Tag Archives: Push-Back Practice

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.

1 Comment

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

EUNAVFOR MED-Six Month Report: No Indication of Refugee Protection Plan for EU Operations within Libyan Territorial Waters and No Reports of Human Trafficking

There is a lot of information in the EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA Six Month Report   (also here: EEAS-2016-126) that was released last week by WikiLeaks, but there are two subjects not discussed which jumped out at me.

No Discussion of Refugee Protection Plan

First, the Report does not contain information regarding what the EU military force intends to do with migrants who are intercepted or rescued by EU vessels if and when EUNAVFOR MED patrols begin to operate within Libyan territorial waters.

The Report’s ‘Next Steps and Key Challenges’ section [pp 19-21] discusses different EU contingency plans for Phase 2B of the operation and specifically discusses how suspected smugglers arrested by EU forces within Libyan territorial waters would be handled. The Report says suspected smugglers should not be turned over by EU forces to Libyan officials for criminal prosecution unless it can be ensured ‘that they [will be] treated in accordance with human rights standards that are acceptable to the EU and Member States.’ According to the Report, forty-six suspected smugglers have been arrested by EUNAVFOR MED in international waters (between 22 June and 31 December 2015) and all of these individuals have been turned over to Italian authorities for prosecution by Italy’s DNAA – Direzione Nazionale Antimafia ed Antiterrorismo. Italy is so far the only EU Member State prosecuting suspected smugglers.

But unlike the discussion regarding the treatment of suspected smugglers, there is no discussion in the Report about where migrants who are intercepted or rescued in Libyan territorial waters will be taken or how they will be processed. It is certainly possible that intercepted migrants would continue to be taken from Libyan territorial waters to Italy, as is currently the case with operations on the high seas, but I suspect this may not be the plan once EUNAVFOR MED operations are expanded to Libyan territorial waters.

The fact that there is no discussion in the Report of where intercepted migrants will be taken does not mean that EUNAVFOR MED does not have appropriate plans in place, but the omission is troubling because the Report makes clear that once Phase 2B (territorial waters) operations begin, EUNAVFOR MED forces will be interacting and cooperating with the Libyan Navy and Coastguard. (The Report also notes that if requested and if its mandate is amended, EUNAVFOR MED is ready to begin quickly providing capability and capacity building to the Libyan Navy and Coastguard.)

EUNAVFOR MED’s interaction with Libyan forces in territorial waters would, according to the Report, initially include Libyan ‘cooperation in tackling the irregular migration issue’, with the expectation that at a later point in time ‘Libyan authorities could take the lead in patrolling and securing their Territorial Waters, with support being provided by EUNAVFOR Med.’ The Report therefore describes a changing scenario where EU forces would first act alone in Libyan territorial waters, which would lead to some level of cooperation with Libyan authorities (joint patrols? shipriders?), which would finally lead to Libyan authorities taking the lead on enforcement activities, with the EU playing a supporting role of some sort.

The legality of the Phase 2B operations will depend on the details of how intercepted or rescued migrants are processed and where they are taken. EU Member States operating within EUNAVFOR MED would necessarily be exercising effective control over migrants when operating unilaterally or jointly with Libyan forces within Libyan territorial waters and EU Member States would therefore be bound by the non-refoulement obligations in the ECHR, the Refugee Convention, the CAT, and the ICCPR. Any such operations would be subject to the 2012 Hirsi Jamaa v Italy judgment of the ECtHR which rejected Italy’s past push-back practices and close cooperation with the pre-Arab Spring Libya, finding the push-back practices to violate the ECHR’s prohibition on non-refoulement and to constitute collective expulsion.

EUNAVFOR MED’s Phase 2B operation seeks to replicate what Frontex and Spain have done off the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal and Morocco since 2006 pursuant to Joint Operation HERA where Spain and Frontex initially deployed naval patrols in international waters, then negotiated bilateral agreements to move patrols to territorial waters, deployed joint patrols and shipriders within territorial waters, and then continued to provide various forms of support to Mauritania and other West African states to patrol their own territorial waters. Operation HERA succeeded in stopping most boat migration from West Africa, but did so in a manner which did not provide any process to screen intercepted migrants for claims for international protection and subjected intercepted migrants to refoulement.

In order to ensure that non-refoulement obligations are respected and that rights of migrants are otherwise protected, as the EU and EUNAVFOR MED move towards implementation of Phase 2B operations within Libyan territorial waters, more information and transparency is needed to determine and monitor the legality of all aspects of the operations.

No Reports of Human Trafficking

The second perhaps less significant piece of information that jumped out at me as I read the Report was the lack of any suggestion that EUNAVFOR MED patrols have discovered evidence of human trafficking. The Report makes multiple references to trafficking, but always in conjunction with human smuggling, eg, ‘smuggler and traffickers’ business model’, ‘smuggler and trafficker vessels’. The use of the trafficking term seems to be a continuation of the use of imprecise terminology (and possible ongoing confusion over the differences between human trafficking and smuggling as well?). But the Report’s ‘Smugglers’ Business Model’ section [pp 6-8] is clearly only discussing acts of smuggling.

3 Comments

Filed under Analysis, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Refugees, Reports, UN Security Council, UNHCR

Notable Comments – Italy’s Navy Chief, Admiral Donato Marzano: “I intervene to help people at sea”

Italy is hosting on 8 May a high level meeting of European naval forces. In response to questions from AFP about calls for a resumption of push backs in the Mediterranean, Admiral Marzano said: “There are several countries that apply a policy of expulsion, even by force of arms, others apply the international right to rescue. I am a sailor who has spent 20 years on boats. If I find a boat adrift, I’m sorry but I don’t turn away. I intervene to help people at sea. I don’t know if this reflects my Italian culture but I do know it is international law. A vessel in difficulty, whether it is a boat full of migrants or a merchant ship, has to be assisted.”

See also ANSA: Amm.Marzano, Non mi volterò mai dall’altra parte.

1 Comment

Filed under European Union, Mediterranean, News

Turkish Coast Guard Reports Intercepting 12,872 Migrants in Aegean Sea in 2014; Some Migrants Pushed-Back into Turkish Territorial Waters

“A total of 12,872 migrants trying to cross into Greece from Turkey over the Aegean Sea were captured by Turkish Coast Guard Command teams in 524 separate incidents in 2014, while 74 people were also arrested on charges of smuggling migrants, Anadolu Agency has reported. The number of migrants who were captured in 2013 was 8,047, including 6,937 on the Aegean Sea. The total number of migrants captured by authorities across Turkey in 2012 was 2,531. The official number in 2011 was 546, which means that the number of captured migrants has increased 24-fold since then. …”

An unspecified number of the intercepted migrants were reportedly subjected to push-back practices where the affected migrants were returned to Turkish territorial waters [“Yasa dışı göçmenlerin bir kısmı da ‘geri atma olayı (gittiği ülkeden Türkiye karasularına geri gönderilme)’ olarak arz edilen olaylar sonucu yakalandı.”].

The push-backs were presumably carried out by Greek patrol boats or possibly by vessels operating pursuant to Frontex Joint Operation Poseidon Sea 2013 (which operated through 2014 Q1).

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

5 Comments

Filed under Aegean Sea, Data / Stats, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Migrants, Refugees, Turkey

“Mediterranean flows into Europe: Migration and the EU’s foreign policy” – Analysis by European Parliament DG for External Policies

The EP’s Directorate-General for External Policies just released an Analysis, “Mediterranean flows into Europe: Migration and the EU’s foreign policy,” in which it reviews the EU’s external policies and instruments relating to migration in the Mediterranean, including the Mediterranean Task Force established after 3 October 2013 tragedy at Lampedusa in which over 350 people died.

