Tag Archives: Lampedusa
As it does periodically, Frontex yesterday released a short update regarding the “Central Mediterranean Route.” The timing of its release presumably had nothing to do with the October 3rd disaster at Lampedusa. The update makes no reference to deaths or injuries and focuses on illegal border crossing statistics. (The collection and release of data by Frontex in regard to deaths and injuries would facilitate greater transparency in regard to its border control activities.)
From the update: “Between January and September 2013, more than 31 000 migrants had arrived in the EU using [the Central Mediterranean] route, mainly via Sicily and Lampedusa, but also, to a lesser extent, on the Coasts of Calabria, Puglia and Malta, which is also under increasing migratory pressure. The main nationalities include Eritreans, Somalis and other sub-Saharan Africans, as well as Syrian nationals. It is noteworthy that the migratory pressure over the summer months of 2013 was comparable to the same period in 2011.”
Click here for Update.
Italian authorities have so far recovered about 120 bodies from yesterday’s accident a very very short distance from the shores of Lampedusa. Authorities believe there may be more than 150 bodies of children, women, and men still to be recovered.
What can be done to prevent such deaths? It is certainly possible that nothing could have prevented yesterday’s disaster. This was not a case of a disabled boat left to drift at sea while ships and aircraft failed to assist. This was not a case involving a failure to act promptly to rescue persons in distress. This was not a case of a diplomatic dispute between countries over which country had the responsibility to rescue and where rescued persons were to be disembarked after rescue. It may turn out to be the case that someone observed the overloaded migrant boat as it sailed from Libya towards Lampedusa. If the migrant boat was observed by a commercial or military ship, a rescue operation probably should have been implemented immediately. But while the Mediterranean Sea is crowded with ships, it is certainly possible that this boat sailed unobserved from Libya to Lampedusa.
Could anything have been done to prevent these deaths?
Could anything have been done to prevent the deaths of 13 migrants who drowned on the beach at Sicily last week? Or the 31 people who drowned off the Libyan coast in July? Or the 20 who died near Lesvos Island in Greece last December, the 89 who died in the Strait of Gibraltar over 10 days in October-November 2012, or the 58 who died off the coast of Izmir, Turkey in September 2012? (For a more complete list of reported deaths at sea consult Fortress Europe’s La Strage web page (the Massacre).)
As long as people move, whether forced to flee danger or to improve their lives or for other reasons, there will be dangers on land and sea. The dangers will always be greater when people are compelled to move outside of legal channels. Creating more opportunities for legal migration and creating an external procedure for seeking refugee protection within the EU would help many people and would reduce the numbers of people traveling by dangerous means. But there will still be people unable to secure a visa or protection who would be compelled to travel by sea.
There are many measures that can be taken by the EU to reduce the numbers of people dying in the Mediterranean and off the coast of western Africa. As a reminder, here is an excerpt from the recommendations issued last year by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the report issued in the aftermath of the deaths of 63 people on board the “left to die” boat that drifted in the Mediterranean for two weeks. The recommendations made sense then as they do now:
- fill the vacuum of responsibility for an SAR zone left by a State which cannot or does not exercise its responsibility for search and rescue, such as was the case for Libya. This may require amending the International Maritime Search and Rescue Convention (SAR Convention)….;
- ensure that there are clear and simple guidelines, which are then followed, on what amounts to a distress signal, so as to avoid any confusion over the obligation to launch a search and rescue operation for a boat in distress;
- avoid differing interpretations of what constitutes a vessel in distress, in particular as concerns overloaded, unseaworthy boats, even if under propulsion, and render appropriate assistance to such vessels. Whenever safety requires that a vessel be assisted, this should lead to rescue actions;
- tackle the reasons why commercial vessels fail to go to the rescue of boats in distress. This will require dealing with:
- the economic consequences for the rescuing vessel and its owners, and the issue of compensation;
- the disagreement between Malta and Italy as to whether disembarkation should be to the nearest safe port or to a port within the country of the SAR zone. The International Maritime Organization should be urged to find a solution to the matter and step up its efforts towards a harmonised interpretation and application of international maritime law;
- the fear of criminalisation (trafficking or aiding and abetting irregular migration) by those who go to the rescue of boats carrying irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees;
- legislation to criminalise private shipmasters who fail to comply with their duty under the law of the sea, as is already the case in certain Council of Europe member States;
- ensure that, in accordance with the Hirsi v. Italy judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, after the rescue operation, people are not pushed back to a country where they risk being treated in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
- tackle the issue of responsibility sharing, particularly in the context of rescue services, disembarkation, administration of asylum requests, setting up reception facilities and relocation and resettlement, with a view to developing a binding European Union protocol for the Mediterranean region. The heavy burden placed on frontline States leads to a problem of saturation and a reluctance to take responsibility;
- respect the families’ right to know the fate of those who lose their lives at sea by improving identity data collection and sharing. This could include the setting up of a DNA file of the remains of those retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea. In this context, the ongoing work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organisations should be acknowledged and supported.
