Tag Archives: NATO

NATO Expands Aegean Sea Migrant Patrols Into Turkish and Greek Territorial Waters – Rescued Migrants to Be Automatically Returned to Turkey

NATO announced on Sunday, 6 March, that its Aegean Sea patrols have been expanded to Greek and Turkish territorial waters. NATO patrols have been operating only in international waters. And while NATO says its ‘mission is not to stop or turn back those trying to cross into Europe’, NATO has made it clear that NATO ships will return rescued migrants directly to Turkey: ‘In case of rescue at sea of persons coming via Turkey, they will be taken back to Turkey.’ NATO’s plan to summarily return intercepted migrants is consistent with previous statements made by the British and German defence ministers who have said that the purpose of the NATO mission is to stop migrants and return them to Turkey.

NATO’s characterisation of its operation seems to be an attempt to draw a distinction between a push-back practice where any migrant boat, regardless of whether it is in need of rescue, would be intercepted and pushed back and a search and rescue operation providing assistance to migrant boats in need of rescue. This is meaningless distinction given the current situation in the Aegean where every migrant boat is in need of assistance or rescue.

NATO ships are subject to the same rescue at sea obligations imposed by the SOLAS and SAR Conventions as all other ships and are obligated to disembark rescued persons in a ‘place of safety.’ And while disembarking in Turkey is safer than disembarking in Syria or Libya, there are serious questions as to whether Turkey is a place of safety. See the recent Q&A issued by Human Rights Watch concluding that Turkey is not a ‘safe third country’ as defined by EU law. While the question of a ‘place of safety’ under the SAR Convention is not identical to the ‘safe third country’ question under EU law, the fact remains that rescued migrants should not in all cases be automatically returned to Turkey without adequate screening and processing. The failure to screen rescued migrants is a clear violation of the non-refoulement obligations of the individual EU and non-EU States operating under the NATO command.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, European Union, Frontex, General, Greece, News, Turkey

WikiLeaks Releases Classified Documents Describing EU Plans For Military Strikes Against Libyan Migrant Smugglers

WikiLeaks has released two documents which describe the EU plans for possible military attacks on boats used by migrant smugglers in Libya:

Document 1: “Military Advice on the “Draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean””(also here)

Document 2: “PMG Recommendations on the draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean” (also here)

WikiLeaks Press Statement:

“EU plan for military intervention against ‘refugee boats’ in Libya and the Mediterranean

Today, WikiLeaks is releasing two classified EU documents, outlining the planned military intervention against boats travelling from Libya to Italy. The more significant of the two documents was written by the combined military defence chiefs of the EU member states. The plan was formally approved by representatives from all 28 countries on 18 May 2015.

Importantly, one of the documents acknowledges that ‘the political End State [of the military intervention] is not clearly defined’ and recommends that the European Commission issue further guidance.

The documents lay out a military operation against cross-Mediterranean refugee transport networks and infrastructure. It details plans to conduct military operations to destroy boats used for transporting migrants and refugees in Libyan territory, thereby preventing them from reaching Europe. The EU member states’ military chiefs advice is that there is a need to:

‘[draw] on the full range of surveillance, intelligence and information capabilities available to MS [member states] and Partners, and supported by Brussels (inter alia EEAS [European External Action Service] Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity – SIAC)’.

The plan also acknowledges the possibility of EU military use of force against groups such as ISIL ‘within the Libyan sovereign area’:

‘the threat to the force should be acknowledged, especially during activities such as boarding and when operating on land or in proximity to an unsecured coastline, or during interaction with non-seaworthy vessels. The potential presence of hostile forces, extremists or terrorists such as Da’esh [ISIL] should also be taken into consideration’.

The documents mark a departure from previous EU military strategy in its overt targeting of civilian infrastructure in Libya. Numerous EU countries, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom participated in NATO-led air strikes on Libya in 2011.

Human rights organisations have called on the EU not to put the lives of refugees and migrants at risk. The plan acknowledges that the EU risks negative publicity ‘should loss of life be attributed, correctly or incorrectly, to action or inaction by the EU force’. To manage this reputational risk, the documents recommend ‘an EU information strategy from the outset’ in order to ‘facilitate expectation management’. They also acknowledge the ‘need to calibrate military activity’ particularly within Libyan waters or ashore ‘in order to avoid destabilising the political process by causing collateral damage, disrupting legitimate economic activity or creating a perception of having chosen sides’.

