Tag Archives: Maritime Interdiction

ECtHR Grand Chamber to Deliver Judgement in Hirsi v Italy on 23 February

The decision in Hirsi and others v Italy, Requête no 27765/09, is scheduled to be released by the Grand Camber of the European Court of Human Rights next Thursday, 23 February.  The case was filed on 26 May 2009 by 11 Somalis and 13 Eritreans who were among the first group of about 200 migrants interdicted by Italian authorities and summarily returned to Libya under the terms of the Libya-Italy agreement which took effect on 4 February 2009.  The Applicants were intercepted on 6 May 2009 approximately 35 miles south of Lampedusa.   On 17 November 2009 the Second Section of the Court communicated the case and then subsequently relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber.  The argument before the Grand Chamber occurred on 22 June 2011.

Today’s statement from the CoE web site:

“Human rights judges will soon deliver their judgement in a case which involved Italy intercepting Somalian and Eritrean migrants at sea and returning them to Libya.  The European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber final judgment in the case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy (application no. 27765/09), is expected at a public hearing scheduled for Thursday 23 February.

Principal facts

The applicants are 11 Somalian and 13 Eritrean nationals. They were part of a group of about 200 people who left Libya in 2009 on board three boats bound for Italy. On 6 May 2009, when the boats were 35 miles south of Lampedusa (Agrigento), within the maritime search and rescue region under the responsibility of Malta, they were intercepted by Italian Customs and Coastguard vessels. The passengers were transferred to the Italian military vessels and taken to Tripoli.

The applicants say that during the journey the Italian authorities did not tell them where they were being taken, or check their identity. Once in Tripoli they were handed over to the Libyan authorities.

At a press conference on 7 May 2009 the Italian Minister of the Interior explained that the interception of the vessels on the high seas and the return of the migrants to Libya was in accordance with the bilateral agreements with Libya that entered into force on 4 February 2009, marking a turning point in the fight against illegal immigration.

Complaint

The applicants consider that their case falls within the jurisdiction of Italy. Relying on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), they argue that the decision of the Italian authorities to send them back to Libya exposed them to the risk of ill-treatment there, as well as to the serious threat of being sent back to their countries of origin (Somalia and Eritrea), where they might also face ill-treatment.

They also complain that they were subjected to collective expulsion prohibited by Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 (prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens) of the Convention. Lastly, relying on Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), they complain that they had no effective remedy against the alleged violations of Article 3 and Article 4 of Protocol No. 4.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 26 May 2009.

On 15 February 2011 the Chamber to which the case had been allocated relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber. A hearing took place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg on 22 June 2011.

The following have been authorised to intervene as a third party (under Article 36 § 2 of the Convention):

– the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

– the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,

– the non-governmental organisations Aire Center, Amnesty International, and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH),

– the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch, and

– the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic.”

Click here for CoE Statement.

Click here for Press Statement from ECtHR.

Click here for previous post on the argument before the Grand Chamber.

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Statewatch Analysis: The EU’s self-interested response to unrest in north Africa: the meaning of treaties and readmission agreements between Italy and north African states

Statewatch released an Analysis by Yasha Maccanico entitled “The EU’s self-interested response to unrest in north Africa: the meaning of treaties and readmission agreements between Italy and north African states.”  The Analysis provides a description of Italy’s responses to the migrant arrivals in 2011 caused by the unrest in North Africa.

Excerpts:  “The ‘crisis’ reveals questionable practices and routine abuses – The measures adopted in response to the increasing number of migrants arriving from north African countries serve to highlight a number of practices that have become commonplace in Italy in recent years.

The first of these is a widening of the concept of ‘emergency.’ Calling an emergency gives the government a wider remit to derogate from specified laws so as to resolve situations that cannot be dealt with through ordinary measures….

Although the situation in north Africa was worrying, the emergency was called when slightly over 5,000 migrants had arrived. An analysis by Massimiliano Vrenna and Francesca Biondi Dal Monte for ASGI notes that the government has repeatedly called and extended states of emergency since 2002 to deal with immigration, which is treated as though it were a “natural calamity” even when there is a wholly predictable influx of people from third countries. The urgent need specified in decrees declaring a state of emergency is to conduct ‘activities to counter the exceptional – later referred to as massive – influx of immigrants on Italian territory’ (as happened on 11 December 2002, 7 November 2003, 23 December 2004, 28 October 2005, 16 March 2007, 31 December 2007, 14 February 2008 for Sicily, Calabria and Apulia and was extended to the whole nation on 25 July 2008 and 19 November 2009), stemming from a prime ministerial decree of 20 March 2002. Thus, Vrenna and Biondi Dal Monte’s observation that the emergency is ‘structural’ appears well-founded. It has serious repercussions for the treatment of migrants (see below) and the awarding of contracts outside of normal procedures, with the involvement of the civil protection department whose competencies have been expanding considerably.