The Analysis describes the serious shortcomings of the security-driven approach that has been taken by the EU. Noting, for example, that “it is unclear whether the militarisation of EU border management (resulting from a tighter relation between the CSDP and Frontex) will actually save lives or create even more danger for migrants” and that “[t]he increasing militarisation of the issue of irregular migration was underscored in December 2013, when the European Council called for the establishment of an EU Maritime Security Strategy by June 2014 as well as for increased synergies between the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and freedom/security/justice actors to tackle illegal migration.”

The Analysis discusses possible ways in which the European Parliament might play a more significant role in the shaping of future policies:

“The coming months – which will include the European elections and the June 2014 Council – present an important opportunity for the EP to engage politically with the topic of migration in the Mediterranean. As outlined above, numerous EU external policies and instruments deal with migration in the region; […]

All should incorporate respect for human rights as a central concern and pursue the overall goals of prevention, protection and solidarity. The EP has tools at hand to contribute effectively to those objectives. The EP should use its co-decision powers to ensure the inclusion of human rights provisions in all migration-related legislation, and its power of consent to guarantee that international agreements contain effective human rights guarantees. The EP’s budgetary powers also allow the institution to link assistance to third countries to proper human rights monitoring mechanisms.

Most pressingly, the EP should advocate the implementation of the actions recommended by the Mediterranean Task Force set up by the Commission. The EP should also use the opportunities generated by inter-parliamentary relations (such as the 27th ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in March and the EU-Africa summit in April) to engage in a dialogue about migration with third countries. This dialogue should foster cooperation in the management of regular migration and in the fight against irregular migration and trafficking networks, with special emphasis on the need to prevent migrants from embarking on dangerous journeys to the EU.

The dialogue should also seek to frame Mediterranean migration within a wider perspective, possibly in the following ways:

  • Steer away from excessively militarised and security-centred approaches. The EP should ensure that strict human rights standards are respected in the fight against organised crime and smugglers’ networks, and that a clear distinction is drawn between criminal networks and their victims. The EU should prevent the criminalisation of migrants and of humanitarian organisations supporting migrants.
  • Highlight the importance of good governance, and of good migration governance more specifically. By reinforcing the EU’s Regional Development and Protection Programmes, for example, the Union can develop a comprehensive and long-term framework to develop and enhance the capacities of migration management and national asylum systems in Mediterranean countries.
  • Demand full respect for humanitarian law, refugee protection and human rights (including the rights of non-nationals) in crisis situations, and stress that humanitarian access must be guaranteed to provide life-saving supplies.
  • Recognise the importance and challenges that South-South and intra-African migration represent for countries in the southern Mediterranean, rather than focussing solely on the (much smaller) flows towards the EU.
  • Encourage further research on the migration-development nexus and explore the positive impact of human mobility on socioeconomic development.
  • Encourage EU Member States to facilitate and speed up their procedures to grant asylum and EU protected status, whilst better differentiating between refugees and irregular migrants. The EP should respect the competence of the Member States in this regard, but could also encourage Member States – in cooperation with the UNHCR – to increase their quotas for resettling refugees not adequately protected in third countries. The EP should support the Mediterranean Task Force’s proposed feasibility study on the joint processing of protection claims outside the EU, and the Commission’s proposal to move towards a common approach for humanitarian permits and visas.

All these actions would contribute to reshaping the EU’s external action related to migration, notably in the Mediterranean. They would also enhance the EU’s credibility vis-à-vis those third countries that accept significant number of migrants and refugees, and that most directly bear the consequences of their neighbours’ conflicts. (This is the case today for Lebanon and Turkey, as a result of the Syrian civil war). A modified EU approach could also project a more nuanced and positive view of migration – a change that might, in turn, influence the way migration is perceived more broadly within the EU.”

Click here or here for the Analysis.

5 Comments

Filed under Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Turkey

Statewatch Analysis – “New EU rules on maritime surveillance: will they stop the deaths and push-backs in the Mediterranean?”

Statewatch last month released a new Analysis of the EU Regulation for Frontex-coordinated surveillance of external sea borders which is scheduled for a plenary vote in the European Parliament in April.  The Analysis, written by Prof. Steve Peers, Univ. of Essex Law School, reviews the enhanced protections to be afforded to intercepted or rescued migrants relative to the earlier Council Decision which was annulled by the CJEU.  The Analysis also highlights concerns with various provisions within the Regulation, including:

  • One significant concern with the Regulation is due to the fact that “the Regulation does not contemplate the scenario of migrants being intercepted in the territorial waters of third States.”  (Frenzen’s Note: This raises a serious concern in regard to the push-back and interception practices which have been carried out for many years within the territorial waters of Mauritania and Senegal within Frontex’s Operation Hera.  Additionally, prior to the Libyan revolution, Libya authorised Italy to conduct joint maritime patrols within Libyan territorial waters.  It is safe to assume that Frontex and some EU Member States will continue to seek the ability to intercept migrant boats within the territorial waters of third States.);
  • While the Regulation requires that migrants intercepted in the territorial sea or contiguous zone of an EU Member State be disembarked in that Member State, “this [requirement] is subject to a crucial exception: it is possible under the Regulation that a vessel that has made it this close to a Member State could still be ordered to alter course towards another destination.”;
  • While the bulk of the EU’s asylum legislation does not apply [to interceptions which occur outside of the territorial sea of a Member State,] the EU’s qualification Directive does – since there is nothing in the text of that Directive to limit its territorial scope. But the wording of the Regulation is confusing in this regard, since it does not refer to the detailed text of that Directive but rather to general standards on non-refoulement, which are different from that Directive in some respects….”;
  • Member States are required to “use all means” to identify intercepted migrants, assess their particular circumstances, and inform them of the intended place of disembarkation, in order to give the migrants the opportunity to assert a non-refoulement claim.  The Regulation states that the Frontex operational plan, “where necessary,” must provide for interpreters and legal advisors on shore. “[T]he Council Presidency points out the ‘wiggle room’ granted by the words ‘where necessary’ and ‘use all means.’”

Click here or here for Statewatch Analysis.

2 Comments

Filed under Aegean Sea, Analysis, Eastern Atlantic, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Mediterranean, Senegal, Spain

Italy Conducted De Facto Push-Back of Migrants By Ordering Cargo Ship to Rescue and Transport Migrants to Libya

Just over a week ago Italian search and rescue authorities directed two commercial ships, an oil tanker and a cargo ship, to rescue two groups of migrants in distress off the Libyan coast.  After taking the migrants on board, both ships were ordered to transport the migrants to Libya.  One ship’s captain complied with the order and 96 migrants were turned over to Libyan authorities; the other captain refused and a several day stand-off between Malta and Italy resulted before Italy agreed to allow the migrants to be disembarked on Italian territory (see Malta Today: Malta blocks rescue ship from entering Malta waters; Malta orders ship to sail to Libya; Conditions on rescue ship worsen). 

The incident involving the two ships was by no means rare and what transpired raises a host of important issue. It is obviously good that one ship was permitted to disembark the rescued migrants on Italian territory.  But what transpired with the second ship that returned the rescued migrants to Libya is extremely problematic and amounted to a push-back.  Neither Italy nor Malta should be able to evade their responsibilities to consider asylum claims by ordering commercial ships to engage in rescue operations and then issuing orders to those commercial ships to return potential asylum seekers to a country such as Libya which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

I copy below my recent commentary from Malta Today:

Was the captain of the Salamis right?

We asked Prof. Niels Frenzen about the legal implications of commercial ships effecting the rescue of migrants at sea on behalf of coastal states.