Boats transporting people from Libya are the main means for refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa to reach safety in Europe. Since the destruction of the Libyan government in 2011 there has been a sharp increase in the numbers of refugees travelling to Europe from Libya. In 2014 more than 170,000 people are estimated to have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya. In 2014, this made up 60 per cent of the entire irregular migration into the EU.”

WikiLeaks description of Document 1 -“Military Advice on the “Draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean”” (also here):

“Classified EU plan, approved by EU member states defence chiefs, for a year long (at least) military operation against Mediterranean refugee transport networks and infrastructure, including the destruction of docked boats and operations within Libya’s territorial boundaries. The document is significant. It sets out the intent of EU defence chiefs: the EU will deploy military force against civilian infrastructure in Libya to stop refugee flows. Given the previous attacks on Libya by several EU NATO members and Libya’s proven oil reserves, the plan may lead to other military involvement in Libya. Formally, the document is approved Military Advice from the European Union Military Committee (EUMC) to the Political and Security Committee (PSC) on a “Draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean”.

WikiLeaks description of Document 2 – “PMG Recommendations on the draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean” (also here):

“This is the document of recommendations from the Politico-Military Group (PMG) and Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management (CIVCOM), who work with the support of the General Secretariat of the Council in the Council of the European Union, to the Political and Security Committee (PSC) on the “Draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean”. On 5th May 2015 the PSC discussed a possible EU military CSPD operation to disrupt human trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean region, including seizure or destruction of shipping vessels, based on a Crisis Management Concept (CMC).”

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Filed under European Union, Mediterranean, News

NATO Ready to Assist EU With Anti-Smuggler Operations in Libya if Requested

ANSA reports that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO will consider any EU request for assistance in regard to EU military operations against smugglers in Libya: “’Let’s let the EU take its own decisions,’ Stoltenberg said amid mooted plans to destroy people-smuggler boats. …’If the EU makes requests of us we will consider them seriously, but so far it hasn’t,’ Stoltenberg said. According to Reuters, “U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute “said information-sharing between NATO and the EU could be possible. Accurate intelligence pinpointing smugglers’ vessels would be key to the success of the operation.”

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Report- “Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat Case”

A report has been released which addresses new details surrounding the deaths of 63 migrants who died one year ago after their disabled boat drifted for days within an area that was heavily patrolled by NATO warships.  The report, Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat Case- 11April2012, was prepared by researchers at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London, and by others, and was released earlier today in conjunction with the announcement in Paris by a coalition of NGOs that a legal process against the French military for alleged failure to rescue has been commenced by several survivors from the migrant boat.

Click here for today’s Guardian article on the Report.

Excerpt: “1.1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The UNHCR defined 2011 as the “deadliest year” in the Mediterranean since the organisation began recording these statistics in 2006, estimating that over 1,500 migrants died while fleeing Libya during the initial stages of the violent conflict.  This number is extremely high in comparison to the 13,417 deaths documented from 1988 to March 2012 at the maritime borders of the EU, and the 6,226 deaths occurred solely in the Sicily Channel during the same period.  Furthermore, the loss of lives at sea in 2011 occurred despite the significant naval and aerial presence in the area due to the military intervention in Libya launched by an international coalition of states and NATO (hereafter referred to as ”participating states/NATO”) under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

One particular event, reported by the international press, provoked widespread public outrage. In the case of what is now referred to as the “left-to-die boat”, 72 migrants fleeing Tripoli by boat on the early morning of March 27 2011 ran out of fuel and were left to drift for 14 days until they landed back on the Libyan coast. With no water or food on-board, only nine of the migrants survived. In several interviews, these survivors recounted the various points of contacts they had with the external world during this ordeal. This included describing the aircraft that flew over them, the distress call they sent out via satellite telephone and their visual sightings of a military helicopter which provided a few packets of biscuits and bottles of water and a military ship which failed to provide any assistance whatsoever. The events, as recounted by these survivors, appeared to constitute a severe violation of the legal obligation to provide assistance to any person in distress at sea, an obligation sanctioned by several international conventions.

