This post collects three days’ worth of news reports on the Mediterranean refugee crisis. The only articles about new arrivals in Europe concerned landings or rescues along the coast of Malta. Since our running total is for migrants who end up in Italy, it will remain unchanged at about 39,000.
The vast majority of North African cultural enrichment to date has landed in Italy. The Italians and the Maltese do their best to push the migrant boats onto each other (more on that below), but Italy gets stuck with most of them.
First of all, we’ll take a look at the follow-up reports on the disastrous shipwreck off the Tunisian coast that we covered late last week. An article from ANSAmed reviews what happened:
TAP: Over 270 Missing in Mediterranean
(ANSAmed) —Tunis, June 2 — At least 270 illegal immigrants, who were probably trying to reach the Italian coast by boat, are missing in the Mediterranean, reports Tunisian press agency TAP.
Even though current news is fragmentary, the people who are believed to be missing were probably travelling on the boat that was rescued during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday off the island of Kerkennah, in southern Tunisia, by the Tunisian Coast Guard and Army. The boat had about 700 people on board. The boat, with the immigrants on board who departed from Libya and who were originally from sub-Saharan Africa, had a mechanical problem in shallow waters which did not allow them to be helped immediately by the Tunisian military ships, which were forced to remain at a distance. Small and inflatable boats were able to reach the boat, and took care of initial rescue efforts and of transferring the immigrants, letting women and children go first. It is reportedly during this phase of the rescue that many of the immigrants, stricken by fear, tried to save themselves, abandoning the boat and drowning. The Tunisian military ships was able to bring about 570 immigrants to safety.
Later on some of the bodies were recovered:
(AGI) Tunis — A UN official reported that the bodies of 150 Africa refugees have been recovered off the coast of Tunisia. A number of boats that were heading to Italy capsized in heavy seas on Thursday.
A more detailed account from the AP, which includes a new estimate of the number of people (850) on that overloaded boat:
UN: 150 Bodies Found in Tunisia Migrant Boat Wreck
Geneva — The United Nations refugee agency says some 150 bodies have been recovered from the wreck of a ship that capsized off Tunisia carrying migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says “we know that many women and children are among the 150.”
The Geneva-based agency says at least 578 of the estimated 850 people on board survived the sinking Wednesday.
Edwards said Friday that survivors are being taken to refugee camps where they will receive counseling and assistance.
He says the incident “appears to be one of the worst and the deadliest incidents in the Mediterranean so far this year.”
As far as I can determine, the next two reports describe two distinct incidents on Malta. First, 27 refugees landed on the coast:
Malta: Twenty-Seven Illegal Immigrants Land at Xlendi
Twenty-seven illegal immigrants landed at Xlendi Bay at around 6.00pm this evening. The group comprised of twenty-three males and four females.
Gozo police were called immediately to the scene and said that four of the males required medical treatment and needed to be hospitalised in Gozo.
A police bus was also despatched to the scene and is now transporting the remaining twenty-three immigrants to Malta for further investigations by the immigration police.
The second story concerns the rescue of 76 immigrants a long way off the coast of Malta:
Valletta — A Maltese military patrol boat rescued 76 migrants from a boat in distress some 120km south-east of the Mediterranean island on Wednesday.
The Maltese armed forces said the boat was first spotted by NATO aircraft and was carrying migrants from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Bangladesh, and Chad.
The boat appeared to have left on Saturday from the Libyan port of Misrata, until recently the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of a three-month rebel uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.
For weeks forces loyal to Gaddafi had besieged and bombarded Misrata, some 200km east of the capital Tripoli, but about two weeks ago rebel fighters, with backing from NATO airstrikes, pushed Gaddafi’s troops out to the city’s outskirts.
Some of the migrants needed hospital treatment. The Maltese armed forces said that a man had died on the boat and was thrown overboard.
As I have mentioned repeatedly, the immigration authorities in Italy and Malta do their best to make sure that boatloads of cultural enrichment remain the responsibility of another country. No one is willing to be blamed for allowing a boat to founder and sink in international waters — that is still considered beyond the pale — so the preferred tactic for each country is to maneuver the other country into being the rescuer.
Each European country bordering the Med is responsible for a “rescue zone”, and that’s where fudging can occur. The Italians are unhappy with the Maltese for ignoring a boat in their zone, and forcing the Italians to deal with it.
According to The Times of Malta:
Italian NGO’s Complaints Before ICC Unlikely to Start Trial Against Malta
It is unlikely that the complaint filed before the International Criminal Court against Malta will lead to a case being instituted, according to legal experts.
