Monday

22nd Apr 2019

Migrant deaths linked to EU operations by NGO

  • Dinghies have "insufficient fuel, no lifejackets or other safety features, and often with no means to call for help" (Photo: iom.int)

The EU’s “reckless” way of trying to curb Central Mediterranean migration has helped to make this year one of the deadliest on record, Amnesty International has said.

An EU naval operation, Sophia, has destroyed so many of the smugglers’ wooden boats that higher numbers of people were now being put on less safe rubber dinghies instead, the international, UK-based NGO said.

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  • EU operations focus lack humanitarian focus, Amnesty said (Photo: Frontex)

“The use of large wooden boats drastically decreased, to be replaced by rubber boats (676 in 2015 and 1,094 in 2016),” Amnesty’s report, out on Wednesday (5 July), said.

“With insufficient fuel, no lifejackets or other safety features, and often with no means to call for help, such as a satellite phone, these boats have virtually no chance of reaching European coasts,” it said.

It said the “humanitarian crisis” had claimed 2,030 lives so far this year, meaning that “at current rates, the death toll in 2017 promises to be just as high, if not higher” than in 2016, which was already a record year for migrant deaths.

The EU has two operations in the region, Sophia and Triton. The Italian navy also has one, Mare Sicuro.

But Amnesty said their main tasks were anti-smuggler operations, surveillance, and maritime security instead of humanitarian ones, with “assets … deployed as required by their principal objectives”.

In what the NGO called a “reckless European strategy”, it said the EU was exposing migrants to abuse by Libyan authorities and militias.

It said migrants that the EU and Libya stopped from leaving the north African country faced “killings, torture, rape, kidnappings, forced labour, and arbitrary detention in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions.”

It said the Libyan coastguard, which the EU has trained and equipped, was capsizing migrant boats in botched rescues.

In some cases the Libyan coastguard subjected migrants “to forced labour and, in the case of women, rape and other sexual violence”.

It also beat people with rifle buts and stole their phones and money.

Amnesty said the vast majority of migrants coming to Italy were from Nigeria, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Bangladesh, Eritrea, and Syria.

It said people from war-torn Syria and Eritrea had the best chance of getting asylum, but that many people from other African countries were not economic migrants.

It said other Africans were fleeing “political persecution, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detention, torture … forced labour” and that some 40 percent of all claimants qualified for protection.

Amnesty said nine NGOs operated rescue boats in the Central Mediterranean - Moas, MSF, Jugend Rettet, Life Boat, Proactiva Open Arms, Save the Children, Sea-Eye, Sea- Watch, and SOS Mediterranee.

It attacked what it called a “slur campaign” against them after Italy threatened to block them from its ports on grounds that they encouraged migrants to come.

Asylum logjam

Looking at the picture inside Europe, Easo, the EU asylum agency in Malta, said on Thursday that 1.3 million people applied for protection last year compared to 1.4 million in 2015.

It said there were “roughly 382,000 new arrivals from Africa, the Middle East and Asia” overall and “a record number of migrants [181,459] mostly from the sub-Sahara, West Africa and the Horn of Africa” coming via Libya to Italy.

Easo noted that EU states had a backlog of 1.1 million pending asylum decisions in December 2016, most of them (600,000) in Germany and 100,000 of them in Italy.

It said more than 90 percent of Syrian and Eritrean applicants were getting asylum, but that “relatively low” numbers of people from The Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Somalia, and Afghanistan were getting protection.

EU interior ministers are meeting in Tallinn on Thursday to discuss migrant burden sharing with Italy.

But the Easo report noted that out of the 160,000 asylum seekers that EU countries had agreed to take from Italy and Greece they had taken in just 18,418 as of May.

The two-year relocation scheme is due to end in September.

Italy imposing new rules on NGO sea rescues

Italy is set to unveil a "code of conduct" for NGOs, while interior ministers from all 28 EU states meet later this week to discuss rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

EU ready to help Italy in NGO dispute

Italy's threat to stop NGOs from unloading rescued migrants at sea will be discussed next week among interior ministers, amid broader internal political stakes ahead of general elections.

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