For more on this, see Jack Shenker’s article in today’s Guardian, “Mediterranean migrant deaths: a litany of largely avoidable loss.”
In January of this year, the Frontex Risk Analysis Unit (RAU) released its 2012 Third Quarter Report (July – September 2012). (Frontex has since released Reports for Q4 2012 and Q1 2013; we will post summaries of these more recent Reports shortly.) As in past quarters, the 70-page report provided in-depth information about irregular migration patterns at the EU external borders. The report is based on data provided by 30 Member State border-control authorities, and presents results of statistical analysis of quarterly variations in eight irregular migration indicators and one asylum indicator.
During 2012 Q3 several FRAN indicators varied dramatically compared with previous reports, including a significant reduction in detections of illegal border-crossing compared with previous third quarters. In fact, there were fewer detections of illegal border-crossing than in any third quarter since data collection began in early 2008. Additionally, this quarter reported the largest number of applications for asylum since data collection began in early 2008, with Syrians ranking first among nationalities.
Here are some highlights from the Report focusing on the sea borders:
- “There were 22,093 detections of illegal border-crossing at the EU level, which is considerably lower than expected based on previous reporting periods.”
- “The majority of detections were at the EU external land (66%), rather than sea border, but this was the lowest proportion for some time due to an increase in detections at the Greek sea border with Turkey [***]. Nevertheless, the Greek land border with Turkey was still by far the undisputed hotspot for detections of illegal border-crossing.”
- “Overall, in Q3 2012 there were fewer detections of illegal border-crossing than in any previous third quarter, following the launch of two Greek Operations: Aspida (Shield) … and Xenios Zeus…. Perhaps somewhat predictably, there were increased detections of illegal border-crossing at both the Turkish sea border with Greece and land border with Bulgaria, indicative of weak displacement effects from the operational area.”
- “[T]here were more than 3 500 reported detections of illegal border-crossing on the main Central Mediterranean route (Italian Pelagic Islands, Sicily and Malta), a significant decrease compared to the same reporting period in 2011 during the peak associated with the Arab Spring, but still the highest reported so far in 2012, and higher than the pre-Arab Spring peak of 2010.”
- “[D]etections in Italy still constituted more than a fifth of all detections at the EU level. Detections in Apulia and Sicily were actually higher than in the Arab Spring period, and doubled in Lampedusa compared to the previous quarter.”
- “In July 2012 the facilitation networks targeted Sicily instead of Pantelleria and Lampedusa, as it is harder for the migrants to reach the Italian mainland from the small islands. Migrants claim that the facilitators may start to focus on the southern coast of Sicily, as they expect lower surveillance there.”
- “[T]here were some significant increases of various nationalities such as Tunisians and Egyptians departing from their own countries, and Somalis and Eritreans departing from Libya.”
- “Several reports included details of how sub-Saharan migrants were often deceived, over-charged or even left to drown by their facilitators during the embarkation process.”
- “For some time there has been a steady flow of Afghans and, to a lesser extent, Pakistanis arriving in the southern Italian blue borders of Calabria and Apulia with some very large increases observed during Q3 2012. In fact, according to the FRAN data there were more detections in this region than ever before.”
- “JO EPN Aeneas 2012 started on 2 July. The operational plan defines two operational areas, Apulia and Calabria, covering the seashore along the Ionian Sea and part of the Adriatic Sea.”
- “JO EPN Indalo 2012 started in [the Western Mediterranean] on 16 May covering five zones of the south-eastern Spanish sea border and extending into the Western Mediterranean.”
- “Increased border surveillance along the Mauritanian coast generated by the deployment of joint Mauritanian-Spanish police teams and also joint maritime and aerial patrols in Mauritanian national waters has reduced departures towards the Canary Islands but also may have resulted in a displacement effect to the Western Mediterranean route from the Moroccan coast.”
- “The good cooperation among the Spanish, Senegalese and Mauritanian authorities and the joint patrols in the operational sea areas and on the coastline of Senegal and Mauritania have resulted in a displacement of the departure areas of migrant boats towards the Canary Islands, with the reactivation of the Western African route (from north of Mauritania to the Western Sahara territory) used by the criminal networks operating in Mauritania.”
Here are excerpts from the Report focusing on the sea borders:
“Overall, in Q3 2012 there were fewer detections of illegal border-crossing than in any previous third quarter, following the launch of two Greek Operations: Aspida (Shield), which involved the deployment of ~1 800 Greek police officers to the Greek land border with Turkey, and Xenios Zeus, which focused on the inland apprehension of illegally staying persons. The much-increased surveillance and patrolling activities at the Greek-Turkish land border, combined with the lengthening of the detention period to up to 6 months, resulted in a drastic drop in the number of detections of irregular migrants from ~2 000 during the first week of August to below ten per week in each of the last few weeks of October. Perhaps somewhat predictably, there were increased detections of illegal border-crossing at both the Turkish sea border with Greece and land border with Bulgaria, indicative of weak displacement effects from the operational area….
