Italian authorities in Agrigento have brought criminal charges, including charges of unlawful killing, against 5 men from Ghana and Nigeria who are accused of throwing fellow migrant passengers into the sea from a disabled migrant boat this past August. The victims are alleged to been selected based upon their ethnicity or nationality. The boat in question was carrying over 300 migrants from Libya towards Lampedusa in August when it became disabled. Italian patrol boats rescued the survivors on 4 August. Italian authorities at the time accused NATO of failing to act to assist with the rescue of the boat.
Tag Archives: Operation Unified Protector
Criminal Charges Brought in Italy Against 5 Men Accused of Murdering Passengers On Disabled Migrant Boat
The PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, in connection with the preparation of a report by Ms Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) on the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean, will conduct a hearing in Paris on 29 November. Ms Strik was appointed in June 2011 by the PACE Committee as Rapporteur to prepare a report on the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean since January 2011.
“The hearing will look at the loss of human life at sea, it will examine the right of families to receive information on the victims, and it will consider the rules applicable under international law and maritime law relevant to rescue at sea. The hearing will also examine international co-ordination regarding interception and rescue at sea, as well as the role of the national authorities, NATO and FRONTEX. The participants include representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, FRONTEX, the Italian Council for Refugees, and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law.”
The hearing seems to be open only to members of the press and will be held at the Council of Europe, 55 avenue Kléber, 75016 PARIS (Metro: Boissière).
Click here for my last post on this topic.
Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) concluded a two day fact-finding trip to Italy on 7 September as Rapporteur for the PACE Migration Committee. She is investigating the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean since January 2011. Strik interviewed Father Moses Zerai, an Eritrean priest, who was in satellite phone contact with several migrant boats during their voyages from Libya, including the disabled migrant boat that drifted for days in March-April this year and on which 61 persons are believed to have died. In addition to Zerai, Strik interviewed three of the nine survivors from the boat, Italian Coastguard officials, and NGO and UNHCR staff. Strik “is planning interviews with officials from Nato and the Maltese government, which the Italian coastguard says was alerted to the boat’s plight.”
From the PACE press statement: “‘There is an obligation to help all people in distress. If anyone did not live up to this responsibility and deliberately did not assist them, they must not be allowed to get away with it. … The testimonies of witnesses directly involved in this incident are coherent, but we have to continue to collect more data and information on who was when and where in the area,’ Mrs Strik reported. ‘My mission is to try to find out what went wrong, and if there was perhaps a gap in responsibility-sharing. The recommendation which will be contained in my report is aimed at establishing responsibilities and trying to determine how to deal with such incidents in the future. We have to draw the right lessons to prevent similar situations from occurring again. … At the end of my inquiry, I expect national jurisdictions, governments and parliaments to carry on the investigations and I very much hope that the dynamic of truth … will pave the way,’ she concluded.”
Click here for PACE press statement.
Click here for previous post.
Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) will begin a two day fact-finding trip to Italy on 6 September as Rapporteur for the PACE Migration Committee (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe). She is investigating the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean since January 2011.
From the PACE press statement of 2 September: “Meetings are scheduled with survivors of a shipwreck, officers of Italian coastguard units, representatives of NGOs active in the field and representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. During her visit the rapporteur will in particular look into the way boats are intercepted – or not intercepted – by national coastguard forces, or by military vessels under either NATO or national command. Further to reports that migrants and refugees have perished after their distress calls were ignored, the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population appointed Ms Strik in June to conduct an inquiry into these matters.”
From the PACE press statement issued in June 2011: “‘There have been allegations that migrants and refugees are dying after their appeals for rescue have been ignored,’ said Mrs Strik. ‘Such a grave allegation must be urgently investigated. I intend to look into the manner in which these boats are intercepted – or not – by the different national coastguards, the EU’s border agency FRONTEX, or even military vessels. I also intend to speak to witnesses directly involved in reported incidents, and put questions to national authorities, the UNHCR, FRONTEX and NATO, among others.’ On 8 May, the Guardian newspaper reported that 61 boat people escaping from Libya had died after their appeals for rescue had been ignored by armed forces operating in the Mediterranean. The following day PACE President Mevlüt Çavusoglu called for ‘an immediate and comprehensive enquiry’ into the incident.”
Presumably Ms. Strik’s investigation will also seek information from Maltese authorities. The Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre run by the Armed Forces of Malta is in possession of relevant information pertaining to incidents within the Maltese Search and Rescue Area where many (perhaps most?) of the migrant deaths have occurred.
Click here for link to COE’s web page regarding “PACE’s Response to Migrants and refugees arriving from North Africa.”
According to calculations made by Fortress Europe, 2011 is the deadliest year in the Mediterranean since at least 1994. 1,931 people have died during the first seven months of 2011. This number is higher than the total number of deaths in all of 2008, the year with the previous highest death toll of 1,274. Fortress Europe estimates that 1,674 (87%) of the 1,931 deaths have occurred in the Sicilian Channel and that most of the deaths in the Sicilian Channel have involved migrants travelling from Libya towards Europe.
Click here for Fortress Europe post. (IT)
Click here for Clandestina blog post. (EN)
From Fortress Europe:
|Vittime del Canale di Sicilia dal 2002 ai primi 7 mesi del 2011|
NATO said yesterday that Italian authorities never directly requested assistance from NATO in regard to the disabled migrant boat discovered earlier in the week by a Cypriot tug boat. NATO spokespersons said while NATO was informed that the migrant boat was in distress, Italian authorities also informed NATO that Italian patrol boats and a rescue helicopter were responding to the situation. NATO spokesperson Carmen Romero said NATO had a history of responding to emergency situations and pointed by way of example to NATO’s response on 26 March to two migrant boats in distress. A Canadian naval ship under NATO command in March rendered assistance to two migrant boats but, unlike the incident last month when a Spanish ship under NATO command rescued 100 migrants and was unable to offload the migrants for five days, the Canadian ship did not take the migrants on board.
Click here for previous post about 11 July incident.
Italy Calls for Formal Inquest Into “Presumed Failure” of NATO to Render Assistance to Disabled Migrant Boat and for Expansion of NATO Mandate to Include Rescue at Sea
Here is today’s full statement from the Italian Foreign Ministry:
Minister for Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini instructed the Italian Permanent Representative to NATO to call for a formal inquest into the dynamic regarding the presumed failure to come to the aid of boats carrying civilians fleeing Libya. Minister Frattini also asked Ambassador Sessa to urge discussion within the Atlantic Alliance of the possibility of adapting the mandate of the mission sanctioned by UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 to safeguard Libyan civilians, to the effect that the defence and aid of those fleeing the conflict by sea, and thereby risking their lives, be adequately taken into consideration.
In relazione alle polemiche circa il presunto mancato soccorso a battelli con clandestini a bordo in fuga dalla Libia, il Ministro degli Esteri Frattini ha dato istruzioni al Rappresentante Permanente italiano presso la NATO di chiedere un’inchiesta formale per l’accertamento della dinamica di quanto accaduto. Il Ministro Frattini ha anche chiesto all’Ambasciatore Sessa di sollecitare una discussione all’interno dell’Alleanza Atlantica per il possibile adeguamento del mandato della missione di salvaguardia delle popolazioni civili in Libia, sulla base delle risoluzioni delle Nazioni Unite 1970 e 1973, affinchè vengano opportunamente considerate la tutela e soccorso anche di coloro che per cause belliche sono costretti a fuggire su barconi mettendo a rischio la propria incolumità.
Click here for previous post.
Italy Rescues 300 Migrants from Disabled Boat; Multiple Deaths May Have Occurred Before Rescue; Italy Seeks Clarification Regarding Possible Failure of NATO Ship to Render Assistance
Italian patrol boats yesterday rescued approximately 300 migrants from a disabled boat 90 miles south of Lampedusa. There are unconfirmed reports from survivors that before the rescue many people died and bodies were put in the sea. The boat may have been drifting for one and a half days before the rescue.
The disabled migrant boat was reportedly first discovered by a Cyprus tug boat which was forced to move away from the disabled boat when some migrants jumped overboard and tried to swim to the tug. An Italian helicopter which attempted to lower emergency supplies was forced to abandon its efforts when persons attempted to climb into the basket being used to drop supplies.
According to news reports, a NATO ship was located about 27 miles from the disabled migrant boat, but NATO reportedly failed to respond to a request by Italian authorities to render assistance. Italian patrol boats were then forced to travel 90 miles from Lampedusa in order to reach the migrant boat.
The Italian government is seeking clarification from NATO regarding the possible failure to respond to the request to render assistance to the migrant boat. A Spanish frigate under NATO command on 11 July rescued 100 migrants. During the five day period that the migrants were on board the Spanish frigate, before the migrants were eventually transferred to Tunisian authorities, the Spanish frigate was removed from its NATO Operation Unified Protector embargo patrols due to the civilian passengers.
Click here for short AFP TV video from rescue helicopter.
[Post Updated 4 August] Spanish Defence Ministry: NATO Instructed Spanish Navy to Transfer Rescued Migrants to Tunisia
A press release issued yesterday by the Spanish Ministry of Defence states that the 114 migrants who were rescued by the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón on 11 July were transferred to Tunisian authorities on 16 July pursuant to orders issued by NATO command.
I previously have sought clarification from both NATO and the Spanish Defence Ministry regarding who made the decision to turn the rescued migrants over to Tunisian authorities and what procedures, if any, were followed to screen rescued migrants before the transfer. NATO’s Operation Unified Protector press office informed me that all inquiries had to be directed to the Spanish Defence Ministry.
The Defence Ministry’s press office in turn has ignored my inquiries.
[Update – 4 August – I received information today from Communication Office of the Spanish Ministry of Defence reiterating that the Spanish frigate was under NATO command as an asset participating in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector. According to the Communication Office, after the Spanish frigate commander made the decision that the migrants needed to be rescued, all of the frigate’s subsequent actions were carried out pursuant to specific commands issued by the NATO command, including the final order to transfer the migrants to Tunisian authorities. Spanish authorities were never involved in discussions or negotiations with other countries regarding the rescued migrants. The Communication Office referred me to NATO’s OUP Press Office for information regarding any further details of the operation. I will try again with NATO.]
The press release issued yesterday pertains to a visit made to the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón by Italian Rear Admiral Filippo Maria Foffi, Commander of the NATO naval task group for Operation Unified Protector, where he praised the crew of the frigate for the rescue operation.
The press release goes on to state that after the migrants were taken on board the frigate on 11 July, “on orders from NATO command, the Juan de Borbón sailed to Malta and took a position 40 miles off the coast of that country. On 16 July, instructed by the command of NATO, the Spanish frigate headed for the coast of Tunisia to start the transfer to the Tunisian Navy patrol boat Carthage of the 106 immigrants who were still on board, after the earlier evacuation of eight persons for health and medical reasons.”
(“…siguiendo órdenes del mando de la OTAN, la ‘Juan de Borbón’ puso rumbo a Malta posicionándose a 40 millas frente a las costas de ese país. El pasado 16 de julio, siguiendo instrucciones del mando de la Alianza, se dirigió hacia las costas de Túnez para iniciar el traslado al patrullero Carthage de la Armada tunecina, de los 106 inmigrantes que aún permanecían a bordo tras la evacuación de ocho personas por motivos médicos y de salud…”)
The Spanish government and NATO are rightfully to be praised for the rescue operation. What is unfortunate is the lack of transparency on the part of both NATO and the Spanish Defence Ministry in regard to why the decision was made to transfer the migrants to Tunisia and what procedures, if any, were used to screen the migrants for claims to international protection.
Click here for Defence Ministry Press Release. (ES)
Click here for my last post on this topic.
According to information provided by the Spanish Ministry of Defence, the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón sailed to Tunisia earlier this morning (16 July) and, while remaining outside Tunisian waters near Zarzis, transferred the remaining 106 rescued migrants to the Carthage, a Tunisian naval vessel. 114 migrants were initially rescued by the Spanish ship. 5 of the migrants were airlifted to Malta for medical reasons on 13 July. On 11 July, shortly after the initial rescue of the migrant boat, 3 migrants were evacuated and turned over to Tunisian authorities. The original 114 consisted of 88 men, 20 women (5 of whom are pregnant), and 6 children. The Defence Ministry said that the decision to transfer the migrants to Tunisian authorities was a NATO decision.
While the decision to disembark the migrants in Tunisia is better than sending them to eastern Libya (something I was fearful would occur), Tunisia is problematic for several reasons. The migrant boat was reportedly carrying Tunisians. To the extent that any of them may have had claims for international protection, the claims have been effectively eliminated. It is not known whether any efforts were made to assess whether any of the Tunisians had claims for international protection. And to the extent that any of the non-Tunisians have claims for international protection, Tunisia is clearly less able to handle such claims and less able to provide care for asylum seekers relative to Malta, Italy, or Spain (or any of the NATO countries participating in Operation Unified Protector).
[17 July update – NATO’s OUP Press Office informed me earlier today that any questions regarding who made the decision to transfer the migrants to Tunisia and whether any of the migrants were screened for claims for international protection had to directed to the Spanish Ministry of Defence.]
Click here for Spanish Ministry of Defence press statement and additional photos. (ES)
The stand-off between Malta, Spain, and NATO continues. 111 rescued migrants remain on board the Spanish Navy frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón. Maltese authorities criticised the attempt to bring the rescued migrants to Malta and have said that the migrants should have been taken to Tunisia or Italy because both locations were closer to the original point of rescue. Malta has now allowed a total of 5 migrants to be airlifted to Malta for medical care. The frigate remains at sea near Malta with the 111 migrants, including women and children, and a crew of 250 sailors.
At a press conference yesterday, Maltese Interior Minister, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, said that while Malta decided to allow the transfer of several rescued migrants to Malta for emergency medical treatment, it has no intention of allowing the other rescued migrants to be disembarked in Malta. According to the Times of Malta, Mifsud Bonnici said “the problem is not Malta’s, it is Nato’s. Malta is a sovereign state and it demands that it be respected as such. This is not a standoff with Spain or Italy and we await Nato’s replies.”
It is unclear from various media reports whether Italian authorities formally refused permission to the Spanish frigate to dock in Lampedusa, but some reports suggest there was communication with Italian authorities who said that Lampedusa’s immigrant reception facilities were at capacity. Well over a thousand migrants have landed in Lampedusa in recent days.
There are also some media reports which suggest that the Spanish government may be taking the position that since the Spanish frigate is under NATO command as part of Operation Unified Protector, NATO therefore must decide where the migrants are to be disembarked.
The head of the Armed Forces of Malta has taken the bizarre position that the Spanish ship is well-equipped to care for the rescued migrants and that therefore there is no urgency in regard to removing the migrants from the ship for humanitarian reasons.
Meanwhile, the NATO naval embargo of Libya is missing one ship. NATO had 17 ships under its command patrolling the Central Mediterranean, now there are 16 ships. The Spanish frigate has been effectively removed from its embargo duties as it waits for a resolution to the stand-off. If and when another migrant boat requires rescue by a ship under NATO command, will the NATO embargo be further weakened? The obligations of NATO ships to rescue migrant boats in distress under SOLAS are clear, and NATO has repeatedly said that it will rescue migrant boats when required, but one must be fearful of a situation arising, as it does with commercial ships, where a NATO vessel’s commander may be less willing to conclude that a migrant boat is in need of rescue knowing that the act of rescuing the migrants may result in the NATO ship being removed from its mission because it is unable to quickly disembark the rescued migrants.
A statement from Aditus, “an independent, voluntary & non-profit organisation established with a view to monitor, act & report on access to fundamental human rights by individuals & groups”, which is based in Malta:
14 July 2011
“’Once again, political discussions take precedence over human lives. It is at times like these that our consciences are called to do what is right, to ensure a full respect for the fundamental human rights of all persons irrespectively of colour, origin and status.’
It appears that the Maltese and Italian authorities are once again disagreeing over where to disembark a group of around 100 rescued migrants. Rescued earlier today by a Spanish frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón, the group of migrants seems to be largely composed of men but also includes several women and children. According to news reports, the stranded migrants were rescued in Sunday morning yet the date of departure from Libyan shores is as yet unconfirmed.
It is important to emphasise that the rescued persons have fled a situation of civil war, and have possibly been through several harrowing experiences. ‘It is unclear when they left Libya, yet they have definitely been out at sea for over 5 days. This can only mean that they are probably exhausted, dehydrated and are in urgent need of physical and psychological assistance. A warship is definitely not the place to provide this urgent assistance’, commented aditus Chairperson Dr. Neil Falzon.
aditus applauds the crew of the Juan de Borbón for rescuing the persons in distress, yet urges the Italian and Maltese authorities to immediately relieve the warship of rescued migrants, in the interests of both the latter and of the crew itself. aditus further recalls that international maritime law requires a prompt disembarkation at a place of safety for all persons rescued at sea, and that any prolonged period spent aboard the warship poses severe security, humanitarian and human rights concerns.
aditus therefore appeals to the Italian and Maltese authorities to allow the immediate disembarkation of the rescued persons so that their safety may be guaranteed.
For the longer-term, the two States are urged to seek resolution to this on-going legal impasse that too often has resulted in these tragic incidents. To this end, aditus strongly recommends the involvement of competent international and regional agencies particularly the European Union, the International Maritime Organisation and NATO.”
Click here for statement.
A political and diplomatic standoff is underway between Malta, Italy, Spain and NATO. The Times of Malta is reporting that the Spanish frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón, carrying the 100 rescued migrants attempted to dock at Lampedusa after the rescue, “but the Italian authorities refused it entry and directed the vessel to Malta, which also refused entry, arguing that Lampedusa was the nearest safe port.” “The Spanish warship is now off Maltese waters while talks are held between Maltese, Italian and Spanish diplomats. A meeting which included the Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici was being held this afternoon at the Auberge de Castille. Nato is understood to have appealed to both Italy and Malta to accept the migrants.” The Times of Malta also reported that a 10 month old baby was flown yesterday from the Spanish frigate to Malta for medical treatment and that a man and pregnant woman were airlifted to Malta today.
Click here for Times of Malta article.
According to information provided to me today by the NATO Public Affairs Office for Operation Unified Protector, most of the migrants who were rescued on 10-11 July by a NATO warship are still on board the Spanish Navy frigate. An unspecified number of the migrants in need of immediate medical attention have been “off-loaded to safety” to an unidentified location.
While the NATO Public Affairs Office did not identify the NATO ship or its nationality, the Spanish Defence Ministry and Navy have previously confirmed that the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón is the NATO ship that performed the rescue.
According to NATO, “the NATO Frigate responded [on 10 July] to a vessel in distress some 75 miles off the coast of Libya. A NATO ship [then] … provided medical support, food and offered mechanical assistance to the distressed civilians. [On the] 11th of July, the migrants (approximately 100), Ghanaians, Tunisians and Libyans, were transferred onto the NATO ship in accordance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) protocol…”
Most of the migrants remain on board the Spanish frigate. NATO says that “the appropriate legal, diplomatic and military authorities are being consulted to determine future course of action.”
I have asked for further information regarding to what location the migrants who were in need of immediate medical attention have been taken. The possibilities presumably are another ship with appropriate medical facilities, Tunisia, Libya, Italy, Malta, or Spain.
Click here for my previous post on this topic.
A Spanish Navy frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón, participating in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, on Sunday rescued approximately 100 migrants who were in a disabled boat that reportedly left Zawiyah, Libya several days ago. The migrants have been without food and water for at least two days. Among the rescued persons are pregnant women and children.
It is not clear where the migrants will now be taken. Some reports indicate that the Spanish Defence Ministry is hoping that Tunisia, Malta, or Italy will receive the migrants. NATO is reportedly seeking a country to accept the migrants. The migrants are reportedly from Libya, Tunisia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Hopefully the migrants will be disembarked quickly (assuming it has not already happened) in an appropriate location where any claims for international protection can be properly considered. It would be problematic if the migrants are required to remain on the Spanish warship for an extended period and if nearby countries refuse to permit the disembarkation.
These photos were released by the Ministerio de Defensa de España.