02 August 2007

July 2007

ROME - At least 217 victims of illegal migration toward Europe in July 2007. 79 people drowned in the Strait of Sicily and 98 off Canary islands, in Spain; 34 Africans died dehydrated in the desert between Niger and Libya; 3 stowaway were found asphyxiated on a truck, in Italy and a woman died hit by a car, trying to escape police in Calais, in France. In Western Sahara, 2 migrants were shot dead by the Moroccan border police, who opened fire over a group of people who were embarking to Canary. Meanwhile on the Mediterranean southern shore, crimes and abuses against migrants and refugees keep on being practiced by the same Countries to which European Union is asking for help to contrast illegal migration.

Since the beginning of the year, the victims of illegal migration have already been 666. They were 1,582 during all 2006. Nevertheless the number of arrivals by sea has halved. Less 55% in Spain, where only 6.306 migrants arrived during the first half of 2007. And less 45% in Italy, where from January to July, 5,200 people disembarked, against the 9,389 of the same period in 2006. It is a corollary of the sea patrolling. Without the opening of new way to travel legally toward Europe, the migratory pressure doesn’t stop itself. The Navy vessels just make the routes change, on longer and more dangerous way, aboard smaller and smaller boats, in order to escape to the radars. The figures of the Italian Ministry of internal affairs speak very clear. During 2005, every migrants boat landed in Sicily carried an average of 101 people. During 2006 the average halved to 53, and in 2007 it is of 41. Smaller the boat is, more dangerous is the travel. That’s why the victims of the Strait are increasing: already 327 in 2007 against the 302 during all 2006. The last Frontex patrolling, Nautilus II, ended the 27th July, after one month of activity, has been useless. Anyway Frontex director, Ilkka Laitinen, assures: permanent patrols in the Mediterranean from January 2008.

In Western Sahara it is the same on the routes to Canary. And sometimes the tragedies happened in the first miles of navigation. The last time it was the night of the 21st July. Two boats departed from Na' ila, 150 km at the north of El `Ayun, heading for Canary, capsized under the waves. Only a man survived. And at least 40 people were reported to be drowned. One week later two of the bodies were washed ashore. All the victims were Saharawi, from El `Ayun. They are the last of the at least 1,836 people drowned in the Atlantic on the way to the Spanish archipelago. Four days before, the 18th July, a pirogue with at least 100 passengers capsized 90 miles south off Tenerife, during the rescue operations. Only 48 people survived. The sea gave back three corpses, while at least 50 people were lost at sea. At least. Because the last boats landed in Canary, carried even 140 or150 passengers. According to the Spanish Coast Guards, the incident was caused by the passengers, who stood up when they saw the rescuers, unbalancing the boat and making it capsize. They were nervous because they spent ten days on the boat. They departed from Guinea Bissau, at the south of Senegal, in order to avoid the Frontex patrols. In fact, Frontex intercepted and brought back to the Senegalese coasts 1,167 Africans, between February and April 2007, with some cases of arbitrary detention, degrading treatments and deportation, like that of “Marine I”, which has just been solved, after that 23 of its passengers were detained for more than five months. This year, in front of a decrease of 55% of the arrivals, the victims of the Atlantic are 142, one fifth comparing with the 1,035 of the entire 2006. It seems to be a good news, but actually nobody knows what is happening along the new routes, where migrants are sailing, in order to avoid patrols, up to 300 miles off the coasts, on way long more than 1,500 miles, for about ten days of travel. How many ghost shipwrecks happened there, nobody know it.

“Hellenic Watermelons Tsiausis Export”. There was written on the truck where four Iraqis stowaways were hidden in order to reach Germany. The driver found three of them dead, on the Italian highway, near Venice, the 14th July 2007. The truck came from Greece and was disembarked in the Italian port of Ancona. A tragedy like many, too many others. Travelling hidden in the trucks, at least 277 people died during the last years, many of them on the Turkey-Greece-Italy way, where Afghans, Kurds and Iraqis refugees travel illegally to reach Europe. They come to ask for asylum, but they are often deported at the border. Only in the port of Venice, in the first five months of 2007, 254 migrants have been intercepted, among them 64 minors. The great majority (238) have been rejected. 152 were Afghans, 46 Iraqis and 13 Iranians. And it is not better in the port of Bari, in the south of the Country, where just in the second half of July at least 20 Iraqis and 4 Afghans have been deported in Greece. Greece that has just been denounced by an European Union report for the mistreatment of migrants and refugees.