Despite the clear impact of the Greek operational activities on the number of detections of illegal border-crossing, there is little evidence to suggest that the absolute flow of irregular migrants arriving in the region has decreased in any way. In fact, document fraud on flights from Istanbul increased once the Greek operations commenced. Hence, there remains a very significant risk of a sudden influx of migrants immediately subsequent to the end of the operations.”
4.1 Detections of Illegal border-crossing
“Overall, in Q3 2012 there were 22 093 detections of illegal border-crossing at the EU level, which is considerably lower than expected based on detections during previous quarters. In fact, there were fewer detections of illegal border-crossing than in any third quarter since data collection began in early 2008. The particularly low number of detections was due to vastly increased operational activity at the Greek land border with Turkey since 30 July 2012, and also to the overlapping effects of the end of the Arab Spring in its initial countries (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia) and far fewer detections of circular Albanian migrants illegally crossing the border into Greece.
The majority of detections were at the EU external land (66%), rather than sea border, but this was the lowest proportion for some time due to an increase in detections at the Greek sea border with Turkey – probably the result of a weak displacement effect from the land border. Nevertheless, the Greek land border with Turkey was still by far the undisputed hotspot for detections of illegal border-crossing.”
“Figure 4 shows the evolution of the FRAN Indicator 1A – detections of illegal border- crossing, and the proportion of detections between the land and sea borders of the EU per quarter since the beginning of 2008. The third quarter of each year is usually influenced by weather conditions favourable for both approaching and illegally crossing the external border of the EU. Moreover, good conditions for illegal border-crossing also make it easier to detect such attempts. The combination of these two effects means that the third quarter of each year is usually the one with very high, and often the highest number of detections.”
“… As illustrated in Figure 8, in the third quarter of 2012 the most detections of illegal border-crossings were reported on the Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes, which is consistent with the overall trend for most third quarters in the past. However, on the Eastern Mediterranean route the summer peak of detections, which has been remarkably consistent over recent years, was much lower than expected following increased operational activity in the area resulting in far fewer detections during the final month of the quarter.
In the Central Mediterranean, increased detections of several nationalities illegally crossing the blue border to Lampedusa and Malta, as well as increased landings in Apulia and Calabria from Greece and Turkey, combined to produce the highest number of detections both before and after the prominent peak reported during the Arab Spring in 2011.
In Q3 2012, there were 11 072 detections of illegal border-crossing on the Eastern Mediterranean route, a 75% reduction compared to the same period in 2011, and most other third quarters (Fig. 8). Nevertheless this route was still the undisputed hotspot for illegal entries to the EU during the current reporting period, mostly because of vastly increased detections of Syrian nationals.”
4.2.1 Eastern Mediterranean Route
“…Italian Ionian coast: For some time there has been a steady flow of Afghans and, to a lesser extent, Pakistanis arriving in the southern Italian blue borders of Calabria and Apulia with some very large increases observed during
Q3 2012. In fact, according to the FRAN data there were more detections in this region than ever before. The most commonly detected migrants were from Afghanistan, which is a significant but steady trend. In contrast detections of migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Syria have increased very sharply since the beginning of 2012.
JO EPN Aeneas 2012 started on 2 July. The operational plan defines two operational areas, Apulia and Calabria, covering the seashore along the Ionian Sea and part of the Adriatic Sea. As mentioned in previous FRAN Quarterlies,
the detections at the Greek-Turkish land border are directly correlated with detections in the Ionian Sea. In 2011, it was estimated that more than 15% of migrants reported at the Greek-Turkish land border were afterwards detected in Apulia and Calabria.”
4.2.2 Central Mediterranean Route
“… According to FRAN data, in Q3 2012 there were just 3 427 reported detections of illegal border-crossing on the main Central Mediterranean route (Italian Pelagic Islands, Sicily and Malta), a significant decrease compared to the same reporting period in 2011. However, this figure was still the highest reported so far in 2012, and was higher than the peak in 2010. Additionally, there were some significant increases in various nationalities.
On the Central Mediterranean route, detections of migrants from Tunisia continued to in crease from 82 during the last quarter of 2011 to over 1 000 in Q3 2012. Tunisians were not the only North African nationality to feature in the top five most detected nationalities in the Central Mediterranean region, as Egyptians were also detected in significant and increasing numbers (287). The fact that fewer Egyptians than Tunisians were detected in the Central Mediterranean should be interpreted in light of Egypt being eight times more populous than Tunisia, which shows that irregular migration pressure from Egypt is proportionally much lower than that from Tunisia.
Also significant in the Central Mediterranean during the third quarter of 2012 were detections of Somalis (854) and, following recent increases, also Eritreans (411). Somalis have been detected in similarly high numbers during previous reporting periods (for example over 1 000 in Q2 2012) but there were more Eritreans detected in Q3 2012 than ever before.