The second practice involves the expulsion, refoulement or deportation of migrants outside the limits and procedures established by legislation for this purpose. The failure to identify people, to issue formal decisions on an individual basis to refuse them entry or expel them, or to give them the opportunity to apply for asylum or other forms of protection, was a key concern when boats were intercepted at sea and either the vessels or their passengers were taken back to Libya between May and September 2009, when 1,329 people were returned. These rights were also denied to people arriving from Egypt and Tunisia in application of readmission agreements in the framework of the fight against illegal migration. Their presumed nationality was deemed sufficient to enact expulsions to these countries, because ongoing cooperation and good relations with Italy appeared sufficient to indicate that they were not in need of protection, regardless of the situation in their home countries. ….

The third practice is the ill-treatment of migrants held in detention centres. Without dealing with this issue in depth, it is worth noting that what could be viewed as arbitrary detention is occurring on a large scale, in the absence of formal measures decreeing detention and without the possibility of appealing against decisions. In fact, after landing, migrants are summarily identified as either ‘illegal’ migrants or asylum seekers, largely on the basis of their nationality….”

Click here for Analysis.

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UNODC Issue Paper: Smuggling of Migrants by Sea

UNODC yesterday released an Issue Paper entitled “Smuggling of Migrants by Sea.” The paper, drafted by Ms Marika McAdam under the supervision of Ms Morgane Nicot (UNODC), is based largely on “answers received to questionnaires and discussions that took place in the context of an expert group meeting held in Vienna, Austria on the 13th to the 15th of September 2011.”

Excerpts from UNODC statement: “While the smuggling of migrants by sea accounts for only a small proportion of the total number of migrants smuggled worldwide, it accounts for the highest number of deaths among smuggled migrants. … The paper covers the international legal framework relating to the smuggling of migrants by sea, current responses to and challenges posed by such smuggling and recommendations to strengthen responses. … It is hoped that the practical experiences of responding to the smuggling of migrants by sea, addressed by the issue paper from the perspectives of countries of origin, countries of transit and countries of destination, will help other Member States in formulating their responses to suit their local contexts.”

Executive Summary: “Smuggling of migrants is defined by Article 3 of the Migrant Smuggling Protocol supplementing the United Nations Transnational Organized Crime Convention (UNTOC), as ‘…the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national.’ The specific nature of the sea-based component of the smuggling journey resulted in a dedicated section on the issue in the Migrant Smuggling Protocol. While smuggling by sea accounts only for a small portion of overall migrant smuggling around the world, the particular dangers of irregular travel at sea make it a priority for response; though more migrant smuggling occurs by air, more deaths occur by sea.

The journey of the migrant smuggled by sea often starts a significant distance away from the coast of departure. Some journeys to the coast may take mere days, but others can take place over years during which the migrant must work en route to raise money for his passage. Arduous desert crossings and victimization by smugglers and other criminals en route mean that some do not survive overland journeys to the coast. Contrasted with these extreme experiences, economically empowered migrants can afford a higher level of smuggling service and may experience no particular hardship, simply travelling through various international airport hubs toward the coastal country from where their sea journey commences.

The type and size of vessel used to smuggle migrants by sea depends on the time, place and financial capacity of migrants undertaking the smuggling journey. In some countries, boats of only a handful of passengers are commonly intercepted by authorities, while in others vessels of several hundred people have been used. While voyages may be comfortable when conditions at sea are mild and the vessel is equipped with adequate food, water and sanitation, the journey is a harrowing one for the majority of migrants who report rough conditions, terrible cold and scarce food and water.

The nature of the crime and its relationship with smuggling of migrants by land and by air means that it is a successful crime type that yields high profits for smugglers with all the risks being borne by migrants. Indeed, migrant smuggling by sea can be understood as a criminal business, which is competitively run as such. Smuggling by sea is generally carried out by flexible criminal groups or individuals operating on the basis of repeated contractual arrangements, rather than by hierarchical organizations.