Zeropointthreepercent. Such was the refugee recognition rate in Greece in 2004, then become the 0.6% in 2006. 11,000 appeals are still unprocessed. The Report from the Commission on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Delegation on the Visit to Greece, tell it. And in Greece, adds the report, 0% of Iraqis obtain refugee status. Strange, considering that more than 2 millions of Iraqi refugees live in Syria and Jordan and more than 18,000 in Germany. The report also denounces the “deplorable, inhuman and unacceptable” conditions of the migrants detention centres on the island of Samos. It expresses “great concern” about the detention of minors and the deportation in Turkey. In 2001 the German association Pro-Asyl and the Turkish Ihd, had already denounced arrests and tortures, in Turkey, of Kurds repatriated from Germany. Today the risk is still high. The 19th July, Reuters told Turkey bombed the north of Iraq, accusing Kurdish separatists of staging attacks from there. Turkish army has 200,000 men to the Iraqi border. The war with the Kurdish separatists has already made 30,000 victims from 1984.

Article 3. “No State Party shall expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”. Article 3 of the UN Convention against torture. Ratified by 144 Countries. Totally useless. As useless are the principle of non refoulement, codified by the United nation as by the African Union, that forbids the expulsion of a refugee into an area where s/he might be again subjected to persecution. And useless are the articles 4 and 19 of the European Charter of fundamental rights, which forbid degrading treatments and tortures, collective expulsions or expulsions in Countries where people risk tortures. Why are they useless? It’s sufficient to remind what has happened at the border the last month, to understand it.

The mutiny of migrants. Or the last collective deportation in the Strait of Sicily. 18th July 2007. An inflatable boat with 37 people aboard, 11 women and two children 6 months and 5 years old, asks the Tunisian “El Hagg Mohamed” fishing boat for help, 42 miles south off Lampedusa. The fishing boat takes aboard the women, the children and few men. On the rubber boat remain 15 men, when the Bizerte vessel of the Tunisian Navy, approach the boats. Fearing to be arrested and brought back in Tunisia, the 15 sail away and the 22 take the rudder of the fishing boat towards Lampedusa. After one night spent in international waters, between Malta and Lampedusa, escorted by the Bizerte and two Italian vessels, the Tunisian boat loads the 22 and bring them to the port of Sfax, in Tunisia. Meanwhile the rubber has been intercepted and rescued by the Coastguard and its 15 passengers brought to Lampedusa. Two men claim they left their wives and children on the other boat and fear they could be deported. But nothing happened. The Unhcr (United nations high commissary for refugees) immediately asks Tunisia for the authorization to interview the deported. Actually aboard there were Eritreans, Sudaneses, Somalis and Ethiopians, everybody could have right to political asylum. But in an absolute silence, the Tunisian authorities deport them in Libya, the Country from where they embarked the 15th July. Few days after, two Eritrean women knock at the doors of Unhcr office in Tripoli, in Libya. They ask for news about their husbands in Italy. From then, nobody has again met them.

It is not the first collective return in the Strait. International laws forbid it. In international waters there is freedom of navigation. And in case of shipwreck, the sea laws impose to take the shipwrecked back to the safer port, that is not necessarily the nearest one. Especially when the shipwrecked are refugees who risk to be delivered to Countries well known worldwide for their practice of torture and forced repatriations. Tareke, Eritrean, was returned in July 2005 in Libya, on a boat with 200 people aboard, after a Maltese Navy vessel intercepted them in international water. Ayman, Tunisian, June 2006, the same history for him and for the 200 harrag aboard the Tulaitila. Abraham, Eritrean, July 2005, his boat was going adrift, the workers of an oil platform of the Strait rescued women and children and bring them back to Libya, leaving men to their destiny. The Strait of Sicily became a far west.

Danger Libya. They are all Eritreans and they are kept in detention since more than one year, in Misratah, 200 km at the east of Tripoli, and now risk to be deported. 443 people detained in inhuman conditions, including 60 women, one of them pregnant in the eighth month, and 7 children, the youngest one three months old, born in jail in April. They deserted the Eritrean army, escaping the war with Ethiopia. They came to ask for political asylum in Europe. And today there is no other way to do it apart from throwing yourself in the desert and then in the sea. Now they risk their life. Eritrea would have tightened a return agreement with Libya, as with Sudan, where 500 Eritreans have been recently arrests house by house in Khartoum. Among Misratah prisoners, there are also 114 Unhcr refugees, who obtained the status in Sudan and in Ethiopia. Unhcr managed to have the permit to interview women and children looking for their replacement in Europe or Northern America. But for the men it seems not to be any chance. They will be expelled, against every international Convention. And once again, the international Community will do nothing to avoid it.

Libya has already deported Eritreans, in 2006 and in 2004, once also on a flight paid by Italy. The 27th August 2004, the deported diverted an airplane to Khartoum, in Sudan. 60 of the 75 Eritreans passengers were recognized as refugees by Unhcr, once landed. In Eritrea they would be arrested, as the 223 deported from Malta in 2002, and still detained in Dahlak Kebir prison.

In June, Libyan authorities arrested 1,500 irregular migrants. In May they were 2.137. These figures are shown by Tripoli as the results of its efforts to contrast illegal migration towards Europe, but actually hide a system of connivance between the Libyan authorities and the mafias which organize the travels with profits of tens of millions of euro per year. Nobody among the migrants listened by Fortress Europe has been interrogated in Libya, once arrested, in order to arrest the trafficants. On the contrary, the majority escaped from prison corrupting policemen, who often sell them the tickets for the second sea crossing. In 2006 Human rights watch and Afvic accused Tripoli of arbitrary arrests, collective deportations and tortures in the migrants detention centres. Similar denunciations appeared in a 2004 European Union report, according to which Italy would have financed three of those centres between 2003 and 2005.

The witnesses. E., Cameroonian, landed in Lampedusa in June 2007. He told Fortress Europe he saw 2 Nigerians shot dead under the fire of Libyan policemen in the prison of Fellah, in Tripoli, during a riot in June 2006, leaded by the Nigerian migrants detained there. T., Nigerian, landed in July 2007, told Fortress Europe he lost two friends, a Nigerian one and a Ghanaian, pounded to death in a Police station in Tripoli, during February 2007. F., instead, Ghanaian, crossed the border between Niger and Libya at the beginning of June and in the middle of the desert saw the bodies of 34 people died dehydrated, not far from the border check point of Toumou. F. does not exclude that they could be died after being deported by the Libyans. There it’s normal. It happens every months along the Tripoli-Sebha-Gatrun-Toumou axis. E. also has been abandoned in the middle of the desert, at the border, in September. Near Toumou they live at least 150 deportees, he says, and many of them drive crazy. The others reach Dirkou by foot, in Niger, after two or three days walking. Someone dies before. E. for example lost 2 of the 35 companions with whom he had been deported at Toumou. This is Libya. This is the Country to which Europe proposes new tools to patrol its frontiers, as written in the memorandum signed the 23rd July 2007, after the case of the Bulgarian nurses.

It’s the policy of externalisation. With Morocco it worked. Apart for the collaterals effects. As the two Senegalese shot dead the night of the 30th July, under the fire of the border police, along the coasts of El `Ayun. They were part of a group of 37 sub-Saharan, trying to embark themselves illegally toward Canary. Others two men were hospitalised injured by the fires. Four days before, the 26th and the 27th, between 200 and 350 sub-Saharan migrants were arrested and deported after nightly raids in the campus of the university of Oujda, along the Morocco-Algeria border, where sub-Saharan deportees used to find a shelter since many years, before leaving by foot towards Rabat, Fez, Nador, Tanger and Tetouan. The encampment in the campus – said the responsible of the associations Beni Znassen and Gadem – was given to flames, different people have been injured. Migrants have been deported close to Galla. One week after nobody has come back to Oujda, and they won’t do it. They moved in the forest, hidden above the mountains of the frontier. They lack dressing, food, drugs. Moroccan ngo, with the aid of Medecins sans frontières, are doing their best but the situation is dramatic. Six women and 2 children, one 4 years old, have also been deported.

For this month it’s all. Even if we should add to this war bulletin of the first seven months of 2007, the 367 drowned and the 118 missing of the gulf of Aden, escaping from the Somali war towards Yemen, and the 120 Mexicans died along the Usa border, where it resumed, at San Diego (California), the construction of the 5 meters high steel wall, which will cover 595 of the 1,126 km of the border, within 2008.