Some Syrian nationals were also detected using the direct sea route from Turkey to Italy but these tended to arrive in Calabria…..”
4.2.3 Western Mediterranean Route
“In 2011, irregular migration in the Western Mediterranean region increased steadily from just 890 detections in Q1 2011 to 3 568 detections in the third quarter of the year. A year later in Q3 2012, detections dropped to just over 2 000 detections, which was, nevertheless, the highest level so far in 2012.
As has been the case for several years, most of the detections involved Algerians (859) followed by migrants of unknown nationality (524, presumed to be sub-Saharan Africans). Algerians were mostly detected in Almeria
and at the land border with Morocco, the migrants of unknown nationality were mostly reported from the land borders.
JO EPN Indalo 2012 started in this region on 16 May covering five zones of the south-eastern
Spanish sea border and extending into the Western Mediterranean.
In Q3 2012, there were far fewer Moroccan nationals detected (79) compared to Q3 2011. Most were detected just east of the Gibraltar Strait, between Tangiers and Ceuta. According to the migrants’ statements, the area between Ksar Sghir and Sidi Kankouche is the most popular departing area among Moroccans who want to cross the Gibraltar strait (10.15 NM distance). The boats used for the sea crossing were toy boats bought by the migrants in a supermarket for EUR ~100….
Increased border surveillance along the Mauritanian coast generated by the deployment of joint Mauritanian-Spanish police teams and also joint maritime and aerial patrols in Mauritanian national waters has reduced departures towards the Canary Islands but also may have resulted in a displacement effect to the Western Mediterranean route from the Moroccan coast.”
4.2.4 Western African Route
“In the third quarter of 2012, there were just 40 detections of illegal border-crossing in this region, almost exclusively of Moroccan nationals but with an influx of Senegalese nationals….
The good cooperation among the Spanish, Senegalese and Mauritanian authorities and the joint patrols in the operational sea areas and on the coastline of Senegal and Mauritania have resulted in a displacement of the
departure areas of migrant boats towards the Canary Islands, with the reactivation of the Western African route (from north of Mauritania to the Western Sahara territory) used by the criminal networks operating in Mauritania.”
Click here for previous post summarizing Frontex FRAN Report for Q2 2012.
The Italian news agency AGI reported that Italian search and rescue authorities yesterday diverted two commercial ships, the Patroclus, a Maltese oil tanker, and the Cdry White, an Italian cargo ship, to assist with the rescue of two groups of migrants. The first group of approximately 76 migrants was rescued about 40 miles from Tripoli by an Italian coastguard vessel; the group was then transferred to the Cdry White. The Patroclus appears to have directly rescued a group of approximately 97 migrants south of Lampedusa. AGI reported that the two commercial ships are sailing to Trapani and Pozzallo in Sicily to disembark the rescued migrants.
Italian authorities are questioning survivor reports that the boat on which they were sailing from Tunisia actually sank or capsized near Lampedusa on 7 September. Authorities have raised the possibility that the survivors were intentionally landed on the small island of Lampione, approximately 20 km west of Lampedusa, by a trafficker’s “mother ship” and that the traffickers then returned to Tunisia. Some of the 56 survivors who were rescued from Lampione reported that their boat sank and they were forced to swim to the island, but Italian authorities have not yet found sufficient debris, bodies, or other evidence that would indicate that their boat sank. While two bodies have been recovered recently, the locations of the recovered bodies are not consistent with the location where the migrant boat is reported to have sunk. Authorities think the two bodies may be from different incidents that may have taken place recently.
Human Rights Watch released a briefing paper on 16 August entitled “Hidden Emergency-Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.” The briefing paper, written by Judith Sunderland, a senior researcher with HRW, reviews recent events in the Mediterranean, provides updates on new developments, including the EUROSUR proposal and IMO guidelines that are under consideration, and makes recommendations for how deaths can be minimized.
Excerpts from the Briefing Paper:
“The death toll during the first six months of 2012 has reached at least 170. … Unless more is done, it is certain that more will die.
Europe has a responsibility to make sure that preventing deaths at sea is at the heart of a coordinated European-wide approach to boat migration, not a self-serving afterthought to policies focused on preventing arrivals or another maneuver by northern member states to shift the burden to southern member states like Italy and Malta.
With admirable candor, EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said recently that Europe had, in its reaction to the Arab Spring, ‘missed the opportunity to show the EU is ready to defend, to stand up, and to help.’ Immediate, concerted efforts to prevent deaths at sea must be part of rectifying what Malmström called Europe’s ‘historic mistake.’
Europe’s Response to Boat Migration
European countries most affected by boat migration—Italy, Malta, Greece and Spain—have saved many lives through rescue operations. But those governments and the European Union as a whole have focused far more effort on seeking to prevent boat migration, including in ways that violate rights. Cooperation agreements with countries of departure for joint maritime patrols, technical and financial assistance for border and immigration control, and expedited readmission of those who manage to set foot on European soil have become commonplace.
