Saturday

17th Apr 2021

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

Become an expert on Europe

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.

Denmark threatens Syria deportations amid EU concerns

Denmark is stripping Syrians of residency rights - the first country in the EU to do so - amid threats to deport them back home. The EU did not comment directly, but warned that Syria is not safe.

Analysis

Frontex is its own worst enemy

The Warsaw-based agency held out 105 days, refusing freedom of information requests, before it finally revealed a partial breakdown of costs linked to its annual European Border and Coast Guard Day. Such delays, on spending, tend to arouse suspicions.

Frontex redacts its hospitality spending figures

The EU's border agency Frontex has blacked-out entire documents on how it spends EU taxpayer money on itself, including gala dinners and hotels. The agency, whose annual budget has soared to €544m, claims there is "no overriding public" interest.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Analysis

Frontex scrutiny on rights violations is a PR stunt

Greece denies any illegal pushbacks at sea. The EU takes their version of events as face value, in a system unable and unwilling to shed doubt on Greek authorities - posing accountability questions on the EU's border guard agency Frontex.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us