02 January 2008

December 2007

ROME – Another month of tragedies: 243 migrants and refugees were reported to be died in December: 120 people were drowned in the Aegean sea, 96 died off Canary islands, 17 along the Algerian coasts and 10 off the French island of Mayotte. It was one of the most tragical months along the EU’s borders. A month which began with the Euro-African summit in Lisbon, and ended with the Schengen area enlargement towards east and with the signing of the Italian-Libyan joint patrolling agreement. The 2007 bulletin reported 1,861 deaths of migrants and refugees trying to reach EU. They were 2,088 in 2006. Considering only the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, the victims were at least 1,684 in 2007 compared with the 1,625 in the precedent year. These figures are hard to compare, as they are not exhaustive, being based just on the news documented by the press. Actually nobody know how many shipwreck rest unobserved. Anyway it seems to show a relative increase in the number of victims, since arrivals had significantly decreased along the southern border - with the exception of Malta, Cyprus and Greece – as a consequence of Frontex patrols and Northern Africa cooperation, which led to tens of thousand of arrests.

In the Atlantic, on the way to Canary, the number of victims decreased from 1,035 in 2006 to 745 this year, but in relative terms the deaths rose, as the number of arrivals on the Spanish archipelago fell down by 75% compared with 2006. In the Strait of Sicily, the victims detected in 2007 by Fortress Europe are 551 compared with 302 in the last year and in front of an arrivals lowering of 20%. In the Aegean, 2007 will be remembered as a tragical year: 257 deaths, four times the 73 of 2006, even if the arrivals on the Greek islands are doubled. Anyway, through all the routes of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, in the entire 2007 not more than 50,000 migrants reached Europe, that it means less than one third of the 170,000 foreigner workers requested just by the Italian government in 2007.

On the Greece-Turkey border, the year could not end worse. In the night of December 10th, 51 migrants drowned and 28 were reported to be missing after their 50-foot boat sank in rough weather off the coast of Seferihisar, a town south of the city of Izmir, heading to the Greek island of Chios. During the two following weeks, two other shipwrecks caused the deaths of 8 migrants off Bodrum and 32 off Lesvos. At least 885 people were drowned trying to reach Greece since 1994. According to official figures, about 10,000 migrants were intercepted by the Greek coast guards this year against the 4,000 in 2006 and the 3,000 of the previous years. The Unhcr also expressed its concern, especially over the 3,500 Iraqis who asked for asylum in the first half of the year in a Country, Greece, which has never given asylum to any Iraqi. The refusal of applications for asylum in Greece is systematic: over 13,345 applications in the first seven months of 2007, just 16 refugees were recognized and others 11 people received a humanitarian protection. The 0.2%. All the others are deported to Turkey, as largely documented in the last Pro Asyl report.

There has been a huge decrease in the number of migrants arrivals in Spain via the Canary islands and the Andalusia coast this year, down 60% on figures for 2006. But the deaths toll is still to high. At least 876 people died in 2007 compared with 1,250 in 2006. The night of December 10th 50 migrants drowned after a shipwreck off Dakhla, in the Western Sahara, on the way to Canary. The same day 40 others people lost their life off Senegalese coasts. Left from the island of Djogué, in Casamance, and heading towards Canary islands, a pirogue with 130 migrants aboard turned back to Yoff Tonghor, in Dakar, after 12 days spent going adrift in order to avoid the European patrols. Aboard one man was found dead. According to the survivors, 39 people died in the travel and their bodies were abandoned in the sea. During 2007, over 1,500 migrants have been intercepted by Frontex joint operations in the Atlantic, while more than 18,000 Senegalese were repatriated from Spain in 2006. Pirogues navigate up to 300 miles off the African coast, in order to avoid Frontex patrols, spending about ten days at sea before they reach Canary, taking huge risks. And because of the length of the crossing, migrants arrive in Las Palmas in bad health condition, with strong dehydration and hypothermia. On November 6th, a pirogue was rescued in La Güera, in Mauritania. It was going adrift from three weeks after an engine failure, with its 101 survived passengers. They left from Ziguinchor, in Senegal, twenty days before. 56 of them died during the navigation and their bodies were abandoned into the sea. Nobody knows how many are the ghost shipwrecks in the middle of the Ocean, such as that one in October, whose only echo was the collective funeral celebrated in the city of Kolda, in Senegal, by the families of the 150 men went missing.

Two new routes for Spain are opening, as the Gibraltar Strait becomes more and more difficult to pass, thanks to the Spanish electronic surveillance systems and to the Morocco cooperation. On December 17th a boat of 23 Moroccans landed in Olhao, in the south of Portugal. While further to east, a new route is developing parallel to that one from Algeria to Sardinia, in Italy. Is that one from Oran, Algeria, to the Balearic Islands. Just 8 people arrived here in 2006. But they have been 577 during the first 11 months of 2007. Anyway Algeria is cooperating with Spain, and about 1,500 Algerians have already been arrested this year by the Algerian coast guards, who also recovered the bodies of 83 victims along their coasts, compared with the 73 in 2006 and the 29 in 2005.

On December 29th, Italy and Libya signed a bilateral agreement for a joint patrol of the Libyan shores. Italian motorboats will operate in Libyan waters, with mixed crews, and will return to Libya all the migrants intercepted, who will then be deported. The agreement also provides for the supply (with EU funding) of a monitoring system for the Libyan land and sea borders. Amnesty International had already asked EU to stop any cooperation with Libya without guarantees for the respect of migrants’ human rights. Allegation against Libya were also reported by Human Rights Watch, Afvic, and Fortress Europe: 60,000 migrants are arrested and deported every year in the Great Jamahiriyya, including women and children, economic migrants and political refugees. Arrested during police roundups and held in detention centres, without any trial, for months or even for years, in inhuman and degrading conditions, and then deported back to their countries, even if refugees, or abandoned in the middle of the desert, along the Libyan southern border with Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt.

The Article 19th of the “Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU” prohibits collective deportations, and the re-admission of a foreign national in a third country where he risks torture, and also the “International Convention against Torture” of the United Nations, and the 1951 Un “Geneva Convention” for refugees prohibited it. The European Court of Human Rights, supported by the Euro-parliament on May 10th 2005, condemned Italy and ordered the suspension of collective deportations from Lampedusa, after more than 1,500 migrants landed on the island were postponed in Libya. Three years ago, collective deportations were indicated as illegal by one of the highest EU institutions, in the name of international law. Today, collective deportations are the stated aim of the EU agency for the border security, Frontex.

The joint operations carried out by Frontex in 2007 were 22, and the number of apprehended third country nationals were 19,295, including 11,476 intercepted at sea borders, 4,522 at land borders, and 3,297 in the airports. In 2006, as a result of Frontex patrols, 32,016 migrants were arrested. Frontex is actually patrolling all the EU frontiers with aerial, naval and land operations. We know and we wrote about missions as Nautilus in the Strait of Sicily; Hera, off Canary; Indalo in the Strait of Gibraltar; and Poseidon in the Aegean. But the complete list is longer, and it is contained in an exclusive Frontex official document published by Fortress Europe. The list talks about a mission called Minerva, in the Andalusian ports; Hermes, between Sardinia and the Balearic Islands, near the Algerian waters; Zeus, in German ports; Fifa, in Germany during the period of World Cup 2006; Niris between Germany and Scandinavian countries against Chinese immigration, and then Ariane between Germany and Poland; Gordius, in Romania, Slovakia and Hungary; Herakles in Hungary; Kras and Drive In in Slovenia; Ursus in Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland . And for the 2008 European Cup in Austria and Switzerland, Frontex is already preparing a mission called Euro Cup 2008. Not to mention the many Frontex operations in the airports all around Europe, such as Amazon, Agelaus, Hydra, Extended Family, Long Stop, Argonauts. And not to mention the training programs, ranging from the joint return to the detection of stolen cars or even to the training for dog handlers. And it’s sure they can do better in 2008, as the budget of the agency has been doubled to 30 million euros.

Nothing to wonder about anyway, seen that EU has made of confinement for migrants its rule. According to an article recently published by the “International Herald Tribune”, there are now 224 migrants detention camps scattered across the European Union; altogether they can house more than 30,000 people, asylum seekers and immigrants without residence permit awaiting deportation. The map of the camps looks like a military map. The maximum length of detention is 60 days in Italy, 32 in France, three months in Greece, 18 months in Malta, while in many other Countries, there is no upper limit. The conditions are awful and the centres are subject to riots, arson attacks and suicides. The last victim was a Tunisian, born in 1979, which hanged himself on December 30th 2007 in the Berlin Koepenick detention camp. In Italy, two men killed themselves just three months ago, in October, in the Modena camp. And someone will remember the Iranian inmates of the Greek camp on the island of Samos, who sewed up their lips with wire in sign of protest in 2006. The Dutch Ngo “United” published a death list with hundreds of similar cases across Europe.

On December 21st 2007, the Schengen area enlarged towards east, incorporating Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. That means the belt that separates the EU from Belarus and Ukraine, from where transit thousands of migrants and refugees from the former Soviet republics, Asia and the Middle East. The border between Slovakia and Ukraine is long 97.8 km. In order to enter in the Schengen area, Slovakia had to build a virtual wall between the two countries. 250 mobile cameras, night viewers, GPS, heat detectors, infrared, x-ray and patrol jeep. The system costs 50 millions, financed with EU funds. Along this border 25,539 migrants were arrested in 2004 and 32,756 in 2005. Their destiny is the readmission in Ukraine. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly denounced readmission agreements between the countries of Eastern Europe and Ukraine, expressing particular concern about the repatriation of refugees from Ukraine to Chechnya and Uzbekistan. And a recent report released by the Jesuit Refugee Service denounces the conditions of detention camps in the 10 new EU Member States. Brussels knows these reports, but has already signed a readmission agreement with Kiev, on June 18th 2007, which is expected to enter into force very soon