The EU’s border agency Frontex has become increasingly active through joint maritime operations, some of which have involved coordination with countries of departure outside the EU such as Senegal. Even though in September 2011 the EU gave Frontex an explicit duty to respect human rights in its operations and a role in supporting rescue at sea operations, these operations have as a primary objective to prevent boats from landing on EU member state territories. This has also prevented migrants, including asylum seekers, from availing themselves of procedural rights that apply within EU territory.
Italy had suspended its cooperation agreements with Libya in February 2011, and has indicated it will respect the European Court’s ruling and will no longer engage in push-backs. However, past experience suggests that an immigration cooperation agreement signed with the Libyan authorities in April 2012, the exact contents of which have neither been made public nor submitted to parliamentary scrutiny, is unlikely to give migrants’ human rights the attention and focus they need if those rights are to be properly protected.
Preventing Deaths in the Mediterranean
It may be tempting to blame lives lost at sea on unscrupulous smugglers, the weather, or simple, cruel fate. However, many deaths can and should be prevented. UNHCR’s recommendation during the Arab Spring to presume that all overcrowded migrant boats in the Mediterranean need rescue is a good place to start.
Recognizing the serious dimensions of the problem, specialized United Nations agencies such as the UNHCR and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), have been working to produce clear recommendations. These include establishing a model framework for cooperation in rescue at sea and standard operating procedures for shipmasters. The latter should include a definition of distress triggering the obligation to provide assistance that takes into account risk factors, such as overcrowding, poor conditions on board, and lack of necessary equipment or expertise. UNHCR has also proposed that countries with refugee resettlement programs set aside a quota for recognized refugees rescued at sea.
The IMO has also been pursuing since 2010 a regional agreement among Mediterranean European countries to improve rescue and disembarkation coordination, as well as burden-sharing. The project, if implemented successfully, would serve as a model for other regions. A draft text for a memorandum of understanding is under discussion. Negotiations should be fast-tracked with a view to implementation as quickly as possible.
If Europe is serious about saving lives at sea, it also needs to amend the draft legislation creating EUROSUR. This new coordinated surveillance system should spell out clearly the paramount duty to assist boat migrants at sea, and its implementation must be subject to rigorous and impartial monitoring. Arguments that such a focus would create a ‘pull factor’ and encourage more migrants to risk the crossing are spurious. History shows that people on the move, whether for economic or political reasons, are rarely deterred or encouraged by external factors.
From the HRW press statement:
The “briefing paper includes concrete recommendations to improve rescue operations and save lives:
- Improve search and rescue coordination mechanisms among EU member states;
- Ensure that EUROSUR has clear guidelines on the paramount duty of rescue at sea and that its implementation is rigorously monitored;
- Clarify what constitutes a distress situation, to create a presumption in favor of rescue for overcrowded and ill-equipped boats;
- Resolve disputes about disembarkation points;
- Remove disincentives for commercial and private vessels to conduct rescues; and
- Increase burden-sharing among EU member states.”
Click here for HRW press statement.
400 Migrants Reach Lampedusa Over Past Weekend; Detention Centre Over Capacity; Former Interior Minister Maroni Calls for Resumption of Italy’s Push-Back Practice
Two large migrant boats reached Lampedusa over the past weekend. One of the boats was carrying about 250 persons, believed to be Sub-Saharan Africans, and is thought to have departed from Libya. The boat was a 15 meter wooden fishing vessel and appears to be one of the first non-inflatable boats used in many months. A second boat carrying about 125 Tunisians arrived around the same time. Smaller boats carrying mostly Tunisians have been steadily reaching Lampedusa in recent weeks. In response to the apparent increase in the numbers of persons reaching Lampedusa, former Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni (Northern League) wrote on his Facebook page and called for a resumption of Italy’s Push-Back practice to halt new boats. (“Tornano i barconi a Lampedusa. RESPINGIMENTI, come facevo io, questo serve per fermare l’invasione.”) Given the decision in the Hirsi case by the European Court of Human Rights, Italy is not likely to resume the push-back practice. 81 Sub-Saharan migrants on a disabled boat were rescued by Italian authorities on Monday. The detention centre on Lampedusa is over its 350 person capacity and Italian authorities have begun to transfer migrants to facilities elsewhere.