One week ago Italian search and rescue authorities directed two commercial ships, the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Salamis and the Turkish cargo ship Adakent, to divert from their courses to rescue two groups of migrants in distress off the Libyan coast.  Rescues like this take place almost daily, though most are conducted by national armed forces or coastguards.  Rescue operations conducted by commercial vessels raise different legal issues, one of the most important and problematic being where are the rescued persons to be disembarked.

And while disputes periodically arise between Italy and Malta when patrol boats belonging to the armed forces of one country have sought to disembark rescued persons in the other country – usually due to disagreement as to where the closest safe port is located in relation to the place of rescue – at the end of the day if the stand-off is not resolved, an AFM or Guardia di Finanza patrol boat is always able to disembark rescued survivors in their respective home ports.  This is not the case when commercial ships rescue survivors as was demonstrated by Malta’s decision not to permit the Salamis to enter Maltese waters for the purpose of disembarking the 102 rescued migrants.

Some government officials characterised the initial decision of the captain of the Salamis to attempt to disembark the rescued migrants in Malta as a violation of international law.  Such an assertion is inaccurate and fails to take into consideration the complicated framework of different international laws – search and rescue, human rights, and refugee – which come in to play when migrants are rescued or otherwise encountered in international waters, particularly when it is likely that there are asylum seekers or other persons in need of protection among the rescued persons. 

While Malta’s decision to bar the Salamis attracted significantly more international media attention than the events pertaining to the Adakent, these two incidents and the different resolutions highlight important legal issues.  After the two ships rescued and took on board the different groups of migrants, Italian authorities instructed both ships to disembark the rescued migrants in Libya because the migrants had departed from Libya.  The Adakent sailed to Tripoli – its planned destination before the rescue – and turned 96 rescued migrants over to Libyan authorities.  The captain of the Salamis disregarded Italy and Malta’s orders to sail to Libya and continued to sail towards Malta – its planned destination before the rescue.

Both ship captains properly carried out their clear legal obligation under international law to rescue the stranded migrants. The more difficult legal question is where should the rescued persons be taken once rescue operations are completed.  While international law does not explicitly answer the question, it does impose the obligation on a ship’s captain to disembark persons only in “a place of safety.” Since the 102 migrants rescued by the Salamis included Eritreans and Ethiopians it is clear that many of them were asylum seekers and therefore the captain was legally obligated to ignore the Italian and Maltese orders that the migrants be returned to Libya.

Assuming some or all of the 96 migrants rescued by the Adakent were also asylum seekers, the Adakent’s captain likewise should have disregarded Italian instructions to return the migrants to Libya.  Both the UNHCR and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have issued guidelines to ship captains addressing the situations faced by the Salamis and Adakent.  The guidelines are based on the Search and Rescue Convention and the Refugee Convention and provide that if there is some reason to believe that a rescued person is an asylum seeker, the captain is obligated to take that fact into consideration when making a decision as to where to disembark the survivor.

Malta and Italy are well aware that many if not most migrants departing Libya by boat are asylum seekers and are also aware that many of the asylum claims will be granted if the asylum seeker is successful in lodging an application.  Had these two rescues been carried out by AFM or Guardia di Finanza patrol boats rather than the two commercial ships, the patrol boats would have been under a clear legal obligation to disembark the rescued migrants in a location where asylum or other claims for international protection could be properly considered.

The 2012 decision in the Hirsi v Italy case by the European Court of Human Rights condemned the Italian push-back practice which resulted in asylum seekers being returned to Libya without being given an opportunity to make asylum claims.  Neither Italy nor Malta can evade their responsibilities to consider asylum claims by diverting commercial ships to engage in rescue operations and then issuing orders to those commercial ships to return potential asylum seekers to a country such as Libya which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and does not provide an adequate alternate procedure to consider claims for protection.

There can be honest disagreement about where rescued migrants are to be disembarked as long as the survivors will be safe and protected when disembarked.  The Search and Rescue Convention obligates countries to coordinate and cooperate among themselves to permit rescuing ships to disembark rescued persons. Malta and Italy as sovereign countries have the right to control their borders, but this sovereign power has to be applied in manner that is consistent with international human rights and refugee law by which they have agreed to be bound.

4 Comments

Filed under Analysis, European Union, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean

UN Special Rapporteur on HR of Migrants expresses concern over Italy-Libya cooperation on migration

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Prof. François Crépeau, for the past six months has been conducting “a one-year comprehensive study to examine the rights of migrants in the Euro-Mediterranean region, focusing in particular on the management of the external borders of the European Union.”  The Special Rapporteur will present a thematic report on the human rights of migrants at the borders of the European Union to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013.  To date he has concluded official visits to EU offices in Brussels, Tunisia, Turkey, and Italy; a nine-day visit to Greece began on 25 November.  The Special Rapporteur has issued preliminary conclusions at the end of each completed mission.  One common concern is that various actions of the EU and neighbouring countries are resulting in human rights considerations being overshadowed by migration control and security objectives.

At the conclusion of the most recent mission to Italy (30 September – 8 October 2012), the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over Italy’s (and the EU’s) ongoing cooperation with Libya:

“Another matter of paramount importance are the bilateral cooperation agreements negotiated between Italy and its neighbours on the question of migration. Although the EU has negotiated a number of EU wide readmission agreements, the absence of a clear regional framework for such agreements, including a lack of minimum human rights standards, has led to the creation of a number of bilateral readmission agreements between Italy and its neighbours which often do not appear to have human rights at their core.  Of particular concern is the Italy-Libya bilateral cooperation on migration. The 2008 agreement formalised cooperation to strengthen Libya`s capacity to intercept irregular migrants on Libyan territory or territorial waters, even though Libya’s record at effectively protecting the human rights of migrants was poor and reports of human rights abuses of migrants in Libya were frequent. In line with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights pronounced in the Hirsi case that such ‘push-backs’ by Italian authorities towards Libya were not acceptable, the agreement is currently suspended and the Hirsi-defined push-backs appear to have ceased. However, Italy-Libya migration cooperation was recently reinforced through a 2012 processo verbale. This new political framework however, contains very little concrete information on strengthening Libya’s normative framework and institutional capacities regarding the human rights of migrants.”

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern that the current technical assistance in Search and Rescue capability being provided by Italy to Libya is in effect disguised migration control assistance:

 “Moreover, I have learnt of increased bilateral cooperation between Italian and Libyan authorities regarding search and rescue operations, including the provision of logistical and technical support to Libyan coast guards. Whilst increased search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean is undoubtedly of paramount importance, I have observed that there appears to be a strong focus on strengthening the capacities of the Libyan authorities to intercept migrants hoping to reach Europe, on both their territory and in their territorial waters, and return them to Libya. In this context, I warn EU member states against a progressive ‘externalisation’ of border control. In particular, considering the on-going difficulties of the Libyan authorities and the reports of human rights abuses against migrants on Libyan territory, this migration cooperation with Libya should not lead to any migrant being returned to Libyan shores against their will, either by Italian coast guards or Guardia di Finanza, or by Libyan coast guards with the technical or logistical support of their Italian counterparts.”

While acknowledging the important support provided to Italy by Frontex, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over certain Frontex activities in Italy:

“[  ] I am aware that the key focus of FRONTEX remains information and intelligence gathering. In Italy FRONTEX thus works predominantly with the Guarda di Finanza and the Border Police to combat irregular migration, migrant smuggling and other migration related crimes. I remain concerned that these security objectives still appear to overshadow human rights considerations. For example, I have learned that FRONTEX officers conduct interviews with migrants in Italian detention facilities in order to gather information on their journeys. However these interviews are conducted without any external supervision. It is thus essential that effective human rights standards be integrated into all departments and agencies related to border management.”