An Italian confederation of consumer organisations (Codacons) on Monday filed reports with the ICC and the International Court of Justice repeating Italian Home Affairs Minister Roberto Maroni’s claims that. on May 29, Malta had “washed its hands” of a boat in distress with 209 migrants aboard in the island’s SAR zone and that it had passed the buck to the Italian authorities.
Malta said the drifting boat of immigrants was indeed in its SAR area but it was 126 nautical miles away from Malta and just 50 nautical miles south of Lampedusa.
The NGO might be knocking on the wrong door. While the ICC might take up a report by an NGO or an individual, investigate it and start prosecution only a State can start a case against another in the ICJ.
Human rights lawyer and lecturer Neil Falzon believes the matter is too trivial to be taken up by the Court, which handles cases of genocide and mass breaches of human rights.
“The ICC is an international court that deals with human rights crimes on an enormous scale; genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity… I doubt it would take up the case against Malta,” Dr Falzon said.
It seems that even the UNHCR (perhaps being too busy helping “Palestine”) does not want to take up the case:
Similarly, Jon Hoisaeter, representing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Malta, said: “One may question whether these are the most appropriate and relevant institutions for Codacons’ request for an assessment of the specific responsibilities that apply within the Maltese search and rescue zone”.
The consumer organisation’s complaint hinges on the presupposition that Malta did not do its duty in its own SAR area.
For more details on the case, see the original article. The main issue seems to be jurisdiction, which absolutely no one wants to claim.
Malta is also having do defend its policy of detaining asylum seekers:
Maltese Government Defends Policy to Detain Asylum Seekers
The government stood by its mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers yesterday in spite of recommendations by the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner to abolish it.
The government maintained that detention was a necessity “in view of Malta’s geo-social realities and the fact that the identity of irregular migrants cannot be ascertained upon arrival”.
In a report, COE Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg strongly criticised the detention policy as “irreconcilable” with the European Convention on Human Rights and case law of the Strasbourg Court. This was especially so since, last July, the Court had found Malta guilty of violating the right to liberty and security of Louled Massoud, an asylum seeker whose claim had been rejected.
The Maltese authorities were encouraged by the commissioner to bring their procedure in line with the judgment and to provide for the presumption in favour of liberty under national law by establishing a framework for alternatives to detention.
However, in its reply, the government maintained that alternatives to detention were not feasible in Malta because migratory influxes were disproportionate to the country’s size and capacity.
The 17-page report follows the commissioner’s visit to Malta in late March. It not only speaks about detention problems, which many human rights organisations have long criticised, but also recommends changes in living conditions for migrants, lack of opportunities for long-term livelihood and asylum procedures, among others.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees and human rights group Aditus did not agree with the government’s insistence on mandatory detention procedure.
The UNHCR continues to advocate a review of the policy. It encouraged the authorities to explore alternatives to the system including through arrangements such as semi-open centres and early release for a broader group of vulnerable individuals.
Aditus strongly criticised the “effectively dismissive” stand by the authorities with regard to Mr Hammarberg’s recommendations.
Malta’s size or the ministry’s lack of knowledge of the asylum-seekers’ identities were not criteria enough to deprive a person of his/her liberty, according to international human rights law, it said.
“Furthermore, since all persons are, anyway, released after a number of months, Aditus would like the ministry to explain the actual and continued benefits achieved from detaining them throughout those months,” it added.
The ministry also failed to justify the locking up for weeks, if not months, of children, babies, pregnant women, persons with disabilities, elderly persons and other vulnerable persons, group chairman Neil Falzon said.
Bear the above article in mind while reading the next one. Since the crisis began in January, Italy and Malta have been lectured and ordered around by the European Commission and the United Nations about what they may and may not do concerning the flood of refugees that has washed over their shores:
- They may not turn them back.
- They may not ignore boats in distress on the open sea.
- They may not send them home once they arrive, except under certain narrow circumstances.
- Even if they are illegal migrants, they may not be detained as prisoners.
- The host country must pay to feed and house them under internationally accepted conditions.
- All migrants must be given access to full due process, as defined by the EU.
Roughly speaking, those are the rules. But they only apply to the “little guys” in the EU — Spain, Italy, Malta, and Greece. France and Germany are the ones who make the rules, but they don’t feel compelled to obey them. That’s just the way it works.