The PACE Migration Committee report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, released yesterday, is a must read for anyone concerned with this topic. In addition to documenting the events of March-April 2011 and the resulting deaths of 63 persons, the report makes a series of recommendations as to how search and rescue should be carried out in the future:
“13. While the [rapporteur’s] investigation focused on a single incident, the lessons learnt have implications for the way in which search and rescue should be carried out in the future. As a consequence, the [Parliamentary] Assembly recommends that member States:
13.1. fill the vacuum of responsibility for an SAR zone left by a State which cannot or does not exercise its responsibility for search and rescue, such as was the case for Libya. This may require amending the International Maritime Search and Rescue Convention (SAR Convention). In the case in question, two Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (Rome and Malta) were aware that a boat was in distress, but neither took the responsibility to start a search and rescue operation. Rome, being the first MRCC informed of the distress situation, had a greater responsibility to ensure the boat’s rescue;
13.2. ensure that there are clear and simple guidelines, which are then followed, on what amounts to a distress signal, so as to avoid any confusion over the obligation to launch a search and rescue operation for a boat in distress;
13.3. avoid differing interpretations of what constitutes a vessel in distress, in particular as concerns overloaded, unseaworthy boats, even if under propulsion, and render appropriate assistance to such vessels. Whenever safety requires that a vessel be assisted, this should lead to rescue actions;
13.4. tackle the reasons why commercial vessels fail to go to the rescue of boats in distress. This will require dealing with:
13.4.1. the economic consequences for the rescuing vessel and its owners, and the issue of compensation;
13.4.2. the disagreement between Malta and Italy as to whether disembarkation should be to the nearest safe port or to a port within the country of the SAR zone. The International Maritime Organization should be urged to find a solution to the matter and step up its efforts towards a harmonised interpretation and application of international maritime law;
13.4.3. the fear of criminalisation (trafficking or aiding and abetting irregular migration) by those who go to the rescue of boats carrying irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees;
13.4.4. legislation to criminalise private shipmasters who fail to comply with their duty under the law of the sea, as is already the case in certain Council of Europe member States;
13.5. ensure that, in accordance with the Hirsi v. Italy judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, after the rescue operation, people are not pushed back to a country where they risk being treated in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
13.6. tackle the issue of responsibility sharing, particularly in the context of rescue services, disembarkation, administration of asylum requests, setting up reception facilities and relocation and resettlement, with a view to developing a binding European Union protocol for the Mediterranean region. The heavy burden placed on frontline States leads to a problem of saturation and a reluctance to take responsibility;
13.7. respect the families’ right to know the fate of those who lose their lives at sea by improving identity data collection and sharing. This could include the setting up of a DNA file of the remains of those retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea. In this context, the ongoing work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organisations should be acknowledged and supported;
13.8. follow up Assembly Resolution 1821 (2011) on the interception and rescue at sea of asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants;
13.9. ensure that the lack of communication and understanding between the Rome Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and NATO, which led to no one taking responsibility for the boat, is not reproduced in future NATO operations, and ensure that NATO introduces a mechanism to co-ordinate its assets in SAR operations in direct contact with relevant Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres wherever possible.”
Click on the following links for:
PACE Migration Committee Approves Report on “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean” and Calls on NATO and Responsible States to Conduct Full Inquiries into the Failures to Rescue
The report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, was adopted this morning by the PACE Committee on Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons. It will next be debated in a plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly, probably on 24 April.
Here is the full text of the PACE press statement and links to the provisional version of the report:
“Strasbourg, 29.03.2012 – A failure to react to distress calls and a ‘vacuum of responsibility’ for search and rescue are among a ‘catalogue of failures’ which led to the deaths of 63 people fleeing the conflict in Libya by sea during a tragic 15-day voyage in March 2011, according to a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
A report by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), adopted this morning in Brussels by PACE’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, says Italian search and rescue authorities, NATO, the flag states of naval vessels in the area, the Libyan authorities and reckless smugglers are among those who share responsibility.
The boat, which left Tripoli with 72 people on board a week after the beginning of international air strikes on Libya, washed up on the Libyan coast 15 days later with only nine people still alive – even though distress messages giving its last known position were regularly broadcast to all ships in the area.
NATO ‘failed to react to distress calls’ in a military zone under its control, the committee says, pointing out that the Spanish Navy frigate Méndez Núñez, under NATO command, was reported to be only 11 miles away, although the Spanish authorities dispute the distance. An Italian military vessel, the Borsini, was 37 nautical miles away. Both vessels can carry a helicopter.
The committee says it finds ‘credible’ the testimonies of the nine survivors of the incident, who said that a military helicopter dropped water and biscuits to them and indicated it would return, but never did. On the tenth day of the voyage – with half the passengers dead – they said ‘a large military vessel’ approached, close enough for them to see crew with binoculars, but sailed away without effecting a rescue.
‘Many opportunities of saving the lives of the persons on board were lost,’ the committee concludes. It demands that NATO conduct an inquiry into the incident and provide comprehensive answers to outstanding questions, and calls on the European Parliament to seek further information, including satellite imagery. National parliaments of the states concerned should also carry out inquiries. There should also be an overhaul of maritime regulations to fill the ‘vacuum of responsibility’ when a state cannot carry out search and rescue in its assigned zone, and to deal with the dispute between Italy and Malta over which country should be responsible for disembarkation of those rescued at sea.
The report is due to be debated at the April plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April.
The Guardian’s Advance Coverage of PACE Report – “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?”
