Tag Archives: Rescue at Sea

MaltaToday: Italy withholding data on Mediterranean rescue operations from Frontex

An article from yesterday in MaltaToday by Jurgen Balzan reports that Italian authorities are not sharing information with Frontex regarding the number of migrants and asylum seekers rescued at sea in the Central Mediterranean and suggests that the withholding of information may be related to an effort to minimize public concerns over migration as Italy nears a vote next month on a constitutional referendum supported by PM Renzi.

From the article: “…Italian authorities are not sharing the data [regarding rescued migrants] with Frontex … and are keeping the number of people rescued under wraps. A Frontex spokesperson told MaltaToday that although the agency is actively participating in the rescue operations, the Italian authorities ‘are not sharing’ the data on how many people were rescued or how many people lost their lives last week.  Sources close to the Armed Forces of Malta said that Frontex normally holds and provides such data and ‘if they don’t have the numbers then information is being withheld by the Italians.’…”

Leave a comment

Filed under Data / Stats, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Migrants, News, Refugees

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

Satellite Imagery Used by Frontex to Detect and Rescue Migrant Boats

While the use by Frontex of satellite imagery is not new, Frontex released a copy of a satellite image used last week to detect and rescue 370 people on Eurosur Fusion Services imageryboard three inflatable boats off the Libyan coast. (It is unclear whether the image made available by Frontex shows the actual spatial resolution available to Frontex.)

According to Frontex, the imagery is part of “Frontex’s Eurosur Fusion Services … made possible by the cooperation between experts at Frontex and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), Italian authorities and EUNAVFORMED. … The Eurosur [fusion] services already include automated large vessel tracking and detection capabilities, software functionalities allowing complex calculations for predicting positions and detecting suspicious activities of vessels, as well as precise weather and oceanographic forecasts. Fusion Services use optical and radar satellite technology to help locate vessels at sea. Recent upgrades of their technical capabilities make it possible to spot smaller vessels.”

Frontex has used satellite imagery for years, for example in 2008 during Frontex Operation Hera off Mauritania, Amnesty International reported that satellite photos would be presented to Mauritanian authorities to demonstrate that migrants on board a particular migrant boat had departed from Mauritania territory. (Amnesty International, “Mauritania: ‘Nobody Wants to Have Anything to Do With Us,’ Arrests and Collective Expulsions of Migrants Denied Entry Into Europe,” 1 July 2008.)

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Frontex, News

20 May – Informal Meeting between Members of UN Security Council and EU Political and Security Committee

From “What’s In Blue”: On 20 May, “members of the Security Council will hold an informal meeting with members of the EU Political and Security Committee (PSC). Since this is an informal meeting, it will not be held in the Security Council chamber and is not on the official programme of work of the Council. The meeting was requested by the EU and will be hosted by Lithuania, the current president of the Council, at the premises of the EU Delegation to the UN. The mutually agreed agenda for the meeting includes EU-UN peacekeeping cooperation in Africa, Libya and Ukraine.”

Among the topics that will be discussed is the proposed EU military operation in Libya:

“Libya/Migrant Smuggling – On this … issue, Council members are also expected to discuss with the members of the EU PSC the details of the EU military operation (EU NAVFOR Med) the EU decided to establish on 18 May to break the business model of the smuggling of migrants. Briefing the Council on 11 May, Mogherini presented proposals for the EU strategy to tackle the flow of migrants towards Europe. As part of this strategy, Mogherini discussed the plans for an EU military operation that would be authorised under Chapter VII to inspect, seize and dispose of vessels when there are grounds to believe that they are participating in the smuggling of migrants. Negotiations are ongoing among EU members of the Council (France, Lithuania, Spain and the UK) and China, Russia and the US on a draft resolution to authorise the EU operation. Council members are likely to be interested in the details that the EU PSC ambassadors can provide on this proposed operation, and what they are seeking from the Council, including on the appropriateness of this response to tackle this phenomenon, the protections foreseen in accordance with international refugee law, the issues associated with consent from the Libyan authorities, the geographical scope of the resolution, and consent by the flag states regarding interdictions.”

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Libya, Mediterranean, News, United Nations

Via Statewatch: Non-public Crisis Management Concept document – EU plan for CSDP operation to disrupt migrant smugglers in Libya

The non-public Crisis Management Concept document outlining the EU plan for a CSDP operation to disrupt migrant smugglers in Libya has been made available via Statewatch. See p. 6, Section IV, for the military operation plans. (Also available here.)

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Mediterranean, News

German Naval Ships Participating in Mediterranean Rescue Operation Destroy Empty Migrant Boats

Two German naval ships, the Hessen and the Berlin, have been participating in Mediterranean rescue operations since 5 May and have reportedly destroyed five migrant boats (four inflatable and one wooden) after rescue operations were completed and migrants removed from the boats. The boats are destroyed because they might pose a navigational hazard to other vessels and might also be mistaken for a boat in distress. (Wir müssen die Boote zerstören, weil sie auf dem offenen Meer ein Schifffahrtshindernis für andere Boote darstellen. Zum anderen könnte es sein, dass wir ein leeres Boot aus der Luft irrtümlich als ein in Seenot befindliches Boot wahrnehmen und hinfahren, um es zu retten. Das kann wertvolle Zeit kosten, die uns bei der Rettung von besetzten Booten dann verloren geht.)

As I have noted before, there are situations such as these where the destruction of a migrant boat may be perfectly legal and appropriate. Assuming reasonable measures can be taken to avoid or minimize environmental damage, the destruction in international waters of an unflagged and unseaworthy vessel would seem to be legal.

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Mediterranean, News

IOM see inherent risk that EU military action in Libya will endanger migrant lives.

In a statement IOM generally welcomed the European Commission’s proposals on migration. “IOM … supports the renewed focus on disrupting criminal smuggling networks, but has serious concerns about proposals to ‘systematically identify, capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers,’ through EU Common Security and Defense (CSDP) operations. While recognizing the need for a powerful demonstration of the EU’s determination to act, IOM sees inherent risk that military actions, however laudable, could further endanger migrant lives.”

1 Comment

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Mediterranean, United Nations

UN’s Sutherland calls on EU “not to put any refugees or migrants in the line of fire.”

Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for International Migration and Development in a statement welcomed the European Commission’s “European Agenda on Migration” but “urge[d] [EU] Member States not to put any refugees or migrants in the line of fire, and to design any [anti-smuggling] operation in complete conformity with international law.” Sutherland urged the EU to take steps to ensure that Frontex Operations Triton and Poseidon “are at least equal in effect to Mare Nostrum” and “to make search-and-rescue the top priority…”

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Libya, Mediterranean, Statements, United Nations

HR/VP Federica Mogherini’s remarks at the UN Security Council, 11 May 2015

HR/VP Mogherini’s remarks earlier today to the Security Council contained very few details on the EU proposal to engage in “systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers in accordance with international law.” Here is one excerpt from her remarks: Mogherini at UNSC

“[M]y presence here at the Security Council today is so important for us. We have in these weeks prepared for a possible naval operation in the framework of the European Union Common Security and Defence Policy. The mandate of this operation is currently being elaborated with the EU Member States in Brussels, and will be discussed by the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, in a week from now, in exactly a week from now on 18 May, with a possibility of taking decisions, the first decisions already. We want to work with the United Nations, in particular with the UNSC. …”

Full text here.

2 Comments

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Libya, Mediterranean, Statements, United Nations

UN Security Council, 11 May, Briefing and Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Smuggling of Migrants in the Mediterranean

Full text from “What’s in Blue” (published by Security Council Report):

“On Monday (11 May) the [Security] Council will receive a briefing by Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on the EU response to the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. After the briefing, Council members are expected to hold an informal interactive dialogue with her. At the request of Chad, the permanent observer of the AU to the UN, Ambassador Tete António, will also participate in these meetings.

This briefing comes after the 19 April incident in which more than 700 migrants drowned when the overcrowded boat on which they were traveling sank near Libya. According to the [International] Organization for Migration, more than 1,700 migrants have drowned since the beginning of January in the Mediterranean Sea. In a 21 April press statement, Council members expressed grave concern at the smuggling of migrants off the coast of Libya, highlighting the implications for regional stability. On 22 April, at the request of the UK, Council members exchanged views on this issue under ‘any other business”’

Mogherini is expected to brief Council members on the integrated strategy by the EU to address the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. The strategy includes the provision of bilateral development assistance to countries on the southern and eastern Mediterranean basin—as well as to countries of origin and transit—while tripling the financial resources available to operations Triton and Poseidon, currently existing in the territorial waters of EU member states. In a 20 April joint meeting of EU foreign and interior Ministers, chaired by Mogherini, the Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos of Greece presented a plan to respond to migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean, which would entail a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers, inspired by the EU Atalanta Operation deployed to fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia. The plan was endorsed in a 23 April meeting of the EU Council, and negotiations are ongoing at the EU to agree on the Crisis Management Concept, which is the basis for operational planning and conduct of any EU mission.

Since that meeting, discussions among EU members of the Council (France, Lithuania, Spain, and the UK) and Italy on a draft resolution apparently authorising such an operation have been ongoing. It seems some permanent members have been able to provide inputs. It appears the idea is for a Chapter VII resolution that will authorise an EU operation to use all necessary measures to inspect, seize and dispose of vessels when there are grounds to believe that they are participating in the smuggling of migrants. The draft may be circulated to the wider membership of the Council in the coming days.

Although most Council members have not seen the draft text, they are aware of some of its elements and are expected to seek information that might feed into any negotiations of the draft. Council members are likely to want to know more about the expected geographical scope of the resolution (whether this includes the high seas, the territorial waters of Libya or even its shore) and whether the EU is seeking Libya’s consent. In this context, Council members might inquire about Mogherini’s recent conversations in Tunisia with Libyan political actors, and the potential impact of such an operation on the political process. Some Council members might be worried that asking for the consent of the Tobruk-based government could negatively impact the talks, which are aimed at the formation of a government of national unity.

Some Council members may echo concerns regarding the protection of human rights and international refugee law that have been raised by the Secretary-General as well as the UN High Commissioners for Human Rights and Refugees. In particular, they might ask about the fate of the migrants taken into custody, and note the importance of respecting the guarantees of international law, notably the 1951 Refugee Convention and the principle of non-refoulement. When the programme of work was adopted, a briefing by the High Commissioner for Refugees, along with the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, was being considered for some point in May. Some Council members may have expected these briefings to happen before engaging in discussions about the regional responses to the smuggling of migrants; however, at press time, it was unclear if and when they will be held.

In the past, it has been difficult to get agreement on resolutions authorising the interception of vessels, whether in the context of the implementation of sanctions or counter-piracy measures. Some Council members feel strongly about not contravening the freedom of navigation principle codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As such, they have tended to focus their discussions in the past on issues such as the procedures to authorise the interdiction, whether the consent of the flag state is required, and where the interdiction is authorised to happen.”

3 Comments

Filed under African Union, European Union, Frontex, Libya, Mediterranean, News, United Nations

German Shipowners’ Association (VDR) Criticises Growing Reliance on Merchant Vessels to Conduct Mediterranean Sea Rescue – Calls for Expansion of SAR Boundaries

Ralf Nagel, the Chief Executive Officer of the German Shipowners’ Association (VDR), last week called on Germany to deploy Navy vessels outside of the Frontex Triton operation zone and closer to the coast of Libya where private merchant ships are often the first to encounter migrant boats in distress. At least two German Navy ships were in Crete last week waiting for deployment instructions. “Deploying the [German] Navy in that part of the Mediterranean would not only send a strong political signal to Brussels, it would also be an important message for the shipping industry, which is doing all it can. And above all else: it would save the lives of innumerable refugees. Rescuing people at sea ought to be the responsibility of navy and coast guard vessels as a rule. … [W]e therefore demand that the boundaries within which maritime rescues are conducted by government forces be expanded beyond the Triton zone.”

According to the Frontex Annual Risk Analysis 2015, private merchant ships have been conducting an ever increasing number of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. In December 2014, merchant vessels accounted for just under 40% of the SAR operations. (See graph below map.)

Source: Verband Deutscher Reeder (VDR) / German Shipowners' Association (VDR)

Source: Verband Deutscher Reeder (VDR) / German Shipowners’ Association (VDR)

 

Figure 5

2 Comments

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Germany, Libya, Maps, Mediterranean, News, Statements

Amnesty International Report: ‘Libya is Full of Cruelty’ – Stories of Abduction, Sexual Violence and Abuse from Migrants and Refugees

Amnesty International has released a new report entitled: “’Libya is Full of Cruelty’ – Stories of Abduction, Sexual Violence and Abuse from Migrants and Refugees.” (also available here.)  2015-05-11_Amnesty Intl_Report_Libya_Libya_is_full_of_cruelty COVER

Key points include (see formal AI recommendations below):

  • “Widespread abuses by armed groups, smugglers, traffickers and organized criminal groups in Libya as well as systematic exploitation, lawlessness and armed conflicts are pushing hundreds of thousands of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees to risk their lives by attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea”;
  • “In many cases, migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea have been subjected to prolonged beatings in [detention] facilities following their interception and arrest by the Libyan coastguard or militias acting on their own initiative in the absence of strong state institutions”;
  • “While Amnesty International welcomes the EU’s commitment to increase resources for search and rescue operations, it is also concerned that some of the proposed measures, in particular plans to ‘systematically identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers’ would effectively contribute to migrants and refugees being trapped in Libya and expose them to a risk of serious human rights abuses”;
  • “As more people are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, the priority for the international community must be to dramatically expand search and rescue operations and take effective steps to urgently address human rights abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Libya. EU governments must also increase the number of resettlement places, humanitarian admissions and visas for people in need of international protection”.

Amnesty International makes the following recommendations:

To European governments

  • Urgently ensure the deployment of naval and aerial resources at a scale commensurate with foreseeable departure trends and which should patrol the high seas along the main migration routes. Whether such deployment occurs within the framework of Frontex Joint Operation Triton or through other agreements, it is crucial that ships and aircraft are delivered promptly and deployed in the area where most of calls for assistance come from and a great number of shipwrecks occurs;
  • To reduce the numbers of those risking their lives at sea, increase the number of resettlement places, humanitarian admissions and visas for people in need of international protection and ensure that refugees have effective access to asylum at land borders;
  • Ensure that any action against smugglers and traffickers is addressed through law enforcement measures, governed by human rights law and standards, and that it does not contribute to migrants and refugees being trapped in Libya without any means of escaping the violence;
  • Ensure that human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including against migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya, are addressed as part of the political dialogue aimed at ending the ongoing conflicts, and that a mechanism is put in place to monitor the human rights situation on the ground following any subsequent settlement. EU governments must also insist that Libyan authorities, armed groups and militias end the systematic indefinite detention of migrants and refugees based on their immigration status; all refugees and asylum-seekers and migrants detained for immigration purposes must be released.;
  • Investigate and bring to justice in fair trials those involved in trafficking of persons.

To the governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria:

  • Keep the borders open to all individuals in need of international protection regardless of whether they have valid travel documents or meet visa requirements.

To governments along the smuggling route:

  • Ensure that any regional co-operation aimed at addressing irregular migration and dismantle smuggling networks fully complies with international law and standards, and does not infringe upon the rights and safety of asylum-seekers and refugees, with particular regard to the right to freedom of movement, the right to asylum, and the absolute prohibition on refoulement.

To militias, armed groups and Libyan authorities:

  • Release anyone detained solely on the basis of their immigration status, nationality, race, religion or ethnicity;
  • Make clear to all those under your command that torture or other ill-treatment, rape and sexual assault will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Remove from the ranks anyone suspected of such abuses;
  • Facilitate visits by independent organizations to immigration detention centres and other places of detention;
  • Ensure that all those deprived of their liberty can communicate regularly with their families and have access to adequate medical care.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Libya, Mediterranean, Reports, United Nations

700-800 Bodies Believed To Be Inside 18 April Migrant Boat Wreck

An Italian prosecutor on Friday said that “more than 700, maybe 800” bodies are contained within the wreckage of the migrant boat that sank 85 miles off the coast of Libya on 18 April. The boat has been located by the Italian Navy and an effort may be made to recover the bodies. It is at a depth of 375 metres. Fewer than 30 people were rescued at the time of the accident and only 24 bodies have been recovered so far.

Marina Militare / Italian Navy

Marina Militare / Italian Navy – Image by underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV)

Marina Militare / Italian Navy

Marina Militare / Italian Navy – sonar image

1 Comment

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

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

Russia Will Veto Any UN Security Council Resolution Seeking to Authorise Destruction of Smuggling Boats in Libya

The Financial Times (paywall or answer marketing questions) reported yesterday that Russia will veto any UN Security Council resolution that would authorise the destruction of migrant boats in Libya. The FT reported that Russia might consider supporting “a more restricted mandate for any EU military mission, which could involve a search and rescue role alongside powers to stop and seize smugglers’ boats at sea.”

The Security Council’s Programme of Work for the month of May does not currently include any meetings pertaining to the EU’s desire for authorisation of military strikes on smugglers boats, but a briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean might take place next week according to footnotes to the Programme of Work.

4 Comments

Filed under European Union, Libya, Mediterranean, News, United Nations