The Special Rapporteur made the following “Preliminary Recommendations to the Italian government”:

  • “Ensure that migration cooperation with Libya does not lead to any migrant being returned to Libyan shores against their will, either by Italian authorities, or by Libyan authorities with the technical or logistical support of their Italian counterparts.
  • Prohibit the practice of informal automatic “push-backs” to Greece.
  • Guarantee the full access by international organisations, including UNHCR and IOM, civil society organisations and lawyers to all areas where migrants are held or detained to identify protection concerns
  • Develop a nation-wide regulatory framework, with respect for human rights at its core, for the organisation and management of all migrant detention centres.
  • Develop a simpler and fairer appeal system for expulsion and detention orders that integrates human rights considerations at each procedural step.
  • Develop a speedier identification system, including commencing the identification of foreign inmates whilst in prison, in order to make sure that detention of migrants for identification purposes is limited to the shortest time possible, with a maximum of 6 months.”

Similar concerns were expressed by the Special Rapporteur after his missions to Tunisia and Turkey:

Tunisia, 8 June 2012: “… Nevertheless, I learned that a large majority of regional migration initiatives coming from the EU continue to be focused on issues of border control, and do not consider important issues such as the facilitation of regular migration channels. Thus I encourage the European authorities to develop, in the context of the Migration and Mobility Partnership currently being negotiated, and in conjunction with bilateral agreements of the Member States of the Union, a more nuanced policy of migration cooperation with Tunisia, which moves beyond security issues to develop new initiatives in consultation and in real partnership with Tunisian authorities, which place at their core the respect, protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants….”

Turkey, 29 June 2012:  “… While the EU and Turkey have developed a close cooperation on migration issues, which has led to some notable positive developments, the assistance offered to Turkey regarding migration management appears to focus largely on securitising the borders and decreasing irregular migration to the European common territory through focusing on projects related to the detention and removal of migrants in Turkey and the increased monitoring of the Turkish border. Often neglected from the equation, is an equivalent emphasis on the human rights of those most vulnerable and most affected by the migration process: the migrants themselves….”

The Special Rapporteur will likely issue preliminary observations at the conclusion of the current mission to Greece on or after 3 December.

Click here (Italy), here (Tunisia), and here (Turkey) for the Special Rapporteur’s statements.

Click here for the web site for the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

3 Comments

Filed under Aegean Sea, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Human Rights Council, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, Statements, Tunisia, Turkey, United Nations

HRW Briefing Paper: Hidden Emergency-Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean

Human Rights Watch released a briefing paper on 16 August entitled “Hidden Emergency-Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.”  The briefing paper, written by Judith Sunderland, a senior researcher with HRW, reviews recent events in the Mediterranean, provides updates on new developments, including the EUROSUR proposal and IMO guidelines that are under consideration, and makes recommendations for how deaths can be minimized.

Excerpts from the Briefing Paper:

“The death toll during the first six months of 2012 has reached at least 170. … Unless more is done, it is certain that more will die.

Europe has a responsibility to make sure that preventing deaths at sea is at the heart of a coordinated European-wide approach to boat migration, not a self-serving afterthought to policies focused on preventing arrivals or another maneuver by northern member states to shift the burden to southern member states like Italy and Malta.

With admirable candor, EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said recently that Europe had, in its reaction to the Arab Spring, ‘missed the opportunity to show the EU is ready to defend, to stand up, and to help.’ Immediate, concerted efforts to prevent deaths at sea must be part of rectifying what Malmström called Europe’s ‘historic mistake.’

Europe’s Response to Boat Migration

[***]

European countries most affected by boat migration—Italy, Malta, Greece and Spain—have saved many lives through rescue operations. But those governments and the European Union as a whole have focused far more effort on seeking to prevent boat migration, including in ways that violate rights. Cooperation agreements with countries of departure for joint maritime patrols, technical and financial assistance for border and immigration control, and expedited readmission of those who manage to set foot on European soil have become commonplace.

The EU’s border agency Frontex has become increasingly active through joint maritime operations, some of which have involved coordination with countries of departure outside the EU such as Senegal. Even though in September 2011 the EU gave Frontex an explicit duty to respect human rights in its operations and a role in supporting rescue at sea operations, these operations have as a primary objective to prevent boats from landing on EU member state territories. This has also prevented migrants, including asylum seekers, from availing themselves of procedural rights that apply within EU territory.

[***]

Italy had suspended its cooperation agreements with Libya in February 2011, and has indicated it will respect the European Court’s ruling and will no longer engage in push-backs. However, past experience suggests that an immigration cooperation agreement signed with the Libyan authorities in April 2012, the exact contents of which have neither been made public nor submitted to parliamentary scrutiny, is unlikely to give migrants’ human rights the attention and focus they need if those rights are to be properly protected.

[***]

Preventing Deaths in the Mediterranean

It may be tempting to blame lives lost at sea on unscrupulous smugglers, the weather, or simple, cruel fate. However, many deaths can and should be prevented. UNHCR’s recommendation during the Arab Spring to presume that all overcrowded migrant boats in the Mediterranean need rescue is a good place to start.

[***]

Recognizing the serious dimensions of the problem, specialized United Nations agencies such as the UNHCR and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), have been working to produce clear recommendations. These include establishing a model framework for cooperation in rescue at sea and standard operating procedures for shipmasters. The latter should include a definition of distress triggering the obligation to provide assistance that takes into account risk factors, such as overcrowding, poor conditions on board, and lack of necessary equipment or expertise. UNHCR has also proposed that countries with refugee resettlement programs set aside a quota for recognized refugees rescued at sea.

The IMO has also been pursuing since 2010 a regional agreement among Mediterranean European countries to improve rescue and disembarkation coordination, as well as burden-sharing. The project, if implemented successfully, would serve as a model for other regions. A draft text for a memorandum of understanding is under discussion. Negotiations should be fast-tracked with a view to implementation as quickly as possible.

If Europe is serious about saving lives at sea, it also needs to amend the draft legislation creating EUROSUR. This new coordinated surveillance system should spell out clearly the paramount duty to assist boat migrants at sea, and its implementation must be subject to rigorous and impartial monitoring. Arguments that such a focus would create a ‘pull factor’ and encourage more migrants to risk the crossing are spurious. History shows that people on the move, whether for economic or political reasons, are rarely deterred or encouraged by external factors.

[***]”

From the HRW press statement:

The “briefing paper includes concrete recommendations to improve rescue operations and save lives:

  • Improve search and rescue coordination mechanisms among EU member states;
  • Ensure that EUROSUR has clear guidelines on the paramount duty of rescue at sea and that its implementation is rigorously monitored;
  • Clarify what constitutes a distress situation, to create a presumption in favor of rescue for overcrowded and ill-equipped boats;
  • Resolve disputes about disembarkation points;
  • Remove disincentives for commercial and private vessels to conduct rescues; and
  • Increase burden-sharing among EU member states.”

Click here or here for HRW Briefing Paper.

Click here for HRW press statement.

3 Comments

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Reports, Spain, Tunisia

Article: M Tondini, “The legality of intercepting boat people under search and rescue and border control operations with reference to recent Italian interventions in the Mediterranean Sea and the ECtHR decision in the Hirsi case”

A new article by Matteo Tondini, Ph.D., “The legality of intercepting boat people under search and rescue and border control operations with reference to recent Italian interventions in the Mediterranean Sea and the ECtHR decision in the Hirsi case”, has been published in Vol. 18 of the Journal of International Maritime Law (subscription required).

Here is the abstract: “This article briefly addresses the legal grounds for the interception of boat people on the high seas by military vessels, taking into account the Italian Navy’s [experience] on the matter. If interceptions are conducted within the framework of an `extraterritorial’ border control operation, their legality is hardly sustainable. Conversely, when interventions are implemented as search and rescue (SAR) operations, their legal basis is much wider, provided that intervening states’ obligations under the SAR legal regime are coupled with those stemming from the prohibition of refoulement under international refugee law. As a result, rescued migrants can only be disembarked to `safe third countries’, namely countries in which they do not run the real risk of being persecuted or returned to other countries `at risk’. According to some very recent international and national jurisprudence, including the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in the Hirsi, before disembarking migrants, intervening states should in principle carry out a positive assessment on the functionality of the recipient country’s asylum system. In order to assess clearly the legality per se of interceptions, this article supports the necessity of applying a prevalence criterion, according to which if the SAR character prevails over the objective of preventing irregular migration, the intervention in question should be considered an authentic and lawful salvage operation.”

Also of note by the same author is his October 2010 paper, “Fishers of Men? The Interception of Migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and Their Forced Return to Libya.”

1 Comment

Filed under Analysis, European Court of Human Rights, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Tunisia

CoE Human Rights Commissioner Welcomes Italian Declarations that Migrant Push-Back Policy Will No Longer Be Applied

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks completed a four day visit to Italy between 3-6 July.  The visit was “focused on the human rights of Roma and Sinti and on the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers.”  A report on the visit will be issued in the future.  In the meantime the Commissioner released a statement on 9 July in which he “welcomed recent declarations [in Italy] at the highest political level that the ‘push-back’ policy will no longer be applied, in the light of the Hirsi Jamaa judgment of the Strasbourg Court [and stated his appreciation for] the efforts throughout the country to accommodate persons arriving from North Africa in the first half of 2011…”  The Commissioner further “recommended that the system of reception centres be unified, guaranteeing an adequate level of protection everywhere, and capable of responding to fluctuating migratory flows. The Commissioner also pointed out that once officially recognized, refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection do not receive the crucial support they need to integrate into Italian society, and are therefore forced to live in destitute conditions. The Commissioner said ‘I personally witnessed the intolerable circumstances faced by 800 such persons, struggling to survive in an abandoned building in Rome. This is unacceptable in a country like Italy’.”

Click here for full statement.

Leave a comment

Filed under Commissioner for Human Rights, Italy, Mediterranean, Statements

Heinrich Böll Foundation Study: Borderline- The EU’s New Border Surveillance Initiatives, Assessing the Costs and Fundamental Rights Implications of EUROSUR and the ‘Smart Borders’ Proposals

The Heinrich Böll Foundation released a study written by Dr. Ben Hayes from Statewatch and Mathias Vermeulen (editor of The Lift- Legal Issues in the Fight Against Terrorism blog) entitled “Borderline – The EU’s new border surveillance initiatives: assessing the costs and fundamental rights implications of EUROSUR and the ‘Smart Borders’ Proposals.”  The Study was presented to the European Parliament last month.  As Mathias Vermeulen noted in an email distributing the study, “the European Parliament is currently negotiating the legislative proposal for Eurosur, and the European Commission is likely to present a legislative proposal on ‘smart borders’ in September/October.”

Excerpts from the Preface and Executive Summary of the Study:

Preface

The upheavals in North Africa have lead to a short-term rise of refugees to Europe, yet, demonstrably, there has been no wave of refugees heading for Europe. By far most refugees have found shelter in neighbouring Arab countries. Nevertheless, in June 2011, the EU’s heads of state precipitately adopted EU Council Conclusions with far-reaching consequences, one that will result in new border policies ‘protecting’ the Union against migration. In addition to new rules and the re-introduction of border controls within the Schengen Area, the heads of state also insisted on upgrading the EU’s external borders using state-of-art surveillance technology, thus turning the EU into an electronic fortress.

The Conclusions passed by the representatives of EU governments aims to quickly put into place the European surveillance system EUROSUR. This is meant to enhance co-operation between Europe’s border control agencies and promote the surveillance of the EU’s external borders by FRONTEX, the Union’s agency for the protection of its external borders, using state-of-the-art surveillance technologies. To achieve this, there are even plans to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the Mediterranean and the coasts of North Africa. Such high-tech missions have the aim to spot and stop refugee vessels even before they reach Europe’s borders. A EUROSUR bill has been drafted and is presently being discussed in the European Council and in the European Parliament. [***]

EUROSUR and ‘smart borders’ represent the EU’s cynical response to the Arab Spring. Both are new forms of European border controls – new external border protection policies to shut down the influx of refugees and migrants (supplemented by internal controls within the Schengen Area); to achieve this, the home secretaries of some countries are even willing to accept an infringement of fundamental rights.

The present study by Ben Hayes and Mathias Vermeulen demonstrates that EUROSUR fosters EU policies that undermine the rights to asylum and protection. For some time, FRONTEX has been criticised for its ‘push back’ operations during which refugee vessels are being intercepted and escorted back to their ports of origin. In February 2012, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy for carrying out such operations, arguing that Italian border guards had returned all refugees found on an intercepted vessel back to Libya – including those with a right to asylum and international protection. As envisioned by EUROSUR, the surveillance of the Mediterranean using UAVs, satellites, and shipboard monitoring systems will make it much easier to spot such vessels. It is to be feared, that co-operation with third countries, especially in North Africa, as envisioned as part of EUROSUR, will lead to an increase of ‘push back’ operations.

Nevertheless, the EU’s announcement of EUROSUR sounds upbeat: The planned surveillance of the Mediterranean, we are being told, using UAVs, satellites, and shipboard monitoring systems, will aid in the rescue of refugees shipwrecked on the open seas. The present study reveals to what extent such statements cover up a lack of substance. Maritime rescue services are not part of EUROSUR and border guards do not share information with them, however vital this may be. Only just recently, the Council of Europe issued a report on the death of 63 migrants that starved and perished on an unseaworthy vessel, concluding that the key problem had not been to locate the vessel but ill-defined responsibilities within Europe. No one came to the aid of the refugees – and that in spite of the fact that the vessel’s position had been known. [***]

The EU’s new border control programmes not only represent a novel technological upgrade, they also show that the EU is unable to deal with migration and refugees. Of the 500,000 refugees fleeing the turmoil in North Africa, less than 5% ended up in Europe. Rather, the problem is that most refugees are concentrated in only a very few places. It is not that the EU is overtaxed by the problem; it is local structures on Lampedusa, in Greece’s Evros region, and on Malta that have to bear the brunt of the burden. This can hardly be resolved by labelling migration as a novel threat and using military surveillance technology to seal borders. For years, instead of receiving refugees, the German government along with other EU countries has blocked a review of the Dublin Regulation in the European Council. For the foreseeable future, refugees and migrants are to remain in the countries that are their first point of entry into the Union.

Within the EU, the hostile stance against migrants has reached levels that threaten the rescue of shipwrecked refugees. During FRONTEX operations, shipwrecked refugees will not be brought to the nearest port – although this is what international law stipulates – instead they will be landed in a port of the member country that is in charge of the operation. This reflects a ’nimby’ attitude – not in my backyard. This is precisely the reason for the lack of responsibility in European maritime rescue operations pointed out by the Council of Europe. As long as member states are unwilling to show more solidarity and greater humanity, EUROSUR will do nothing to change the status quo.

The way forward would be to introduce improved, Europe-wide standards for the granting of asylum. The relevant EU guidelines are presently under review, albeit with the proviso that the cost of new regulations may not exceed the cost of those in place – and that they may not cause a relative rise in the number of asylum requests. In a rather cynical move, the EU’s heads of government introduced this proviso in exactly the same resolution that calls for the rapid introduction of new surveillance measures costing billions. Correspondingly, the budget of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) is small – only a ninth what goes towards FRONTEX.

Unable to tackle the root of the problem, the member states are upgrading the Union’s external borders. Such a highly parochial approach taken to a massive scale threatens some of the EU’s fundamental values – under the pretence that one’s own interests are at stake. Such an approach borders on the inhumane.

Berlin/Brussels, May 2012

Barbara Unmüßig

President Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

Ska Keller

Member of the European Parliament

Executive Summary

The research paper ‘Borderline’ examines two new EU border surveillance initiatives: the creation of a European External Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) and the creation of the so-called ‘smart borders package’…. EUROSUR promises increased surveillance of the EU’s sea and land borders using a vast array of new technologies, including drones (unmanned aerial vehicles), off-shore sensors, and satellite tracking systems. [***]

The EU’s 2008 proposals gained new momentum with the perceived ‘migration crisis’ that accompanied the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, which resulted in the arrival of thousands of Tunisians in France. These proposals are now entering a decisive phase. The European Parliament and the Council have just started negotiating the legislative proposal for the EUROSUR system, and within months the Commission is expected to issue formal proposals for the establishment of an [Entry-Exit System] and [Registered Traveller Programme]. [***]

The report is also critical of the decision-making process. Whereas the decision to establish comparable EU systems such as EUROPOL and FRONTEX were at least discussed in the European and national parliaments, and by civil society, in the case of EUROSUR – and to a lesser extent the smart borders initiative – this method has been substituted for a technocratic process that has allowed for the development of the system and substantial public expenditure to occur well in advance of the legislation now on the table. Following five years of technical development, the European Commission expects to adopt the legal framework and have the EUROSUR system up and running (albeit in beta form) in the same year (2013), presenting the European Parliament with an effective fait accomplit.

The EUROSUR system

The main purpose of EUROSUR is to improve the ‘situational awareness’ and reaction capability of the member states and FRONTEX to prevent irregular migration and cross-border crime at the EU’s external land and maritime borders. In practical terms, the proposed Regulation would extend the obligations on Schengen states to conducting comprehensive ‘24/7’ surveillance of land and sea borders designated as high-risk – in terms of unauthorised migration – and mandate FRONTEX to carry out surveillance of the open seas beyond EU territory and the coasts and ports of northern Africa. Increased situational awareness of the high seas should force EU member states to take adequate steps to locate and rescue persons in distress at sea in accordance with the international law of the sea. The Commission has repeatedly stressed EUROSUR’s future role in ‘protecting and saving lives of migrants’, but nowhere in the proposed Regulation and numerous assessments, studies, and R&D projects is it defined how exactly this will be done, nor are there any procedures laid out for what should be done with the ‘rescued’. In this context, and despite the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean among migrants and refugees bound for Europe, EUROSUR is more likely to be used alongside the long-standing European policy of preventing these people reaching EU territory (including so-called push back operations, where migrant boats are taken back to the state of departure) rather than as a genuine life-saving tool.

The EUROSUR system relies on a host of new surveillance technologies and the interlinking of 24 different national surveillance systems and coordination centers, bilaterally and through FRONTEX. Despite the high-tech claims, however, the planned EUROSUR system has not been subject to a proper technological risk assessment. The development of new technologies and the process of interlinking 24 different national surveillance systems and coordination centres – bilaterally and through FRONTEX – is both extremely complex and extremely costly, yet the only people who have been asked if they think it will work are FRONTEX and the companies selling the hardware and software. The European Commission estimates that EUROSUR will cost €338 million, but its methods do not stand up to scrutiny. Based on recent expenditure from the EU External Borders Fund, the framework research programme, and indicative budgets for the planned Internal Security Fund (which will support the implementation of the EU’s Internal Security Strategy from 2014–2020), it appears that EUROSUR could easily end up costing two or three times more: as much as €874 million. Without a cap on what can be spent attached to the draft EUROSUR or Internal Security Fund legislation, the European Parliament will be powerless to prevent any cost overruns. There is no single mechanism for financial accountability beyond the periodic reports submitted by the Commission and FRONTEX, and since the project is being funded from various EU budget lines, it is already very difficult to monitor what has actually been spent.

In its legislative proposal, the European Commission argues that EUROSUR will only process personal data on an ‘exceptional’ basis, with the result that minimal attention is being paid to privacy and data protection issues. The report argues that the use of drones and high-resolution cameras means that much more personal data is likely to be collected and processed than is being claimed. Detailed data protection safeguards are needed, particularly since EUROSUR will form in the future a part of the EU’s wider Common Information Sharing Environment (CISE), under which information may be shared with a whole range of third actors, including police agencies and defence forces. They also call for proper supervision of EUROSUR, with national data protection authorities checking the processing of personal data by the EUROSUR National Coordination Centres, and the processing of personal data by FRONTEX, subject to review by the European Data Protection Supervisor. EUROSUR also envisages the exchange of information with ‘neighbouring third countries’ on the basis of bilateral or multilateral agreements with member states, but the draft legislation expressly precludes such exchanges where third countries could use this information to identify persons or groups who are at risk of being subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, or other fundamental rights violations. The authors argue that it will be impossible to uphold this provision without the logging of all such data exchanges and the establishment of a proper supervisory system. [***]”

Click here or here for full text of Study.

3 Comments

Filed under Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Mediterranean, Reports

AI Report: S.O.S. Europe – Human Rights and Migration Control

Amnesty International today has released a report, “S.O.S. Europe: Human Rights and Migration Control,” examining “the human rights consequences for migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers that have occurred in the context of Italy’s migration agreements with Libya.”

The Report is accompanied by the “the launch of Amnesty International’s ‘When you don’t exist campaign‘, which … seeks to hold to account any European country which violates human rights in enforcing migration controls. When you don’t exist aims to defend the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe and around its borders. …  Today, Europe is failing to promote and respect the rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. Hostility is widespread and mistreatment often goes unreported. As long as people on the move are invisible, they are vulnerable to abuse. Find out more at www.whenyoudontexist.eu.”

Excerpts from S.O.S. Europe Report:

WHAT IS EXTERNALIZATION?

Over the last decade, European countries have increasingly sought to prevent people from reaching Europe by boat from Africa, and have “externalized” elements of their border and immigration control. …

European externalization measures are usually based on bilateral agreements between individual countries in Europe and Africa. Many European countries have such agreements, but the majority do not publicize the details. For example, Italy has co-operation agreements in the field of “migration and security” with Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia,2 while Spain has co-operation agreements on migration with Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Mauritania.3

At another level, the European Union (EU) engages directly with countries in North and West Africa on migration control, using political dialogue and a variety of mechanisms and financial instruments. For example in 2010, the European Commission agreed a cooperation agenda on migration with Libya, which was suspended when conflict erupted in 2011. Since the end of the conflict, however, dialogue between the EU and Libya on migration issues has resumed.

The European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the EU (known as FRONTEX) also operates outside European territory. FRONTEX undertakes sea patrols beyond European waters in the Mediterranean Sea, and off West African coasts, including in the territorial waters of Senegal and Mauritania, where patrols are carried out in cooperation with the authorities of those countries.

The policy of externalization of border control activities has been controversial. Critics have accused the EU and some of its member states of entering into agreements or engaging in initiatives that place the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers at risk. A lack of transparency around the various agreements and activities has fuelled criticism.