The Guardian has reviewed a copy of the report prepared by Ms. Tinke Strik which will be presented to the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons on Thursday, 29 March. The Guardian describes the report as “a damning official report” that documents “[a] catalogue of failures by Nato warships and European coastguards [which] led to the deaths of dozens of migrants left adrift at sea [ ].”
Click on the following links for the Guardian’s articles:
Human Rights Organisations Renew Call for NATO and Governments to Release Information Regarding Migrant Deaths in Mediterranean Sea
Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and 9 other human rights groups on 26 March sent letters to NATO and the defence ministers of France, Italy, Spain, Canada, the UK, and the US calling for the release of information to clarify events surrounding the deaths of 63 migrants who died approximately one year ago after their disabled boat drifted for days within an area that was heavily patrolled by NATO warships. The renewed call for release of information is being made in connection with the scheduled release on 29 March of the PACE Migration Committee Report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” Representatives of HRW and FIDH will participate in a press conference on 29 March, 2 p.m. CET, with Ms. Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), when Ms. Strik releases the report.
Click here for the 26 March PACE press release and information regarding 29 March press conference.
Click here for the 26 March HRW press release.
PACE Report on “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?” Scheduled for Release on 29 March
The draft report prepared by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, will be considered on 29 March in a closed session by the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.
If the draft report receives committee approval it will be released to the public by Ms. Strik at a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. CET. Representatives from HRW and FIDH will participate in the press conference. (Click here for HRW press release.) The report will be next be considered during “plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.”
Full text of PACE press release: “Strasbourg, 26.03.2012 – Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on ‘Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?’ will present her draft report at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday 29th March 2012.
The report is the result of a nine-month inquiry, launched at the request of 34 Assembly members, following a March 2011 incident in which it is alleged that 63 people attempting to flee the conflict in Libya died at sea after their appeals for rescue were ignored, including by armed forces operating in the area.
Ahead of her presentation, Ms Strik commented: ‘Since the beginning of 2011 at least 1,500 people are known to have perished in the Mediterranean trying to reach European soil – despite this being one of the busiest and best-monitored seas in the world. My inquiry has focused on one particularly tragic incident, in which 63 people died, to try to establish who bears responsibility for their deaths. I have been deeply shocked by what I have learned.’
As part of her inquiry, Tineke Strik spoke at length with survivors, search and rescue authorities from Italy and Malta, as well as NATO and EU officials, and put detailed written questions to a number of governments, including those with vessels with aircraft-carrying facilities in the area at the time. She also obtained a reconstruction of the voyage using the science of forensic oceanography.
The same day, prior to the press conference, Ms Strik will present her report to PACE’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, meeting in closed session. If approved by the committee, the report will go forward for plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.
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Notes for editors
The press conference will take place at 2 p.m. on Thursday 29th March at the Council of Europe office in Brussels (Avenue des Nerviens 85 / Nerviërslaan 85, B-1040 Brussels). The rapporteur will be joined by representatives of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Watch. A video recording of the press conference will be made available at the link above, and on the PACE website, as soon as possible after it ends.
Copies of the report
If approved by the committee, the full text of the report will be posted on the Assembly’s website at around 2 p.m. Central European Time.
Angus Macdonald, PACE Communication Division, mobile +33 (0)6 30 49 68 20.
Andrew Cutting, Council of Europe Office in Brussels, mobile +32 (0)485 21 72 02.
Click here for PACE Press Release of 26 March.
Click here for Committee meeting agenda.
Click here for HRW Press Release of 26 March.
Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 of the ECHR reads in its entirety as follows: “Collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited.”
The provision was first defined by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1975 in Henning Becker v. Denmark (no. 7011/75, decision of 3 October 1975). The Commission defined the “‘collective expulsion of aliens’ as being ‘any measure of the competent authority compelling aliens as a group to leave the country, except where such a measure is taken after and on the basis of a reasonable and objective examination of the particular cases of each individual alien of the group’.” [para. 166]
The Court has only once previously found a violation of the collective expulsion prohibition and that was in Čonka v. Belgium (no. 51564/99, ECHR 2002-I). [para. 183]
The majority of collective expulsion cases previously considered by the Commission and the Court have “involved persons who were on the territory at issue.” [para. 167] One extra-territorial exception involved the case of Xhavara and Others v. Italy and Albania ((dec), no. 39473/98, 11 January 2001) involving “Albanian nationals who had attempted to enter Italy illegally on board an Albanian vessel and who had been intercepted by an Italian warship approximately 35 nautical miles off the Italian coast. The Italian ship had attempted to prevent the parties concerned from disembarking on national territory, leading to the death of fifty-eight people….” The Court however “rejected the complaint on the ground of incompatibility ratione personae, as [the applicants challenged an Italian law which] had not been applied to their case, and [the Court therefore] did not rule on the [extra-territorial] applicability of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4…” [para. 168]
In Hirsi the Court “for the first time” considered the question of whether the prohibition of collective expulsion “applies to a case involving the removal of aliens to a third State carried out outside national territory.” [para. 169]
Italy argued that the prohibition “came into play only in the event of the expulsion of persons [already] on the territory of a State or who had crossed the national border illegally” and therefore did not apply to the Hirsi applicants who had not entered on to Italian territory. According to Italy, “the measure at issue was a refusal to authorise entry into national territory rather than ‘expulsion’.” [para. 160]
The Court rejected Italy’s interpretation:
“173. The Court does not share the Government’s opinion on this point. It notes firstly that while the cases thus far examined have concerned individuals who were already, in various forms, on the territory of the country concerned, the wording of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 does not in itself pose an obstacle to its extra-territorial application. It must be noted that Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 contains no reference to the notion of ‘territory’, whereas the wording of Article 3 of the same Protocol, on the contrary, specifically refers to the territorial scope of the prohibition on the expulsion of nationals. Likewise, Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 explicitly refers to the notion of territory regarding procedural safeguards relating to the expulsion of aliens lawfully resident in the territory of a State. In the Court’s view, that wording cannot be ignored.
175. It remains to be seen, however, whether [an extra-territorial] application [of the prohibition] is justified. To reply to that question, account must be taken of the purpose and meaning of the provision at issue, which must themselves be analysed in the light of the principle, firmly rooted in the Court’s case-law, that the Convention is a living instrument which must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions. [***] Furthermore, it is essential that the Convention is interpreted and applied in a manner which renders the guarantees practical and effective and not theoretical and illusory (see Marckx v. Belgium, 13 June 1979, § 41, Series A no. 31; [***]).
176. A long time has passed since Protocol No. 4 was drafted. Since that time, migratory flows in Europe have continued to intensify, with increasing use being made of the sea, although the interception of migrants on the high seas and their removal to countries of transit or origin are now a means of migratory control, in so far as they constitute tools for States to combat irregular immigration.
The economic crisis and recent social and political changes have had a particular impact on certain regions of Africa and the Middle East, throwing up new challenges for European States in terms of immigration control.
177. The Court has already found that, according to the established case-law of the Commission and of the Court, the purpose of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 is to prevent States being able to remove certain aliens without examining their personal circumstances and, consequently, without enabling them to put forward their arguments against the measure taken by the relevant authority. If, therefore, Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 were to apply only to collective expulsions from the national territory of the States Parties to the Convention, a significant component of contemporary migratory patterns would not fall within the ambit of that provision, notwithstanding the fact that the conduct it is intended to prohibit can occur outside national territory and in particular, as in the instant case, on the high seas. Article 4 would thus be ineffective in practice with regard to such situations, which, however, are on the increase. The consequence of that would be that migrants having taken to the sea, often risking their lives, and not having managed to reach the borders of a State, would not be entitled to an examination of their personal circumstances before being expelled, unlike those travelling by land.
178. It is therefore clear that, while the notion of ‘jurisdiction’ is principally territorial and is presumed to be exercised on the national territory of States (see paragraph 71 above), the notion of expulsion is also principally territorial, in the sense that expulsions are most often conducted from national territory. Where, however, as in the instant case, the Court has found that a Contracting State has, exceptionally, exercised its jurisdiction outside its national territory, it does not see any obstacle to accepting that the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction by that State took the form of collective expulsion. To conclude otherwise, and to afford that last notion a strictly territorial scope, would result in a discrepancy between the scope of application of the Convention as such and that of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4, which would go against the principle that the Convention must be interpreted as a whole. Furthermore, as regards the exercise by a State of its jurisdiction on the high seas, the Court has already stated that the special nature of the maritime environment cannot justify an area outside the law where individuals are covered by no legal system capable of affording them enjoyment of the rights and guarantees protected by the Convention which the States have undertaken to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction (see Medvedyev and Others, cited above, § 81).
180. Having regard to the foregoing, the Court considers that the removal of aliens carried out in the context of interceptions on the high seas by the authorities of a State in the exercise of their sovereign authority, the effect of which is to prevent migrants from reaching the borders of the State or even to push them back to another State, constitutes an exercise of jurisdiction within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention which engages the responsibility of the State in question under Article 4 of Protocol No. 4.
185. In the instant case, the Court can only find that the transfer of the applicants to Libya was carried out without any form of examination of each applicant’s individual situation. It has not been disputed that the applicants were not subjected to any identification procedure by the Italian authorities, which restricted themselves to embarking all the intercepted migrants onto military ships and disembarking them on Libyan soil. Moreover, the Court notes that the personnel aboard the military ships were not trained to conduct individual interviews and were not assisted by interpreters or legal advisers.
That is sufficient for the Court to rule out the existence of sufficient guarantees ensuring that the individual circumstances of each of those concerned were actually the subject of a detailed examination.
186. Having regard to the above, the Court concludes that the removal of the applicants was of a collective nature, in breach of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4. Accordingly, there has been a violation of that Article.”
Click here for my previous post “Hirsi v. Italy: The Issue of Jurisdiction Under ECHR Article 1.”