In response to this incident, several initiatives were undertaken to shed light on these deaths and demand accountability for them. On 10 May 2011, Human Rights Watch demanded that NATO and its member countries conduct a full investigation of the case.  On 9 June 2011, the French NGO GISTI sent out a public call which led to the formation of a coalition of NGOs (constituted primarily by CIRÉ, FIDH, GISTI, LDH, and Migreurop) that sought accountability for the non-assistance of migrants at sea during and in the aftermath of Arab Spring in general and in the case of the “left-to-die boat” in particular.  The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) appointed the Dutch Senator Tineke Strik to prepare an in-depth report on the deaths that have occurred in the Mediterranean in 2011. Her report titled “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” was presented in Brussels on 29 March 2012.

The enclosed report focuses on the spatial analysis of data surrounding the case of the “left-to-die boat” and includes a series of visualizations that supplement the written reports produced by the organisations and institutions mentioned above. In order to generate our analysis and report we employed a wide range of digital mapping and modelling technologies, which included the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery, geospatial mapping, and drift modelling. In combining these technologies to elucidate the chain of events of this particular case we also suggest new ways in which these emergent technologies could be applied to the field of international law and human rights advocacy.

In collecting, analysing, and synthesising data, reports, and human testimonies related to the case, this report reconstructs as accurately as possible what happened to this vessel. It ultimately aims to answer the following question: what happened to the “left-to-die boat” and who was involved in the events leading to the deaths of 63 migrants? While some differences between oral testimonies occur on specific points and while there are some instances in which more data would have been desirable, overall a coherent picture emerges from the synthesis of these disparate bodies of information, a picture that demonstrates how the migrants were lead to a slow death despite repeated contacts with several parties. An abbreviated summary of key events is outlined as follows (fig. 2):

  • • In the early morning of 27 March 2011, between 00:00 and 02:00 GMT, a Zodiac-style rubber boat, approximately 10 metres in length with 72 people on-board left the port next to the Medina (Old City) of Tripoli, Libya and headed in the direction of the island of Lampedusa in Southern Italy.
  • • At 14:55 GMT an aircraft flew over the migrants’ vessel notifying the Italian Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) of its sighting. This fly-over generated a photograph and provided the exact location of the vessel (fig. 2A).
  • • At the end of the afternoon of the same day, with little fuel and almost no food and water left and no sight of land, the migrants called Father Zerai, an Eritrean priest based in Rome, by satellite phone to ask for help. After receiving the call, Father Zerai informed of the situation Rome MRCC, which after obtaining the GPS location of the boat at 16:52 GMT from the satellite provider (fig. 2B), informed their Maltese counterparts, NATO’s Naples Maritime HQ and sent out a distress signal to all ships in the area.
  • • Two to three hours after having placed the call and while the migrants’ vessel continued sailing in the direction of Lampedusa, it was flown over by a military helicopter, which bore the writing “ARMY” or “RESCUE ARMY” on its side. Despite the migrants’ clearly identifiable gestures for help – waving, holding the babies on board at arms length, showing the empty tanks of petrol -, the helicopter hovered over the boat but left without providing any immediate assistance. The migrants now believed they would soon be saved, and the “captain” therefore threw overboard the satellite phone, which had failing batteries and could have been used as evidence of his involvement in a smuggling network. The last GPS position registered by the satellite provider at 19:08 GMT (fig. 2C) thus corresponds in all likelihood to the location of the first helicopter encounter.
  • • After 4-5 hours of waiting, floating in approximately the same position and with no sign of rescue, the migrants decided to ask for help from some fishermen, whose boats they noticed around them. They attempted to reach those boats but the fishermen too left without providing any assistance. Shortly afterwards, and still in approximately the same position, the same helicopter came back. This time, military personnel on-board threw down 8 bottles of water and a few packets of biscuits before leaving again.
  • • Following this second helicopter visit, the migrants were shown the direction of Lampedusa by yet another fishing vessel. Between 00:00 and 01:00 GMT on 28 March 2011, they resumed movement in this direction for 5-8 hours until they ran out of fuel in the early morning (fig. 2D). From this moment, until they landed back on the Libyan coast, their boat drifted on the open sea without any use of its motor.
  • • After several days of drifting, between the 3rd and 4th of April, the migrants encountered a military ship with one or two helicopters on its deck (fig. 2E). The migrants got as close as 10 metres to this ship in their plea for help. The crew on the deck of the military ship did not provide assistance and only took photos before departing.
  • • The migrants’ vessel continued to drift until it eventually landed back on the coast of Libya, near Zlitan, on April 10th. In total, the boat drifted for 14 days. Of the 72 people who departed from Tripoli only 11 survived. One woman died shortly after arriving ashore, while the others were caught and imprisoned by Libyan soldiers. During the imprisonment another person died. In total nine people survived the journey and 63 perished.