This report examines some of the human rights consequences for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers that have occurred in the context of Italy’s migration agreements with Libya. It also raises concerns about serious failures in relation to rescue-at-sea operations, which require further investigation. The report is produced as part of wider work by Amnesty International to examine the human rights impacts of European externalization policies and practices.

[***]

AGREEMENTS BETWEEN ITALY AND LIBYA

[***]

The implementation of the agreements between Libya and Italy was suspended in practice during the first months of the conflict in Libya, although the agreements themselves were not set aside. While the armed conflict was still raging in Libya, Italy signed a memorandum of understanding with the Libyan National Transitional Council in which the two parties confirmed their commitment to co-operate in the area of irregular migration including through “the repatriation of immigrants in an irregular situation.”8 In spite of representations by Amnesty International and others on the current level of human rights abuses, on 3 April 2012 Italy signed another agreement with Libya to “curtail the flow of migrants”.9 The agreement has not been made public. A press release announced the agreement, but did not include any details on the measures that have been agreed, or anything to suggest that the present dire human rights predicament confronting migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya will be addressed.

[***]

HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATION BEYOND BORDERS

Human rights and refugee law requires all states to respect and protect the rights of people within their jurisdiction: this includes people within the state’s territorial waters, and also includes a range of different contexts where individuals may be deemed to be within a certain state’s jurisdiction.

[***]

States must also ensure that they do not enter into agreements – bilaterally or multilaterally – that would result in human rights abuses. This means states should assess all agreements to ensure that they are not based on, or likely to cause or contribute to, human rights violations. In the context of externalization, this raises serious questions about the legitimacy of European involvement – whether at a state-to-state level or through FRONTEX – in operations to intercept boats in the territorial waters of another state, when those intercepted would be at a real risk of human rights abuses.

A state cannot deploy its official resources, agents or equipment to implement actions that would constitute or lead to human rights violations, including within the territorial jurisdiction of another state.

CONCLUSION

Agreements between Italy and Libya include measures that result in serious human rights violations. Agreements between other countries in Europe and North and West Africa, and agreements and operations involving the EU and FRONTEX, also need to be examined in terms of their human rights impacts. However, with so little transparency surrounding migration control agreements and practices, scrutiny to date has been limited.

[***]

RECOMMENDATIONS

Amnesty International urges all states to protect the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, according to international standards, This report has focused on Italy.

THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT SHOULD:

  • set aside its existing migration control agreements with Libya;
  • not enter into any further agreements with Libya until the latter is able to demonstrate that it respects and protects the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and has in place a satisfactory system for assessing and recognizing claims for international protection;
  • ensure that all migration control agreements negotiated with Libya or any other countries are made public.

EUROPEAN COUNTRIES AND THE EU SHOULD:

  • ensure that their migration control policies and practices do not cause, contribute to, or benefit from human rights violations;
  • ensure their migration control agreements fully respect international and European human rights and refugee law, as well as the law of the sea; include adequate safeguards to protect human rights with appropriate implementation mechanisms; and be made public;
  • ensure their interception operations look to the safety of people in distress in interception and rescue operations and include measures that provide access to individualized assessment procedures, including the opportunity to claim asylum;
  • ensure their search-and-rescue bodies increase their capacity and co-operation in the Mediterranean Sea; publicly report on measures to reduce deaths at sea; and that Search and Rescue obligations are read and implemented in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of refugee and human rights law.”

Click here (EN), here (EN), or here (FR) for Report.

See also www.whenyoudontexist.eu

2 Comments

Filed under Eastern Atlantic, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Reports

Hirsi v. Italy: Prohibition of Collective Expulsion Extends to Extra-Territorial Actions

Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 of the ECHR reads in its entirety as follows:  “Collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited.”

The provision was first defined by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1975 in Henning Becker v. Denmark (no. 7011/75, decision of 3 October 1975).  The Commission defined the “‘collective expulsion of aliens’ as being ‘any measure of the competent authority compelling aliens as a group to leave the country, except where such a measure is taken after and on the basis of a reasonable and objective examination of the particular cases of each individual alien of the group’.” [para. 166]

The Court has only once previously found a violation of the collective expulsion prohibition and that was in Čonka v. Belgium (no. 51564/99, ECHR 2002-I). [para. 183]

The majority of collective expulsion cases previously considered by the Commission and the Court have “involved persons who were on the territory at issue.”  [para. 167]  One extra-territorial exception involved the case of Xhavara and Others v. Italy and Albania ((dec), no. 39473/98, 11 January 2001) involving “Albanian nationals who had attempted to enter Italy illegally on board an Albanian vessel and who had been intercepted by an Italian warship approximately 35 nautical miles off the Italian coast. The Italian ship had attempted to prevent the parties concerned from disembarking on national territory, leading to the death of fifty-eight people….”  The Court however “rejected the complaint on the ground of incompatibility ratione personae, as [the applicants challenged an Italian law which] had not been applied to their case, and [the Court therefore] did not rule on the [extra-territorial] applicability of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4…”  [para. 168]

In Hirsi the Court “for the first time” considered the question of whether the prohibition of collective expulsion “applies to a case involving the removal of aliens to a third State carried out outside national territory.”  [para. 169]

Italy argued that the prohibition “came into play only in the event of the expulsion of persons [already] on the territory of a State or who had crossed the national border illegally” and therefore did not apply to the Hirsi applicants who had not entered on to Italian territory. According to Italy, “the measure at issue was a refusal to authorise entry into national territory rather than ‘expulsion’.” [para. 160]

The Court rejected Italy’s interpretation:

“173.  The Court does not share the Government’s opinion on this point. It notes firstly that while the cases thus far examined have concerned individuals who were already, in various forms, on the territory of the country concerned, the wording of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 does not in itself pose an obstacle to its extra-territorial application. It must be noted that Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 contains no reference to the notion of ‘territory’, whereas the wording of Article 3 of the same Protocol, on the contrary, specifically refers to the territorial scope of the prohibition on the expulsion of nationals. Likewise, Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 explicitly refers to the notion of territory regarding procedural safeguards relating to the expulsion of aliens lawfully resident in the territory of a State. In the Court’s view, that wording cannot be ignored.

[***]

175.  It remains to be seen, however, whether [an extra-territorial] application [of the prohibition] is justified. To reply to that question, account must be taken of the purpose and meaning of the provision at issue, which must themselves be analysed in the light of the principle, firmly rooted in the Court’s case-law, that the Convention is a living instrument which must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions. [***] Furthermore, it is essential that the Convention is interpreted and applied in a manner which renders the guarantees practical and effective and not theoretical and illusory (see Marckx v. Belgium, 13 June 1979, § 41, Series A no. 31; [***]).

176.  A long time has passed since Protocol No. 4 was drafted. Since that time, migratory flows in Europe have continued to intensify, with increasing use being made of the sea, although the interception of migrants on the high seas and their removal to countries of transit or origin are now a means of migratory control, in so far as they constitute tools for States to combat irregular immigration.

The economic crisis and recent social and political changes have had a particular impact on certain regions of Africa and the Middle East, throwing up new challenges for European States in terms of immigration control.

177.  The Court has already found that, according to the established case-law of the Commission and of the Court, the purpose of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 is to prevent States being able to remove certain aliens without examining their personal circumstances and, consequently, without enabling them to put forward their arguments against the measure taken by the relevant authority. If, therefore, Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 were to apply only to collective expulsions from the national territory of the States Parties to the Convention, a significant component of contemporary migratory patterns would not fall within the ambit of that provision, notwithstanding the fact that the conduct it is intended to prohibit can occur outside national territory and in particular, as in the instant case, on the high seas. Article 4 would thus be ineffective in practice with regard to such situations, which, however, are on the increase. The consequence of that would be that migrants having taken to the sea, often risking their lives, and not having managed to reach the borders of a State, would not be entitled to an examination of their personal circumstances before being expelled, unlike those travelling by land.

178.  It is therefore clear that, while the notion of ‘jurisdiction’ is principally territorial and is presumed to be exercised on the national territory of States (see paragraph 71 above), the notion of expulsion is also principally territorial, in the sense that expulsions are most often conducted from national territory. Where, however, as in the instant case, the Court has found that a Contracting State has, exceptionally, exercised its jurisdiction outside its national territory, it does not see any obstacle to accepting that the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction by that State took the form of collective expulsion. To conclude otherwise, and to afford that last notion a strictly territorial scope, would result in a discrepancy between the scope of application of the Convention as such and that of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4, which would go against the principle that the Convention must be interpreted as a whole. Furthermore, as regards the exercise by a State of its jurisdiction on the high seas, the Court has already stated that the special nature of the maritime environment cannot justify an area outside the law where individuals are covered by no legal system capable of affording them enjoyment of the rights and guarantees protected by the Convention which the States have undertaken to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction (see Medvedyev and Others, cited above, § 81).

[***]

180.  Having regard to the foregoing, the Court considers that the removal of aliens carried out in the context of interceptions on the high seas by the authorities of a State in the exercise of their sovereign authority, the effect of which is to prevent migrants from reaching the borders of the State or even to push them back to another State, constitutes an exercise of jurisdiction within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention which engages the responsibility of the State in question under Article 4 of Protocol No. 4.

[***]

185.  In the instant case, the Court can only find that the transfer of the applicants to Libya was carried out without any form of examination of each applicant’s individual situation. It has not been disputed that the applicants were not subjected to any identification procedure by the Italian authorities, which restricted themselves to embarking all the intercepted migrants onto military ships and disembarking them on Libyan soil. Moreover, the Court notes that the personnel aboard the military ships were not trained to conduct individual interviews and were not assisted by interpreters or legal advisers.

That is sufficient for the Court to rule out the existence of sufficient guarantees ensuring that the individual circumstances of each of those concerned were actually the subject of a detailed examination.

186.  Having regard to the above, the Court concludes that the removal of the applicants was of a collective nature, in breach of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4. Accordingly, there has been a violation of that Article.”

Click here (EN) and here (FR) for the Grand Chamber’s Judgment.

Click here (EJIL: Talk!), here (ECHR Blog), here (UK Human Rights Blog), and here (Open Society Blog)  for more analysis of the Judgment.

Click here for my previous post “Hirsi v. Italy: The Issue of Jurisdiction Under ECHR Article 1.”

3 Comments

Filed under Analysis, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, Italy, Judicial, Libya, Mediterranean

Hirsi v. Italy: The Issue of Jurisdiction Under ECHR Article 1

The Court found that ECHR Article 1 jurisdiction existed because “the applicants were under the continuous and exclusive de jure and de facto control of the Italian authorities” from the point in time when the applicants’ boats were intercepted and the applicants were transferred to the Italian ships up until the point when the applicants were turned over to Libyan authorities in Tripoli. [para. 81]

The Court noted that the jurisdiction of a State is essentially territorial and therefore “the Court has accepted only in exceptional cases that acts of the Contracting States performed, or producing effects, outside their territories can constitute an exercise of jurisdiction by them within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention (see Drozd and Janousek v. France and Spain, 26 June 1992, § 91, Series A no. 240; Bankoviç, decision cited above, § 67; and Ilaşcu and Others, cited above, § 314).” [para. 72].

“73.  [***] In each case, the question whether exceptional circumstances exist which require and justify a finding by the Court that the State was exercising jurisdiction extra-territorially must be determined with reference to the particular facts, for example full and exclusive control over a prison or a ship (see Al-Skeini and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 55721/07, § 132 and 136, 7 July 201; Medvedyev and Others, cited above, § 67).

74.  Whenever the State through its agents operating outside its territory exercises control and authority over an individual, and thus jurisdiction, the State is under an obligation under Article 1 to secure to that individual the rights and freedoms under Section 1 of the Convention that are relevant to the situation of that individual. In this sense, therefore, the Court has now accepted that Convention rights can be ‘divided and tailored’ (see Al-Skeini, cited above, § 136 and 137; compare Banković, cited above, § 75).”

The Court rejected Italy’s jurisdictional arguments.  While Italy acknowledged that the events in question took place on board its military ships, Italy asserted that due to the nature of the operation, the military ships and their personnel never exercised “absolute and exclusive control” over the applicants. [para. 64] Italy argued that its actions constituted a “rescue on the high seas of persons in distress” and therefore “could in no circumstances be described as a maritime police operation.” [para. 65] Italy argued that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea obligated it to rescue persons in distress and that carrying out its obligations under the Convention on the Law of the Sea  “did not in itself create a link between the State and the persons concerned establishing the State’s jurisdiction.” [para. 65]

The Court concluded that Italy “[could not] circumvent its ‘jurisdiction’ under the [ECHR] by describing the events at issue as rescue operations on the high seas.”   The Court took note of the events in the case of Medvedyev and Others where French military personnel intercepted a vessel flying the flag of a third State and took control of crew members who remained on board the intercepted vessel. [para. 80]

“81.  The Court observes that in the [Hirsi] case the events took place entirely on board ships of the Italian armed forces, the crews of which were composed exclusively of Italian military personnel. In the Court’s opinion, in the period between boarding the ships of the Italian armed forces and being handed over to the Libyan authorities, the applicants were under the continuous and exclusive de jure and de facto control of the Italian authorities. Speculation as to the nature and purpose of the intervention of the Italian ships on the high seas would not lead the Court to any other conclusion.

82.  Accordingly, the events giving rise to the alleged violations fall within Italy’s ‘jurisdiction’ within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention.”

In some respects, the Article 1 jurisdictional issue was easier to address because the applicants were removed from their vessels and taken on board the Italian military vessels.  The Court noted that under “relevant provisions of the law of the sea, a vessel sailing on the high seas is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the State of the flag it is flying” [para. 77] and further that this principle is contained within the Italian Navigation Code. [para. 78]  The Court accordingly found that de jure control had been exercised over the applicants after they were transferred from their boats to the Italian ships.

It seems clear that Italy intends in the future to resume some sort of bi-lateral immigration control measures with Libya.  It remains to be seen whether Italy will try to implement some modified form of the push-back practice that has now been condemned by the Court.  One of the provisions in one of the bi-lateral agreements between Italy and Libya mentioned in the Hirsi judgment provides for the deployment of

“maritime patrols with joint crews, made up of equal numbers of Italian and Libyan personnel having equivalent experience and skills. The patrols shall be conducted in Libyan and international waters under the supervision of Libyan personnel and with participation by Italian crew members, and in Italian and international waters under the supervision of Italian personnel and with participation by the Libyan crew members.”  Additional Protocol of 4 February 2009 [para. 19]

The question arises whether Italy could evade jurisdiction and circumvent its Convention obligations by lessening its control over a new push-back scheme.  How would the Court have viewed the push-back events had they occurred, as the operational protocol above contemplates, “in … international waters under the supervision of Libyan personnel and with participation by Italian crew members”?

Click here (EN) and here (FR) for the Grand Chamber’s judgment.

Click here (EJIL: Talk!), here (ECHR Blog), here (UK Human Rights Blog) and here (Open Society Blog) for more analysis of the Judgment.

3 Comments

Filed under Analysis, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, Italy, Judicial, Libya, Mediterranean