However, the situation has gotten so blatant that German Chancellor Angela Merkel feels compelled to defend her country’s disregard for the rules imposed on others:
Merkel Defends Policy to Deport North African Economic Migrants
As the EU continues to feel intense migratory pressure from political upheaval in Arab countries, the chancellor says Germany will accept only those asylums seekers who face political persecution at home.
Chancellor Angela Merkel defended a government policy to deport economic migrants from North Africa in a speech at this year’s Protestant Church Day in Dresden.
Addressing the audience at the gathering on Saturday, June 4, Merkel said that on humanitarian grounds Germany would accept refugees arriving from countries where there was evidence of political persecution – such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
However, the chancellor said the country had no responsibility for those arriving from countries such as Tunisia – where a ruling dictatorship had been toppled.
“That cannot be the way,” she said.
The chancellor pays lip service to the idea of sharing the refugee burden:
Merkel stressed that all EU countries had to share equally the responsibility of taking in qualified asylum seekers. According to the chancellor, Germany had accepted some 50,000 asylum seekers in the past year, while Italy welcomed only 6,000 in the same period.
“We have fulfilled our duty, other EU countries must do the same,” Merkel said.
This is a dodge — Germany has taken in only a tiny number of refugees who arrived during the current crisis. The asylum seekers referred to in the chancellor’s speech mostly came to Germany through other routes.
Not only that, but Italy faces the same sort of crisis every year — this one is just larger than usual. It is estimated than an annual average of 30,000 illegal migrants land on Linosa, Pantelleria, Lampedusa, Sicily, and other points on the Italian coastline. They may not meet the German definition of “asylum seekers”, but the Italians must deal with them nonetheless.
Chancellor Merkel is being disingenuous at best.
In point of fact, the European Union has no real intention of helping Italy and Malta in any meaningful way. In a rare moment of candor, European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström made this fact quite clear:
EU Report Confirms Lukewarm Reaction to Malta’s Appeal for Burden-Sharing
The European Commission has admitted there is no enthusiasm among member states to help Malta and Italy with the wave of asylum seekers coming from Libya.
A report taking stock of an intra-EU resettlement pilot-project, designed specifically for Malta, confirms the Commission’s analysis.
Speaking on BBC radio yesterday on the problem of illegal migration, especially in relation to Lampedusa and Malta, European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom did not mince her words.
“We have been trying to help Italy and Malta, which bear the brunt of the Libyan conflict, by encouraging burden sharing among member states. However, it is true the mood in the EU is not enthusiastic about burden sharing,” she said.
Her admission confirms her earlier fears that, despite the “talk of solidarity”, the majority of member states still feel reluctant to relocate asylum seekers and refugees, this not being part of the EU culture.
According to the Commission’s Annual Report On Immigration And Asylum (2010), by the end of last year only 10 member states out of the 26 (excluding Malta) decided to participate in this project with the majority literally taking just a handful of refugees.
Remembering that Italy has absorbed close to 40,000 culture-enrichers since the beginning of January, consider the ludicrously minuscule numbers of refugees that the rest of the EU has volunteered to take off Italian hands:
The report says that, since its launch in mid-2009 right up to the end of 2010, only 255 pledges were made, with the biggest being those of Germany (102) and France (93).
Four of the 10 participating member states (Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) had still to make their commitments and the UK — one of the largest member states — only offered to resettle 10 refugees.
The report says the project had cost the EU €2 million, allocated through the European Refugee Fund and each member state was getting an allowance of €4,000 per resettled refugee. The project has now been extended due to the Libyan crisis and, during a recent pledging conference, a minority of member states promised to take an additional 320 refugees or beneficiaries of international protection. Once again, the biggest offer was made by Germany, pledging to take another 100 people.
As you can see, the rest of the EU has volunteered to take in at most 575 refugees, or about 1.43% of the total number that have arrived in Italy so far this year.
That’s what an “ever-closer union” means when a crisis hits.
In fact, the European Union has suddenly rediscovered the concept of “sovereignty”:
According to EU rules, member states are sovereign and Brussels cannot force them to resettle people enjoying international protection.
That one actually made me laugh out loud.
The EU doesn’t acknowledge any national sovereignty when it comes to budgets. Or gay rights. Or free speech. Or the density of cheeses.
But refugees are another matter.
We’d love to help you, buddy, but, hey — you’re a sovereign nation. Good luck!
Hat tips: AC, C. Cantoni, and Insubria.
Previous posts about the “Camp of the Saints” refugee crisis: