Tag Archives: Mediterranean

EMHRN Recommendations to the Incoming Spanish EU Presidency

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) has conveyed a series of recommendations to the new Spanish EU Presidency regarding the Union for the Mediterranean and the European Neighbourhood Policy.

Relevant excerpts include:

“Migration and Asylum


In relation to asylum, the EMHRN wishes to underline the following elements:

Refugees and asylum seekers face great difficulties when trying to reach safe havens in the EU.  Due to push back operations and severe, indiscriminate border control policies, including EU supported operations in third countries, asylum seekers often find themselves trapped in North Africa and in the Middle East (MENA), that do not offer them any sort of protection despite the presence of the UNHCR.

Several countries of the region have not yet ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees and none of the countries from the region has a proper asylum system. Refugees and asylum seekers face extreme vulnerability and are often prevented from accessing their most basic rights. …

In relation to border control, the EU and its member states are keen on promoting cooperation with third countries with the purpose of better controlling migratory flows. It remains that the EU has, until now, failed to properly integrate a human rights dimension to such cooperation policies.

Most countries of the region criminalize irregular migration. Migrants are being arbitrarily arrested and put in detention, with no possibility of appeal. They may face ill treatment and unlawful deportation.

The conclusion of readmission agreements is promoted by the EU and its members. Negotiations have been ongoing for several years between the EU and Morocco to conclude such an agreement. A mandate has also been given by the Member states to negotiate an agreement with Algeria.

The EMHRN believes that returning migrants to countries other than their own, or to countries where they have no anchor and no legal residency, may put them in danger.

Push back and interception operations, including at sea, are other policy instruments promoted by the EU and its member states. Several of these operations have resulted in endangering the security of migrants and asylum seekers and may have resulted in a violation of the ‘non refoulement’ principle.

The EMHRN acknowledges the right of a state to control its borders. However, the EMHRN calls on the Spanish Presidency to actively promote policies ensuring that

  • • cooperation with third countries from the region does not endanger migrants and refugees.
  • •cooperation policy in the field of border management considers the impact of such measures on the access of refugees to international protection mechanisms, including in Europe.
  • • the EU member states strictly respect the principle of ‘non refoulement’ as well as their obligation under article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
  • no person is returned to a country other than its own or where he/she has no legal residency.”

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African migrants and their desperate ploy for a better life – Times Online

From The Sunday Times Magazine, 22 November 2009:

“Meet the survivors, bereaved families from Gambia and Senegal, and a man who smuggles the people — at a colossal price.”

“… The routes [African migrants] take are many and varied. From west Africa, migrants trek through the pitiless Sahara to Libya, from there to brave the Mediterranean — or, more perilous yet, strike out for the Canary Islands in fragile canoes known as ‘pirogues’.  If they then cross to the Spanish mainland they will probably do so in tiny, open Spanish fishing boats. An estimated one in every eight migrants who try to travel across the ocean to Europe don’t make it, their bodies carried out into the cold Atlantic. Those who perish are identified only by chance, their skeletons dredged from the sea by Italian and Spanish trawlers, or their bodies washed on to beaches used by holidaymakers…”

Full article:  African migrants and their desperate ploy for a better life – Times Online.

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Filed under Eastern Atlantic, Gambia, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Senegal, Spain

Libya’s Selective Immigration Enforcement and Italy’s Foreign Policy Concessions

Dr Emanuela Paoletti, a junior research fellow at Somerville College, Oxford, has an article in the electronic journal Pambazuka News discussing “Libya’s selective enforcement of restrictive immigration policies as a means of gaining foreign policy concessions from Italy.”

“Since the late 1990s, immigration from Libya to Italy had increased significantly, from less than 5,000 in 2000 to 30,000 in 2008. In May 2009, Gaddafi made his first trip to Italy, which was followed by a second visit on the occasion of the meeting of the G20. Concomitant with these visits, there was a drastic reduction in migration from Libya. From 1 May 2008 to 31 August 2008, 15,000 people arrived to Italy from Libya; in the same period in 2009 only 1,400 have landed on Italian shores. The Italian minister of interior, Roberto Maroni could recently announce, immigration from Libya in 2009 has decreased by 90 per cent compared to 2008. What explains the drastic decrease in ‘illegal’ migration from Libya to Italy?”

Click here for the full article.

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Filed under Analysis, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean

Migrant Arrivals in Malta Lowest in 5 Years

Di-ve.com reports that migrant arrivals in Malta in 2009 were the lowest since 2004.

“Sources close to Frontex … believe that a number of factors helped …  Frontex’s Nautilus patrols, the strengthening of border controls in the Central Mediterranean and tighter inland measures in member states certainly discouraged movement of migrants. … The agreement between Italy and Libya for migrants to be returned to Libya also had an impact but …there are also agreements in place with Algeria and Tunisia, while Libya also reached an agreement with Niger, which is another popular transit country for migrants heading towards Europe. There has been a shift towards the eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey and the Aegean islands seeing numbers increase, the sources said.”

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Boats 21 12 53 48 57 68 84 17
Migrants 1686 502 1388 1822 1780 1702 2775 1475

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Filed under Data / Stats, Frontex, Malta, Mediterranean, News

JRS Malta – “Do They Know? Asylum Seekers Testify to Life in Libya”

The Jesuit Refugee Service Malta released a report entitled “Do They Know? Asylum Seekers Testify to Life in Libya.”

“Since May 2009, some 1409 migrants, attempting to reach a place where they could obtain protection or the possibility to live in safety and dignity, were pushed back to Libya.  These actions were widely criticised and held by many to be a violation of international law, as Libya does not have the mechanisms in place to grant protection to those who need it and there is evidence that those returned would be at risk of harm.”

“JRS Malta believes that returning migrants to Libya, where they cannot obtain effective protection if they need it and where they face a real risk of serious harm, violates international law. We therefore call upon the government to:

• Ensure that all asylum seekers within Malta’s effective jurisdiction are allowed to apply for protection.

• Rescue migrants intercepted by the AFM if they have requested assistance, as otherwise their safety cannot be guaranteed

• Ensure that all those rescued within Malta’s Search and Rescue Area are disembarked at a safe port, where those in search of protection can seek asylum

• Refrain from actions that will result, directly or indirectly, in the return of migrants to a country where they risk suffering serious violations of their fundamental human rights.”

Click here for copy of JRS Malta statement.

Click here for the report “Do They Know? Asylum Seekers Testify to Life in Libya.”

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Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Reports

Frontex Warns Malta About Refugee Resettlement Consequences

MaltaToday reported last month that Frontex officials have warned Malta that resettlement agreements between Malta and the USA and other countries are being used by organised criminal smuggling organisations to market Malta as a preferred destination.

The information was provided at a “Frontex debriefing meeting held in Caltanisetta in Sicily, where military and governmental officials from EU Member States were given details about the recent Nautilus IV mission held in the Mediterranean during this summer…  Senior military sources told MaltaToday that Frontex officials spoke of intelligence that showed how criminals behind the lucrative illegal migration trade were ‘actually marketing Malta as the right destination to direct migrants,’ given that it has now become public that the US is accepting migrants from Malta.”

Over 400 refugees have been resettled from Malta to the USA, France, and other countries.

Click here for article.

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ECtHR Communicates Case of ‘Hirsi et Autres c. Italie’ Relating to Italy’s Summary Migrant Interdiction Programme

On 17 November the Second Section of the European Court of Human Rights communicated the case of Hirsi and others v Italy, Requête no 27765/09.  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.

The Applicants allege violations of numerous provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights including:

Protocol 4 Art. 4 Prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens;

Art. 3 Torture;

Art. 1 (1) General undertaking/HPC;

Art. 13 Effective remedy/national authority; and

Art. 3 Inhuman or degrading treatment.

The Statement of facts, complaints and questions put by the Court to the parties is currently available only in French:


Invoquant l’article 3 de la Convention, lu en conjonction avec l’article 1 de la Convention, les requérants se plaignent de ce que les modalités de leur renvoi en Libye, ainsi que leur séjour dans ce pays ou leur rapatriement dans leurs pays respectifs les soumettrait au risque de subir des tortures ou des traitements inhumains et dégradants.

Invoquant l’article 4 du Protocole no 4, lu en conjonction avec l’article 1 de la Convention, ils affirment avoir fait l’objet d’une expulsion collective atypique et dépourvue de toute base légale.

Invoquant l’article 13, les requérants dénoncent l’impossibilité de contester devant les autorités italiennes leur renvoi en Libye et le risque de rapatriement dans leurs pays d’origine.



1.  Les faits dont les requérants se plaignent en l’espèce relèvent-ils de la juridiction de l’Italie ?

2.  La décision des autorités italiennes d’intercepter en haute mer les embarcations et de renvoyer immédiatement les requérants, compte tenu notamment des informations provenant de sources internationales et concernant les conditions des migrants clandestins en Libye, a-t-elle exposé les requérants au risque d’être soumis à des traitements contraires à l’article 3 de la Convention dans ce pays ?

3.  Compte tenu des allégations des requérants (voir formulaire de requête annexé), y a-t-il des motifs sérieux de craindre que le rapatriement dans leurs pays d’origine, soit la Somalie et l’Érythrée, les exposerait à des traitements contraires à l’article 3 ?

4.  Le renvoi des requérants en Libye de la part des autorités italiennes s’analyse-t-il en une expulsion contraire à l’article 4 du Protocole no 4 ?

5.  Les intéressés ont-ils eu accès à un recours effectif devant une instance nationale garanti par l’article 13 de la Convention pour faire valoir leurs droits garantis par les articles 3 et 4 du Protocole no 4 ?


Le gouvernement défendeur est également invité à fournir à la Cour toute information disponible concernant :

– Le nombre de migrants irréguliers arrivés mensuellement sur les côtes italiennes, et en particulier à Lampedusa, au cours des dernières années ;

– L’entité et l’origine du phénomène migratoire en Libye ; la législation en la matière en vigueur dans ce pays ; le traitement réservé par les autorités libyennes aux migrants irréguliers arrivés en Libye directement ou suite au renvoi depuis l’Italie.

Le Gouvernement est également invité à produire à la Cour les textes des accords signés par les gouvernement italien et le gouvernement libyen les 27 décembre 2007 et 4 février 2009.

Il est enfin invité à expliquer à la Cour le rapport existant entre les opérations prévues par les accords bilatéraux avec la Libye et l’activité de l’ « Agence européenne pour la gestion de la coopération opérationnelle aux frontières extérieures des États membres de l’Union européenne (Frontex) ».

Click here for “The Statement of facts, complaints and questions put by the Court.”


Filed under European Court of Human Rights, Italy, Judicial, Mediterranean

Italian Court Upholds Prison Sentence for Deaths of 283 Migrants in 1996 (News)

The Italian Court of Cassation (La Quinta sezione penale della Cassazione) on 9 December upheld a 30 year prison sentence for a Lebanese ship captain found responsible for the deaths of 283 migrants on 26 December 1996 when two smuggling ships collided between Malta and Sicily.  Most of the migrants were from Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka.  The captain is still at large.

Click here and here (Italian) for articles.

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Libya Interdicts Migrants in Maltese Waters for First Time (News)

On 23 November a Libyan patrol boat intercepted approximately 80 Eritrean and Somali migrants in Maltese waters near Sicily.  The migrants were returned directly to Libya and reportedly taken to a Libyan detention centre.  This may have been the first time that Libyan authorities intercepted migrants in Maltese waters.

The UNHCR expressed concern over the incident.  “’This practice of getting the Libyan authorities to come directly [into non-Libyan waters] reduces even further the guarantees given to migrants arriving in Europe,’ said [UNHCR spokesperson Laura] Boldrini.”

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COE Commissioner for HR Releases Letters to Italy and Malta (Statements)

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, released copies of two letters he sent last August to the Minister of Interior of Italy, Roberto Maroni, and to the Minister for Justice and Home Affairs, of Malta, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici in regard to the incident in August when a boat carrying over 70 migrants was left adrift for over two weeks.  Most of the migrants died.

A statement on the Commissioner’s web page states as follows:

“I publish these letters in order to reopen the discussion on the need to fully align migration practices with human rights standards. This serious incident should be effectively investigated” said the Commissioner. “Four of the five survivors have been granted refugee status in Italy and one is waiting for the decision on her application. This is good news. However, there is still an urgent need to take all necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies. Regrettably, the authorities have not replied so far.”

In his letters, the Commissioner also underlined that the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appeared to have been neglected. He therefore recommended that both countries concerned engage in a constructive cooperation to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles.

“The protection of the human rights of migrants needs urgent attention” said the Commissioner. “Every European country should act in a spirit of solidarity towards other countries, discharge its responsibilities under international law and effectively protect migrants, whose fundamental rights are at serious risk.”

Relevant excerpts from the letters:

Letter to Italian Minister Maroni, Ministry of the Interior – 25 August 2009

“[O]ne element is already evident: these people have not benefited from international humanitarian protection. In particular, the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appears to have been neglected. The Italian Coast Guard and other agencies – as well as fishermen – have shown until recently a laudable record of rescuing at sea hundreds of irregular migrants attempting to reach Italy. What happened this time? Have the provisions set out in the new security package played a deterrent role? Is the cooperation with the Coast Guards of other countries not functioning properly, thereby preventing boats in distress from being spotted and rescued?”

“Indeed, many migrants are human beings in dire circumstances who deserve our attention and respect. A substantial number of them are fleeing persecution or violence; this necessitates the provision of international protection. All European countries, not only Italy, must grant protection to migrants and cooperate more effectively to handle migration flows in a coherent manner, with full regard to humanitarian principles.

I hope that the Italian government will take all necessary measures to avoid such tragedies in the future. In this context, a constructive cooperation with the authorities in Malta, to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles, would be highly beneficial.”

“The survivors of such tragedies should of course not be criminalised. Instead, they should be provided with all the necessary assistance. Their right to apply for asylum should be fully respected, and their request examined with the utmost attention. The situation of their country of origin and of departure should also be taken into account.

I deeply believe that it is both wrong and counterproductive to politicise migration issues. It is much more in keeping with our common values – and, ultimately, more effective – to address them based on a comprehensive and cooperative approach, guided by human rights and humanitarian principles.”

Click here for the Italian letter.

Letter to Maltese Minister Bonnici, Justice and Home Affairs Ministry – 26 August 2009

“[T]he people on the ill-fated boat have not benefited from international

humanitarian protection. In particular, the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appears to have been neglected. What happened? Is the cooperation with the Coast Guards of other countries not functioning properly, thereby preventing boats in distress from being spotted and rescued?”

“Migratory flows present major challenges to many European countries. A common European approach is therefore needed to meet those challenges. I have raised the issue with the Swedish Presidency of the European Union. There is a need for responsibility-sharing, where every country is ready to contribute in a spirit of solidarity, not only with regard to the reception capacities of other countries, but also vis-à-vis migrants themselves. Many migrants are human beings in dire circumstances who deserve our attention and respect. A substantial number of them are fleeing persecution or violence and deserve international protection.”

“I hope that the Maltese government will take all necessary measures for such tragedies to be avoided in the future. A constructive cooperation with the authorities in Italy, to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles, would be highly beneficial. I hope it will be possible to address these crucial issues with a cooperative approach, guided by human rights norms.”

Click here for the Maltese letter.

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Filed under Council of Europe, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Statements

France: Frontex Nautilus IV Operation is a Failure (News)

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson has characterized Frontex’s ongoing Nautilus IV operation which is based in Malta as “a complete failure.”  He said the legal uncertainty regarding member state responsibility for intercepted boats hampered the operation and caused some member states to withdraw from the operation.

Italy, for example, has refused to contribute assets to the Nautilus IV operation due to a dispute over where intercepted migrants should be taken.  Italy of course is unilaterally returning migrants who it intercepts directly to Libya without offering the intercepted migrants an opportunity to make asylum or other claims for protection.

Click here and here for articles.

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Filed under France, Frontex, Italy, Malta, Mediterranean, News

Italian Court in Sicily Acquits Germans Who Rescued Migrants at Sea (News)

A Court in Sicily acquitted three Germans from the humanitarian organization Cap Anamur of criminal charges that they aided illegal immigrants by bringing a group of migrants they rescued to shore in Sicily in 2004.

Click here, here, and here for articles.

Click here for link to Cap Anamur’s web page.

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Italy Responds to EC Request for Information on Push-Back Practice (News)

The Italian Government formally responded to the EC request for details regarding its push-back policy that has been in effect since May.  The response is contained in a letter dated 8 September and released to the media today.

Italy claims that none of the 757 migrants intercepted since May and subsequently forcibly returned to Libya made a request for asylum: none of the immigrants taken to Libya between May 6 and August 30 ”made any request for international protection or mention of persecution in their own country”.

The claim by Italy that not a single migrant asked for protection strains credulity.  It is inconsistent with among other things the incident in August when 75 Somali migrants who were intercepted by the Italians used a satellite telephone to call a BBC reporter in Italy to request help before they were turned over to Libyan authorities.  One caller told the BBC reporter ”we told the Italian military that we wanted to request asylum and asked them not to hand us over to the Libyans because we were afraid of going to jail, but they wouldn’t listen to us.”   Click here for the article regarding this incident.

The Italian letter also seeks to counter criticism that Libya does not protect the rights of asylum seekers and is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Protocol by noting that Libya has ratified an African Union Convention on refugees ”obliging it to guarantee protection of anyone facing persecution”.

Click here for article.

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

Italian Public Prosecutor Challenges Constitutionality of Italy’s New Anti-Immigration Law (News)

The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Agrigento, Sicily, has asked for a halt of the criminal trial of 21 migrants who landed illegally in Sicily and who are being criminally prosecuted under Italy’s new anti-immigration laws which, among other things, make it a criminal offense to enter the country illegally.   The Public Prosecutor is asking that the question of the law’s constitutionality be submitted to Italy’s Constitutional Court.  The criminal court judge is considering the request.

According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the law is inconsistent with the Italian Constitution and the UN Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air which obligates states to assist and protect migrants in difficulty, not to criminally prosecute such migrants.

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Frontex Concedes it “May Be Helping” with Italian Push-Back Practice (News)

A Frontex spokesperson has modified Frontex’s strong denial several days ago that it had no involvement in or responsibility for the Italian push-back practice in the Mediterranean.

Frontex now concedes that it is assisting the Italians with the detection and interception of migrant boats, but that Frontex has no information regarding what happens to intercepted migrants after the Italian coastguard intercepts them.

“In an interview with European Voice [reporter Judith Crosbie], [Frontex spokesperson Gil] Arias-Fernández said: ‘Technically speaking, assets co-ordinated by Frontex are taking part in operations in the area and … these people could be sent back to their country of origin.’ But he said to hold Frontex responsible for the return of migrants to Libya was ‘far from reality’. ‘We can’t be accountable for decisions taken by Italy,’ he said.”  Arias- Fernández, however, conceded that Frontex might bear some moral responsibility for the push-back practice.

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Filed under Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News