There are two methods used when vessels approach coasts of destination. One aims to reach land by evading detection by authorities, the other sets out to be detected and intercepted or rescued by authorities in territorial waters of destination coastal countries. In both situations, detecting smuggling vessels at sea is a key challenge for coastal states which may have limited resources and large search and rescue areas of responsibility.

Upon detecting vessels, the key challenge is to balance objectives with obligations at international law, including the Migrant Smuggling Protocol. Smugglers are generally well‐informed about states’ protection obligations and act to exploit them, instructing migrants what to do upon interception to increase their chances of gaining entry into and remaining in countries of destination. For instance, officials responsible for intercepting vessels at sea have been faced with situations of people sabotaging their own vessels to force authorities to carry out rescues. Suggestions made in respect of encountering migrant smuggling at sea include increased support of coastal states through joint patrols and provision of resources, and increased compliance with international legal standards and obligations in carrying out interceptions of smuggling vessels at sea.

While responding to the situation at hand and ensuring that persons on board are appropriately assisted, a key challenge is to seize evidentiary opportunities to investigate smuggling‐related crimes. The complex nature of migrant smuggling networks and their modus operandi means that smugglers cannot be identified purely by looking to smugglers who may be on board boats; the transnational criminal network itself must be traced from a smuggling vessel, back to the coast of embarkation, and from there back to countries of transit and origin. Suggestions made for improved investigation and prosecution of migrant smuggling by sea include harmonizing domestic legislation with the UNTOC and the Migrant Smuggling Protocol. Further it is suggested that sentences imposed for smuggling offences be publicized as a means of deterring would-be smugglers. Capacity building measures are also suggested so as to increase identification of smugglers on vessels, and to better link sea-based crimes with land-based smugglers.

Preventing migrant smuggling by sea requires states to balance their obligations in international law with their legitimate interests in protecting state sovereignty from violation by organized crime groups. But law enforcement efforts alone are not adequate to prevent migrant smuggling by sea; the Migrant Smuggling Protocol stresses that prevention efforts must address root causes that lead a person into the hands of smugglers in the first place. Suggestions made for preventing migrant smuggling at sea include raising awareness about the dangers of sea smuggling journeys and the criminality of smuggling. Suggestions are also made to raise awareness of those who influence political and policy decisions, so policies put in place protect state sovereignty, uphold international obligations, and are not vulnerable to exploitation by smugglers. Also emphasised is the responsibility of coastal states of departure to intercept smuggling vessels before they embark on sea journeys. Beyond this, comprehensive data collection, analysis and research are suggested to strengthen evidence-based responses.

Experts from countries of origin, transit and destination unanimously agree that the most essential ingredient for effective and comprehensive response to migrant smuggling by sea is strengthened international cooperation to remove areas of impunity for smugglers along smuggling routes. Suggestions made for cooperating in response to migrant smuggling at sea include aligning activities with the Migrant Smuggling Protocol and increasing the role of UNODC in facilitating cooperative response. The value of bilateral and regional cooperation arrangements is stressed, with emphasis on flexible cooperative networks for effective and efficient on-the-ground response. Regular coordination meetings and joint operations are suggested to improve strategic and operational interagency coordination, as is the empowerment of central designated authorities to address migrant smuggling by sea.

In short, while it is difficult to make generalizations about migrant smuggling by sea, two key points hold true around the world. Firstly, migrant smuggling by sea is the most dangerous type of smuggling for the migrants concerned, making it a priority concern for State response. Secondly, efforts to combat smuggling of migrants will be unsuccessful unless cooperation is strengthened not only between countries of sea departure and arrival, but also among the countries of origin, transit and destination along the entire smuggling route.”

Click here for Issue Paper.

Click here for UNODC statement.

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EJML Article, B Nascimbene and A Di Pascale: “The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Extraordinary Influx of People who Arrived in Italy from North Africa”

The latest edition of the European Journal of Migration and Law, Volume 13, Number 4, contains an article by Bruno Nascimbene, Professor of European Union Law, Faculty of Law, University of Milan, and Alessia Di Pascale, Research Fellow, European Union Law, Faculty of Law, University of Milan, entitled “The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Extraordinary Influx of People who Arrived in Italy from North Africa”.

Abstract: “The ‘Arab spring’ which spread in early 2011 and the consequent exceptional influx of people that arrived on the Italian coasts from North Africa put the national reception and asylum systems under particular pressure, also raising the debate on the status to be attributed to these people. Faced with a situation out of the ordinary, Italy immediately addressed a request for help to the European Union, which has revealed the difference of views and mistrust existing between Member States in relation to these issues. This episode also calls into question the scope and effectiveness of the EU migration management framework, particularly in case of strong and unexpected pressure, and its implementation in a true spirit of solidarity.”

Click here for link.  (Subscription or payment required.)

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Filed under Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Tunisia, UNHCR

Migrant Boat Rescued by Armed Forces of Malta

An Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat rescued 44 Somalis from a sinking 7 metre dingy early Tuesday morning.  The rescue took place about 70 nautical miles south of Malta.  The migrants have been taken to Malta.  The boat is believed to have departed from Libya on Saturday.  Survivors reported that two persons died during the voyage.

Click here and here (with video) for articles.

In an incident last week, the Moroccan Royal Navy rescued 53 migrants from a boat off Dar Kabdani.  At least four persons are known to have died in that incident.

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

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Libyan Interception of Migrant Boat Carrying 400 May Have Been Staged

Libyan officials yesterday claimed that Libya intercepted a migrant boat shortly after it left Libya attempting to sail to Italy.  The boat was carrying over 400 migrants from sub-Saharan countries including Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria.  Journalists who interviewed some of the arrested migrants reported the incident appeared to have been staged.  Some migrants who “spoke briefly to Reuters said they had paid more than $1,000 each for the trip, and many believed the boat’s captain had had no intention of ever making for the European coast, but had handed them straight to the Libyan authorities. ‘We were deceived by these people, Libyans,’ said Isaac Okyere, a 27 year-old Ghanaian.  ‘They marched us to the Navy people,’ he said, adding that the boat was intercepted about 45 minutes after setting sail.”  Libyan officials denied the arrests were staged, but did admit that the boat’s captain (who apparently was not arrested) alerted officials in advance of the boat’s departure.  It was not reported where the arrested migrants have been taken or what will now happen to them.

Interior Minister Fawzi Abd al All told a news conference that the interception and arrests showed the new government was serious about stopping illegal migration to Europe:  “Despite a lack of means, we were able to prevent illegal immigration of people who were heading for Italy. … Illegal immigration was a means of pressure used by the former regime to blackmail Europe. Now this issue will be treated differently. …We expect support from the world” in preventing such trafficking.

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

Click here for video.

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New Italian Foreign Minister: Reactivation of Italy-Libya Friendship Treaty is Crucial

In a speech on 30 November to Parliament, Italy’s new Foreign Minister, Giulio Terzi, said the 2008 Italian-Libyan Friendship Agreement is crucial to bilateral relations between the two countries and that it therefore needs to be reactivated.  He announced he will travel to Libya as soon as the new Libyan government is ready to receive him.

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

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Malmström: Commission Hopes Migration Talks With Libya Will Begin Soon

In response to a parliamentary question submitted by Italian MEP Fiorello Provera (EFD, Northern League) regarding the “control of migratory flows in the southern Mediterranean”, Commissioner Cecilia Malmström provided a written response on 25 October in which she stated that “[t]he Commission hopes [migration discussions] will start as soon as possible with the Libyan authorities.”

In his question, MEP Provera praised the Italy-Libya Friendship Agreement:  “In an example of successful migration control, Italy and Libya signed a friendship treaty in 2008, which included measures to put Libya in charge of its 2 000 km coastline to stem the flow of illegal migrants into the EU. The agreement had an enormous impact: in 2008, 40 000 migrants attempted to cross illegally into Italy, but according to The Economist, the number of migrants was reduced to 4 406 in 2010. However, following the popular uprising against Gaddafi forces at the start of 2011, 27 000 immigrants managed to cross from Libya into Europe.”

Full text of Ms Malmström’s written response:   “The Commission would like to underline that the discussions which were held on 4 October 2010 in Tripoli by the Members of the Commission responsible for Home Affairs and Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy took place in a context, and with interlocutors, which have profoundly changed.

Although the tentative list of common actions identified in October 2010 (1) may still represent a basis for future cooperation between the EU and Libya in the areas of migration, asylum, visa policy and border management, it is clear that the pattern and content of this future cooperation will have to be substantially revised on the basis of new discussions. The Commission hopes these will start as soon as possible with the Libyan authorities.

The revision of the cooperation with Libya, in any case, is necessary also to take into account several important changes which have taken place not only in Libya but also in the EU since the spring.

In particular, the European Council of 24 June 2011 which approved a new policy approach towards the Southern Mediterranean countries. This approach will be characterised by the launch of a Dialogue on Migration, Mobility and Security with these countries aimed at reinforcing cooperation and strengthening relations with Europe’s southern neighbours.

