons or as a result of armed conflict.  It was part of an on-going process aimed at improving existing provisions for rescuing migrants at sea and disembarking them at a place of safety, in accordance with the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention).”

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

Click here for article. (IT)

Click here for map the SARs.

Click here for IMO Statement.

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Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News

Italy Repatriates First Group of Tunisians

Italy returned a group of 30 Tunisian migrants to Tunisia on Thursday evening.  They were returned to Tunisia under the terms of the new Italy-Tunisia migration agreement.  The migrants were flown from Lampedusa to Italy.

Click here and here for articles.  (IT)

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Filed under Italy, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia