Tuesday

29th Sep 2020

Italy softens claim of NGOs colluding with smugglers

Italy's interior under-secretary, Domenico Manzione, appears to have softened accusations that aid groups are complicit in smuggling people across the Mediterranean sea from Libya.

Speaking to MEPs in the civil liberties committee (Libe), Manzione said NGOs are performing a welcomed duty in saving people at sea, but that they need to follow rules and be more transparent.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"We need to make sure that those who do become active in the Mediterranean, play by the same rules and follow orders," he said on Thursday (8 June).

He said the big issue was that some NGOs, active in the Sicilian channel for example, are disobeying orders by not bringing rescued people to the first port of safety.

"It has to be the first safe port ... the port of their choosing might not have the necessary infrastructure," he said.

However, he noted there was also a political dimension behind the issue, which gripped headlines following a news report last December by the Financial Times (FT) newspaper.

Sicilian prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro launched an investigation on the back of the FT article, which quoted the EU's border agency, Frontex, as saying that some charities are colluding with people smugglers.

The FT later issued a correction to the original story, noting that it had "overstated the content of confidential briefings" provided by Frontex, but Zuccaro maintained he had evidence of direct contact between NGOs and people smugglers in Libya.

But the Intercept, a US-based media outlet, had in April managed to obtain a full copy of the Frontex report that was initially seen by the FT. The report noted, among other things, that there was little evidence to support the original accusation.

When pressed on the issue in late April, the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, also told reporters that they had no evidence to suggest NGOs are working with people smugglers.

"We do not have as the European Union evidence of that kind," she said.

Frontex, meanwhile, had also released a 64-page risk analysis report in February, which further accused NGOs of helping criminals of achieving their objectives at minimum cost.

The report said the rescue operations end up helping criminals because it strengthens "their business model by increasing the chances of success."

Operation Sophia

However, broader questions remain over the role of the EU's naval operation, Sophia, given its mandate also to destroy seized vessels. It has seized some 300 since the end of 2015.

Among the concerns is that people are being forced onto increasingly less seaworthy boats as a result, such as inflatable throw-away dinghies. Fewer seaworthy boats means that NGOs operating close to the Libyan border become an even more vital lifeline for people.

Some 160,000 people have crossed the sea to Italy this year alone, among which over 1,500 have died.

"We are not against search and rescue, search and rescue is our duty and we welcome the fact that NGOs are involved there, we can't thank them enough," said Manzione.

Analysis

Between the lines, Europe's new Moria unfolds

A new five-day screening of migrants at Europe's external borders is meant to expedite people into either 'asylum' or 'return' tracks. The time-limit is wishful thinking and one that could leave people stranded in make-shift camps or even ghettos.

EU migration pact to deter asylum

The EU commission's newest pact on migration and asylum seeks to deter people from claiming asylum by speeding up procedures and sending most of them back home.

Legal complaint filed with EU Commission over migration

The European Commission is being legally pressed to investigate alleged infringements by Greece on migration and asylum - following reports of push-backs and the denial of basic rights for people demanding international protection.

Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact

Michael Spindelegger, the former minister of foreign affairs of Austria and current director of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), reveals some of the proposals in the European Commission's upcoming pact on migration and asylum.

EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece

Over 120 asylum seeking children and teenagers in Greece have so far been relocated to a handful of EU states in a scheme the European Commission says is a demonstration of solidarity. EU states have pledged to take in 2,000.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. Caucasus warfare prompts EU alarm
  2. Summit reloaded and last Brexit round This WEEK
  3. EU denies 'clandestine' mission on Venezuela election date
  4. Between the lines, Europe's new Moria unfolds
  5. Now's the time to give QMV a chance in EU foreign policy
  6. European hiccups on the way to West Africa
  7. Berlin repeats support for EU human rights sanctions
  8. China's carbon pledge at UN sends 'clear message' to US

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us