While the involvement of all actors in these dramatic events will be discussed in greater detail in chapter three, the reconstruction of the events will clearly demonstrate that the actions or inactions of different actors contributed to the death of 63 migrants. At least one patrol aircraft, one helicopter, two fishing boats, and a military ship, whose identities still remain unknown, allegedly had direct contact with the boat. Moreover, the Italian and Maltese MRCC as well as participating states/NATO forces present in the area were informed of the distress of the boat and of its location, and had the technical and logistical ability to assist it. Despite all this, none of these actors intervened in a way that could have averted the tragic fate of the people on the boat.

In her report “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” Senator Tineke Strik has spoken of a “catalogue of failures” that led to the loss of “many opportunities for saving the lives of the persons on board the boat.” Furthermore, these deaths occurred in an area that was under strict surveillance by NATO to enforce an arms embargo as provided for by UNSCR 1973 and where at least 38 naval assets were present at some time during the event. While this report focuses on the “left-to-die boat” case specifically, it should be recalled once again that this is only one amongst the many incidents that have caused the death of more than 13,417 deaths at the maritime borders of the EU over the last 20 years.”

Click on following link, Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat 11April2012  , for report.

Click here for Guardian article on report.

 

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Filed under Analysis, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Reports

[UPDATED- Link to Complaint] Press Conference to Announce Filing of Legal Complaint Against French Army for Failure to Assist Migrant Boat (Paris, 11 April)

FIDH, GISTI, and Migreurop are holding a press conference at 11:00 AM on Wednesday, 11 April, to announce the filing of a legal complaint against the French military with the Procureur de la République du Tribunal de grande instance de Paris alleging that military forces failed to render assistance to the migrant boat that drifted for days one year ago within the NATO military zone off the Libyan coast.  63 persons ultimately died.

Press Conference details:

“mercredi 11 avril à 11H00, dans les locaux de la FIDH, 17, passage de la Main d’or – Paris 75011

en présence de:

  • – Stéphane Maugendre, président de GISTI
  • – Patrick Baudouin, président d’Honneur de la FIDH
  • – Jacques Montacié, LDH
  • – Charles Heller, chercheur à Goldsmiths, University of London
  • – Père Mussie Zerai, président de l’Agenzia Habeshia

Un an après la mort de 63 migrants dans un bateau au large de la Libye, des survivants, avec le soutien d’une coalition d’ONG déposeront, mercredi 11 avril, devant le auprès du Procureur de la République du Tribunal de grande instance de Paris , une plainte mettant en cause l’armée française pour non assistance à personne en danger. Cette conférence de presse sera l’occasion de revenir en détails sur les événements de ce périple cauchemardesque et d’expliquer pourquoi notre coalition estime que certains militaires français devraient en l’espèce voir leur responsabilité pénale engagée.

Contacts presse: FIDH: Arthur Manet – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94; GISTI: Stéphane Maugendre – Tel: +33 6 07 37 90 72”

UPDATE: Click here or on this link, La plainte contre-armee-francaise 11avril2012, for copy of the Complaint.  (FR)

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PACE Migration Committee Report: Lessons Learned and Recommendations for States

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 Press Statement

Full report – provisional version (PDF)

Last letter from NATO (PDF)

Graphic: map showing reconstruction of the voyage and other annexes (PDF)

“Boat people” web file

Video recording of press conference 

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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.

Full report – provisional version (PDF)

Last letter from NATO (PDF)

Graphic: map showing reconstruction of the voyage and other annexes (PDF)

“Boat people” web file

Video recording of press conference

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