Tag Archives: Italy

MaltaToday: Italy withholding data on Mediterranean rescue operations from Frontex

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.’…”

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Filed under Data / Stats, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Migrants, News, Refugees

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.


Filed under Analysis, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Refugees, Reports, UN Security Council, UNHCR

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.


Filed under Frontex, Statistics

Satellite Imagery Used by Frontex to Detect and Rescue Migrant Boats

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 Eurosur Fusion Services imageryboard 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.)

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UN Security Council to Vote Today, 8 October, on Resolution Authorising EU to Inspect and Seize Vessels on High Seas Suspected of Engaging in Smuggling or Trafficking of Persons

From What’s in Blue: The Security Council “is expected to vote [on 8 Oct. 2015] on a resolution aimed at disrupting human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants on the high seas off the coast of Libya. …

The draft resolution authorises member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to suspect are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking. Furthermore, the draft authorises member states to seize vessels if there is confirmation that they are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking from Libya. These authorisations are for a period of one year from the date of the adoption, and the draft stresses how these are given in exceptional and specific circumstances. …

It seems that the two most divisive issues during negotiations related to references to Chapter VII and the use of force. Several Council members, including Chad, Russia and Venezuela, raised concerns over the implications of having a Chapter VII resolution with a broad mandate. Following bilateral negotiations, the draft to be voted on is under Chapter VII but states that this is specifically to put an end to the recent ‘proliferation of, and endangerment of lives by, the smuggling of migrants and trafficking of persons in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of Libya’. …

In relation to the use of force, one of the difficulties was defining the instances in which member states are authorised to use force. The initial draft circulated by the UK included an authorisation to use ‘all necessary measures’ in confronting migrant smugglers or human traffickers. Some Council members wanted further guarantees that this was not a blanket mandate to use force. As a result of the members’ concerns compromise language was added to authorise member states to use ‘all measures commensurate to the specific circumstances’ in confronting them. …

While Council negotiations were put on hold during the high-level debate of the UN General Assembly, amendments were made to the draft in order to secure the consent of the Libyan permanent mission to the UN. …

Some Council members stressed the need to respect international refugee law, as well as the protection of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. The draft underscores that it is not intended to undermine the human rights of individuals or prevent them from seeking protection under international human rights law and international refugee law.

The resolution is expected to provide legal backing for the EU NAVFOR MED’s operation in the high seas (which was renamed Operation Sophia on 28 September). … Council negotiations over a draft resolution authorising such an operation earlier this year (April-May) were put on hold following difficulties getting consent from Libyan authorities to operate in the territorial waters of Libya and its shore. Following the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean this summer, EU Council members decided to narrow the scope of the resolution to vessels operating on the high seas off the coast of Libya. A subsequent phase of the deployment of the operation in the territorial waters and on the shore of Libya is likely to be contingent upon the formation of a government of national accord in Libya.”

Full text of What’s in Blue article here.

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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, UN Security Council, United Nations

Updated / Conflicting Reports Re: Alleged Leader of Major Libyan People Smuggling Operation Killed in Tripoli: Libyan GNC Government Official (Tripoli) Accuses Italy of Responsibility for Killing

Updated:  there are conflicting reports regarding the incident; see report from Migrant Report that Maskhout is alive.

The Guardian and other media report that Salah al-Maskhout, the alleged leader of a major human smuggling operation, and eight other men, were shot dead in a shootout that occurred on Friday in Zuwara.  According to the Guardian, “[t]he skill with which the hit was carried out – with the killers reportedly firing handguns against the Libyans’ Kalashnikovs – has raised speculation that Maskhout may have been targeted by foreign agents…. The president of Libya’s [GNC] congress [based in Tripoli], Nuri Abu Sahmain, issued a statement following Maskhout’s death in which he blamed Italian special forces for the attack.” The Libya Herald reported that “[t]here have been suggestions that the attackers, who have not been identified, had initially aimed to seize Maskhout. However, the gunmen, none of whom were killed in the shootout, seem to have been professionals.” According to the Guardian, Italian and NATO officials have denied any involvement. Additional details here via RAI News.

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NY Times: Russia Resisting EU Request for Tough U.N. Anti-Smuggling Step

New York Times: “A European bid to obtain Security Council approval for a military operation against boats suspected of human smuggling on the Mediterranean Sea is running into opposition from Russia, which wants to ensure that it cannot be used to justify a broader military intervention, diplomats here said. … [Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that any resolution needs to be focused.] Mr. Churkin said that he wanted to ensure such a resolution did not set a precedent, and that he would not consent to the entire resolution’s being under Chapter VII, which authorizes potential military action….”
Full article here.

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