(1) ‘common actions aimed at preventing irregular migration, addressing more effectively its consequences and root causes, promoting the use of the regular channels of migration and mobility, avoiding further loss of migrants’ lives as well as to protecting their fundamental rights’.”

Click here for Question and here for Answer.

Click here for article. (EN)

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Reports of First Post-Gaddafi Migrant Boat [UPDATED 2345 GMT – Lampedusa “Closed” for SAR Operations]

Italian media is reporting this afternoon that a satellite telephone distress call has been received from a disabled migrant boat carrying about 50 persons from Libya.  A search in the Maltese SAR zone is being undertaken.  The boat is reportedly drifting about 70 miles south of Lampedusa.  If the report is accurate, this would appear to be the first known migrant boat to have left Libya since the overthrow of Gaddafi.

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

[UPDATE 23:45 GMT – A Malta Today report suggests, as has been the case before, there may be  disagreement between Maltese and Italian officials regarding who has responsibility for coordinating SAR operations.  Malta Today reports that Malta is now coordinating SAR operations due to the “closure” of Lampedusa by Italian officials.  Click here for article.]

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Oxford Law Workshop: Governing Forced Migration by Sea: A Legal Perspective (Oxford, 18 Nov)

Limited places were available as of 6 November.  If interested, register ASAP.

“In the past decades, the phenomenon of ‘boat migration’ has increasingly been perceived as a problem. In the absence of a detailed legal regime, coastal states have adopted their own regulatory approaches, challenging at times the basis of their international obligations. In light of recent developments, including the flows of refugees fleeing the war in Libya, the increasingly important role played by the EU in this context, and the expected decision by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Hirsi v Italy, the workshop, through an extensive analysis of the legal framework, aims at detecting both the potentialities and shortcomings of the regime currently governing forced migration by sea, so that possible solutions and spaces for improvement may be identified.

The workshop will take place at the Old Library, All Souls College, Oxford, on Friday 18 November 2011. Places are limited and registration to violeta.morenolax@st-hildas.ox.ac.uk or irini.papanicolopulu@law.ox.ac.uk is essential.

Programme: 10h Welcome address by Chair Vaughan Lowe 10h15 Guy S Goodwin-Gill: Introduction to Key Issues on Forced Migration by Sea 10h45 Efthymios Papastavridis: The Law of the Sea and Forced Migration 11h15 Coffee Break 11h30 Seline Trevisanut: Non-Refoulement at Sea 12h Discussion on the morning session/ Q&A 13h Lunch 14h Violeta Moreno Lax: Joint Operation Hermes 14h30 Irini Papanicolopulu: Hirsi v Italy 15h Tullio Treves : Conclusions – Cross-fertilization as a Potential Solution 15h30 Discussion on the afternoon session/ Q&A.  Organised by Oxford Law Faculty

Click here for link.

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Italy Extends Temporary Permits for Tunisians Who Arrived Before 6 April 2011 and Extends Declaration of State of Emergency Relating to Influx of Migrants from North Africa

Italy has extended for an additional six month period the temporary residency permits issued to Tunisian migrants who arrived in Italy after 1 January 2011 and before 6 April 2011.  Italy also extended until 31 December 2012 the “Declaration of a state of humanitarian emergency in relation to the exceptional influx of citizens from the countries of North Africa.” (“Proroga dello stato di emergenza umanitaria in relazione all’eccezionale afflusso di cittadini appartenenti ai paesi del Nord Africa.”)

The decree granting the extension of the temporary residency permits noted the positive actions that have been undertaken by the Tunisian government pursuant to the bi-lateral agreement of 5 April 2011 between Italy and Tunisia, specifically the increased supervision of the Tunisian coast, Tunisia’s actions to prevent and fight against illegal immigration, and Tunisia’s cooperation with the repatriation of Tunisian nationals.  The decree noted that the new Tunisian government which will be formed after elections later this month will be expected to confirm and strengthen bi-lateral relations, especially in regard to the voluntary return programme and immigration controls.

(… “Rilevato che, in base all’accordo del 5 aprile 2011 tra il  Governo italiano e quello  tunisino,  sono  proseguite  con  risultati  molto positivi sia l’attivita’  di  vigilanza  sulle  coste  tunisine,  sia l’azione di prevenzione e di  contrasto  dell’immigrazione  illegale, sia le operazioni di  rimpatrio  dei  cittadini  tunisini  giunti  in Italia successivamente alla citata data del 5 aprile 2011; Preso atto delle rinnovate richieste, che  pervengono  dal  Governo provvisorio tunisino, di proseguire nelle  linee  di  cooperazione  e collaborazione gia’ avviate;  Considerato altresi’ che tale  rapporto  di  collaborazione  dovra’ essere confermato ed ulteriormente rafforzato con  il  nuovo  Governo tunisino che si insediera’ all’esito delle  consultazioni  elettorali per l’Assemblea Costituente del 23 ottobre 2011, in  particolar  modo per  il  proseguimento  dei  programmi  di  rimpatrio  volontario  e assistito e per una efficace politica di programmazione dei flussi;…”)

Click here for text of temporary residency decree.  (IT)

Click here for text of extension of humanitarian emergency decree.  (IT)

Click here and here for articles.  (IT)

Click here for link to ASGI web page with relevant information.

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Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia

6 Month Temporary Residency Permits Issued in April by Italy to 12,000 Tunisian Migrants Set to Expire

In April of this year Italy issued temporary residency permits to most of the Tunisian migrants who arrived in Italy between 1 January and 6 April.  Accelerated return procedures facilitated by a new bi-lateral agreement with Tunisia were implemented for Tunisians who arrived in Italy on or after 6 April.  The issuance of the temporary residency permits triggered the temporary closures of internal EU borders by France and other Schengen countries.

Approximately 11,800 temporary permits were issued by Italy and they are now beginning to expire.  Everyone Group reported over the weekend that a decision has been reached by the Italian government to extend the residency permits for an additional six month period.

Click here and here for articles. (IT)

Click here for report from Everyone Goup. (EN)

Click here for my previous post on the temporary residency permits.

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CoE Human Rights Commissioner Releases Report on Italy’s Treatment of Roma and Migrants

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, just released a report on Italy based upon his visit to Italy on 26-27 May 2011.  The report addresses concerns relating to the treatment of the Roma and Sinti and relating to the treatment of migrants, including migrants arriving from North Africa.

Excerpts:

“Strasbourg, 7 September 2011 – CommDH(2011)26 – English only

Report by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, following his visit to Italy from 26 to 27 May 2011

[***]

II. Protection of the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers

Rescue operations and interceptions at sea

The Commissioner welcomes the invaluable efforts of the Italian authorities aimed at rescuing migrants on boats crossing the Mediterranean. He strongly encourages the Italian authorities to maintain their long-standing tradition of rescue, which is all the more indispensable in the current context of forced migration from Libya. He calls on the Italian authorities to ensure that in all cases where migrants are in distress at sea their rescue and safety enjoy absolute priority over all other considerations, including any lack of clarity and agreement, notably between Italy and Malta, about responsibilities for rescue. With reference to the operations carried out jointly with Libya in the central Mediterranean aimed at intercepting migrants fleeing Libya on boats and returning them there (so-called push-backs), the Commissioner urges the Italian authorities to discontinue and refrain from becoming involved in any practices in the field of interceptions at sea that may result in migrants being sent to places where they are at risk of ill treatment or onward refoulement.

[***]

II. Protection of the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers

44. Following the political unrest in Tunisia and the armed conflict in Libya, the number of migrants, including asylum seekers, arriving on boats to Italy, and in particular Lampedusa, has increased sharply. Since mid-January, approximately 24 000 people have arrived from Tunisia. At the end of March 2011, migrants also started to arrive on boats from Libya (the biggest groups being nationals of Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, Eritrea and Somalia) and by 23 June their number had almost reached 20 000. In addition to arrivals from Tunisia and Libya, some 2 000 migrants landed in southern Italy on boats coming from Egypt, Greece and Turkey. On 23 June, the total figure of arrivals by sea to Italy since January 2011 therefore stood at around 46 000.

45. It is clear that these events pose a number of challenges relating to a wide range of human rights, including the right to seek asylum and the right to life, notably in connection with rescue operations at sea. With most of the migrants from Northern Africa seeking refuge and a new life in “Europe” generally, and not specifically in the countries that they reach first, the European dimension of these challenges is equally clear. Certainly, the ongoing military operations in Libya and their impact on migratory movements bound to Europe has lent further visibility to this European and international dimension. Accordingly, the Commissioner has on many occasions called for a greater European role, in the form of solidarity and co-operation in meeting the human rights challenges relating to arrivals of migrants, including asylum seekers, from Northern Africa, but unfortunately the response has been limited. The Commissioner reiterates this call in respect of the situation with which Italy is confronted at the moment.

46. At the same time, the Commissioner wishes to stress that Italy must abide by its human rights obligations vis-à-vis all migrants, including asylum seekers, who find themselves within Italy’s jurisdiction – a responsibility which in the Commissioner’s view has not been met fully. While the Italian authorities have taken a number of steps to protect the human rights of these persons, from rescue at sea through to reception and access to asylum, concerns remain in different subject areas, some of which are highlighted below.

47. More generally, the Commissioner wishes to stress that a more objective and balanced representation of the migration movements prompted by the events in Northern Africa, and notably the conflict in Libya, would assist in ensuring a human rights compliant response to these phenomena in both Italy and Europe as a whole. In this respect, the Commissioner notes that the 20 000 arrivals from Libya to Italy mentioned above stand, at least for the moment, in stark contrast with the many times greater forecasts concerning the potential number of arrivals from Libya which had been made publicly in Italy at the beginning of the conflict. It is also sobering to note that these arrivals account for around 2% of the persons having left Libya as a result of the conflict. Indeed, 98% of the approximately 1 100 000 people who have left Libya so far have done so by crossing land borders into Tunisia, Egypt, Niger, Chad and Algeria.

a. Rescue operations and interceptions at sea

48. The Italian authorities, and particularly the coast guard and customs police, have been instrumental in saving the lives of many migrants who have attempted to reach European shores from Northern Africa on unseaworthy boats. Rescue operations have obviously intensified in recent months, reflecting the increase in departures of migrant boats from Tunisia and Libya since January 2011.

49. Over the same time period, however, at least as many as 1 500 persons have lost their lives while trying to cross the Mediterranean to seek a safe haven. The Commissioner notes that responsibilities remain to be ascertained in certain cases. For instance, in an episode which is currently being investigated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and which resulted in the death at sea of 61 persons, including over 20 women and children, a boat carrying 72 migrants was left adrift for two weeks in spite of its presence having reportedly been signalled to the authorities of Italy, Malta and NATO, and the boat itself having been spotted by a helicopter and a passing vessel of unidentified nationalities. The Commissioner notes that in some cases, lack of clarity and agreement, notably between Italy and Malta, about responsibilities for rescue may delay operations or otherwise put the lives of migrants in distress at risk. More generally, the Commissioner finds it difficult to accept that people in distress at sea can face death in one of the busiest areas of the Mediterranean, especially now with the large numbers of military and other vessels in the area.

50. The Commissioner also notes that since May 2009, and up to the beginning of the armed conflict in Libya in February 2011, the Italian authorities have carried out operations jointly with Libya in the central Mediterranean, aimed at intercepting migrants fleeing Libya on boats and returning them there (so-called respingimenti, or push-backs). The practice has been repeatedly criticised for violating international human rights law, as migrants, including asylum seekers, are returned to Libya where they risk being ill-treated or in turn deported to other countries where they are exposed to such a risk, without being given an opportunity to seek and enjoy international protection through an individual assessment of their case. Indeed, in a case that is currently pending before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, a group of Somali and Eritrean migrants who were travelling by boat from Libya have argued that the decision of the Italian authorities to intercept their vessels on the high seas and send them straight back to Libya exposed them to a risk of ill-treatment there, as well as to a serious threat of being sent back to their countries of origin, where they might also face ill-treatment.24

51. The Commissioner notes that the beginning of these operations started shortly after the conclusion of agreements between Italy and Libya in 2008 and 2009.25 In his 2009 report on Italy, the Commissioner expressed “his disapproval of bilateral or multilateral agreements for the forced return of irregular migrants to countries with long-standing, proven records of torture”,26 a concern which was shared by the Parliamentary Assembly in June 2010.27 In February 2011, following the beginning of the armed conflict in Libya, Italy announced that it had suspended the implementation of its agreements with Libya. However, the Commissioner also notes that on 17 June 2011, Italy signed with the Libyan National Transitional Council a Memorandum of Understanding, which refers to the commitments contained in the agreements previously signed with Libya and provides for mutual assistance and co-operation in combating irregular immigration, “including the repatriation of immigrants in an irregular situation.”28

Conclusions and recommendations

52. The Commissioner welcomes the invaluable efforts of the Italian authorities aimed at rescuing migrants on boats in the Mediterranean, which have saved thousands of lives over the past months and years. He strongly encourages the Italian authorities to maintain their long-standing tradition of rescue, a task which is all the more indispensable in the current context of forced migration from Libya.

53. At the same time, the Commissioner calls on the Italian authorities to ensure that in all cases where migrants are in distress at sea their rescue and safety enjoy absolute priority over all other considerations. The attention of the Italian authorities is drawn to the PACE resolution 1821 (2011)29 adopted in June 2011, which calls on member states to “fulfil without exception and without delay their obligation to save people in distress at sea.”30 In this connection, the Commissioner recalls that on 8 April, just two days after a boat from Libya carrying more than 220 migrants capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa causing the death by drowning of more than 200 persons, UNHCR recommended that “[a]ny overcrowded boat leaving Libya these days should be considered to be in distress.” On the same occasion UNHCR also underlined that “[a] long-standing tradition of saving lives at sea may be at risk if it becomes an issue of contention between States as to who rescues whom.”

54. The Commissioner urges the Italian authorities to discontinue and refrain from becoming involved in any practices in the field of interceptions at sea that may result in migrants being sent to places where they are at risk of ill treatment or onward refoulement. The Commissioner wishes to highlight that when a state exercises effective control, authority or power over third-country nationals rescued or intercepted at sea (including the state’s own territorial waters, those of another state and international waters) its obligations include ensuring effective access to adequate asylum determination procedures and not returning individuals to countries where they would face a real risk of persecution or treatment contrary notably to Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of torture) of the ECHR.

55. In this connection, the Commissioner draws once more the attention of the Italian authorities to the PACE resolution 1821 (2011) which calls on member states to: “refrain from any practices that might be tantamount to direct or indirect refoulement, including on the high seas, in keeping with the UNHCR’s interpretation of the extraterritorial application of that principle and with the relevant judgements of the European Court of Human Rights”; and to “suspend any bilateral agreements they may have concluded with third states if the human rights of those intercepted are not appropriately guaranteed therein, particularly the right of access to an asylum procedure, and wherever these might be tantamount to a violation of the principle of non-refoulement […].”31

56. In accordance with UNHCR’s recommendations on protection with regard to people fleeing from Libya, the Commissioner strongly encourages the Italian authorities to continue to keep the country’s borders open for people who are forced to flee from Libya and are in need of international protection.32

[***]”

Click here for Report.

Click here for CoE Press Statement.

Click here for CoE Human Rights website regarding human rights of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

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Filed under Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Reports, Tunisia

3rd Anniversary of Italy-Libya Treaty on Friendship, Partnership and Co-operation

This past Tuesday, 30 August, marked the third anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Friendship, Partnership and Co-operation by Italy and Libya.  The Agreement was signed in Benghazi in 2008 by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and then Libyan leader Gaddafi.  The Agreement included a provision calling for the “intensification of the ongoing cooperation in the context of the fight against terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking and clandestine migration.” (See p. 2 of UNHCR’s Third Party submission to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Hirsi and Others v. Italy (Application no. 27765/09) for more information regarding the history of the Agreement.)  The Agreement, which included a provision for the payment by Italy to Libya of $5 billion in compensation for colonial occupation, paved the way for Libya’s implementation of the  provisions of an earlier agreement signed in December 2007 which provided the basis for joint Italy-Libya maritime patrols and Italy’s so-called “push-back” practice.  The first push-back operations began in May 2009.  As I’ve noted in previous posts, the Libyan NTC has given Italy assurances that a new Libyan government will honour the terms of the Friendship Agreement.

Click here (IT), here (EN), and here (EN) for articles from 2008.

Click here for UNHCR’s Third Party Submission to the ECtHR in the Hirsi case.

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Italy Hopes to Revive Libyan Friendship Treaty, Including Migration Control Provisions

Italian officials, including Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa, said yesterday that the Italian-Libyan friendship treaty signed in 2008 by Prime Minister Berlusconi and Gaddafi should be revived once a new government takes power in Libya.  The head of the Libyan National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has previously said that the provisions of the treaty, including the migration control provisions, would be respected by the new Libyan government.  Italian Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Alfredo Mantica, is quoted by ANSA as saying that “the first duty of Italy will be to update the part [of the treaty] relating to migration” as soon as the situation in Libya has stabilized. [“Mantica ha spiegato che ‘il primo dovere dell’Italia sarà quello di aggiornare la parte che riguarda i flussi migratori’ del Trattato di amicizia italo-libico, non appena la situazione in Libia si sarà stabilizzata.”]

Click here and here for articles. (IT)

Click here and here for previous posts about Libyan NTC’s statements regarding the treaty.

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