02 November 2007

October 2007

ROME – The endless massacre at the gates of Europe goes on. At least 296 migrants and refugees have died trying to reach European Union in October 2007. More than 200 people were reported to be missing off Canary Islands, in Spain, 51 migrants died in the Strait of Sicily and Calabria (south of Italy) and 33 others were drowned in the Aegean sea, between Turkey and Greece. At least 1,343 migrants have already died since the beginning of the year.

Made in Italy. At least 51 people died trying to cross the Strait of Sicily in October. Three bodies washed ashore on the Tunisian coast, two corpses were retrieved in the open sea and 46 people were drowned in Sicily, at Siracusa, and in Calabria, in the south of Italy, near Roccella Ionica, in two shipwrecks happened the 28th October. At Siracusa, a dinghy capsized in the stormy sea, while transferring to the coast a group of passengers from a mother ship. At Roccella instead, an old fishing vessel broke down 100 meters from the coast. The victims left from Egypt along a new route for migrants heading towards Europe.

The Egyptian way. A new route from Egypt toward Calabria and the eastern coast of Sicily is imposing in the Mediterranean. The route opened after the readmission agreement signed between Italy and Egypt on the 10th January 2007, which led to the systematic repatriation of Egyptians recently intercepted off Lampedusa. Now migrants from Egypt travels on mother ships, which transport them off Italy and then they are transfered aboard dinghies which carry them directly to the coast, in order to avoid patrolling and repatriation. In the first ten months of this year, 1,500 migrants have already landed in Calabria. They are Kurdish and Iraqis refugees, who normally leave from Turkey, and then Egyptians and Palestinians, who left Egypt. But in the meanwhile, Libya continues to be the first point of departure.

The European complicity. “Stop the Libyan leak in order to stop the 90% of illegal immigrants”, the European Commissioner Franco Frattini told to the Italian newspaper Avvenire, and added: “We have started negotiations with Tripoli”. The goal is simple: stop the migrants boats in Libyan waters and make them turn back to Africa, and then help Libya to repatriate them. But Frattini did not spend a word to explain what are the conditions of detention in Libya, what happen to the migrants deported and left in the desert at the southern border of Libya and to the refugees repatriated in the same Country they fled from. Fortress Europe has recently published a harsh report on Libya. 83 witnesses of tortures, rapes and murders committed by the Libyan policemen in the at least 20 migrants detention centres (look at the map), where 60,000 people are held every year. Three parliamentary interrogations about the Eu cooperation with Libya have been already presented, two ones in Strasbourg to the European Comission and one in Rome to the Italian Government. Meanwhile Fortress Europe, Radio Parole and Agenzia Habeshia, managed to interview one of the 500 refugees and migrants detained in the Libyan detention centre of the city of Zawiyah: “It has been months since we've seen sunlight...We were brought outside, stripped naked and then beaten”.

Top secret. Fortress Europe published a secret report on Libya of the European agency Frontex. According to this document, 53,842 migrants were arrested and deported, in Libya, in 2006. More than 60,000 migrants and refugee were detained in Libyan jails in May 2007. Adding this figures with those of “Human Rights Watch” 2006 report, at least 200,000 migrants have been deported from Libya between 2003 and 2006. The report also contains a letter sent from Frontex to the Libyan authorities on the 25th May 2007, in order to ask Tripoli for cooperation in the anti-immigrants patrols of the Strait of Sicily.

Nautilus III. The European patrols Nautilus II ended on the 14th October 2007, but Frattini assured that the operations will become permanent from the next year, with the participation of Libya. Frontex budget has already been doubled to 70 millions of euro for 2008. Eu has offered to Tripoli a system of surveillance of its southern border. According to the secret Frontex report, Libya asked for 12 aircraft, 14 helicopters, 240 SUVs, 86 trucks, 80 pick-up, 70 buses, 28 ambulances, 12 radar systems, 10 ships, 28 patrol motorboats, 100 dinghies.

A cemetery so called sea. Nobody can say how many lives vanish every year in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic, mass graves of the fortress Europe. The corpses are picked up in the net fish. At Níjar, near Almería, in Spain, the fishermen of “La Pastora” catch the bodies of four people in the first two weeks of October. Another Spanish fishing boat, the “Tiburón III”, on the 25th October rescue a pirogue going adrift off Cape Verde. Aboard there was the only survivor, exhausted, lying among seven corpses. The other 50 passengers were missing among the waves. They all are missing in the sea, more than 300 miles from Senegal from where they departed. The routes became longer and longer, in order to avoid the European Frontex patrols off African coasts. Longer and more dangerous. The Spanish authorities do not know anything, but 150 families celebrated a collective funeral to their 150 sons, the 19th October, in Kolda, a city of Senegal. They died after their vessel sank because too overloaded. In the first ten months of 2007, the victims off the Canary Islands are at least 444, including 392 reported to be missing. In 2006 the victims of the archipelago were at least 1,035. Landings decrease by 75%. But people continue to die, as well as on the African side, in Morocco, the man hunt goes on.

Satellite States. The Moroccan authorities repatriated from the Dakhla airport at least 457 West-Africans migrants in October. The night between the 25th and the 26th October, one hundred of migrants and refugees were arrested in a mass police raid in Rabat, and deported to Oujda, on the border with Algeria. And Algeria risks becoming a big prison at the gates of the Fortress Europe. At least 40,000 migrants of 54 different nationalities were arrested from 2000 to 2007. Imprisoned without any trial and detained in inhuman conditions. In the same period, Alger deported at least 27,500 migrants, many of them simply left at the border with Niger and Mali, abandoned in the desert of Sahara. Men and women. Refugees and economic migrants. Adults and children. Hundreds of deportees survive in very precarious conditions at the border oasis of Tinzaouatine, “the city where god does not exist”. Dozens of people have died in the desert trying to flee by foot from Tinzaouatine, as documented by the report on Algeria recently published by Fortress Europe and Aracem (Association des refoulés d'Afrique centrale au Mali).

Greeks nice people. Migrants beaten and tortured in the detention centres on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos and Hios, unjustified denials of their application for asylum and collective deportations. Greece is seriously accused by the last report published by the German ngo “Pro Asyl” with the “Athens group of lawyers for the rights of refugees and migrants”. One hundred migrants were interviewed between the 12th July and the 14th August 2007 in Lesbos, Samos and Hios. In one reported case on the Chios island, the degree of maltreatment amounted to torture (serious beating, mock execution, electric shocks, pushing a refugee’s head into a bucket full of water). Living conditions in the detention centres are “unacceptable”. Unhcr, the 5th October ask Greece to close the “deplorable” migrants detention centre of Samos.

Shame Aegean. Contrary to what is happening in Italy and Spain, the arrivals of migrants boat in Greece are increasing. 4,500 people have already been intercepted by the Greek Coast Guard in the first eight months of 2007, compared with the average of 3,000 of the past years. 2,404 migrants landed on Samos island in eight months, while they had been 1,580 throughout the entire 2006 and 455 in 2005. The Greek coast guard systematically tries to block their boats and force them out of Greek territorial waters, back to Turkish coast. Regardless of whether they survive or not, passengers also cast ashore on uninhabited islands or left to their fate on the open sea. Migrants arrested in the Aegean, are sent to Evros, at the border with Turkey, and then deported. The refusal of asylum applications is systematic. Only 27 migrants received protection as refugees or humanitarian cases on about 13,345 requests presented in the first seven months of 2007. The 0.2%. In 2006 the rate of protection had been 1, 2%. All the others are deported to Turkey.

The agreement. The readmission agreement between Greece and Turkey was signed in 2001. From 2002 to November 2006, Greece asked Turkey for the readmission of 23,689 arrested migrants. Turkey formally accepted only 2,841 of them. The others were simply left at the border. According to the Turkish government, at least 11,993 migrants were abandoned in Turkey since 2002 by the Greek border guards, 3,047 of them just in 2006. An Iraqi woman interviewed by Pro Asyl said: "On 20th March 2007, at around 4:00 in the morning the police took us all and drove us away in a lorry. We were brought to the river. There were about 150 refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea, Algeria, Iran etc. In groups of around
20 to 30 people – the police forced us to get into boats. We were brought to the other side of the Evros – to the Turkish side. Then we were arrested by the Turkish police and brought to prison”.

Safe third Country. Since many years, Europe is turning back Turkish Kurds and Iraqis in Turkey, and now Istanbul give its authorisation to the army to bomb Kurdish rebel positions in Iraq. Figures don’t leave any doubt. 1,415 Iraqis have applied for political asylum in Greece in 2006 and 3,483 in the first half of 2007. But none of them was recognized as a refugee. Where are they now? Someone managed to hide himself on the tourists ferries toward Italian ports of Bari and Ancona, others are maybe living without documents in Athens. But the majority have been repatriated. According to the Greek Council for Refugees, at least three groups of 40 Iraqis were readmitted in Turkey in the first five months of 2007. And Unhcr claims that 135 Iraqis readmitted in Turkey from Greece, were then repatriated to Iraq in July.

Wanted. The 20th August 2007, Festus Okey, a 21 years old Nigerian, lost his life in unclear circumstances, while in custody in a police station in Istanbul. And the 15th October, 61 Pakistanis deported from Turkey landed in Islamabad. Since May, about 1,500 Pakistanis were repatriated. And it’s hard to believe that none of them has had problems upon his return in a country under the state of emergency. And in Turkey probably will be probably readmitted some of the at least 161 migrants returned in Greece in October from the Italian port of Bari and Ancona. 89 of them were Iraqis and 41 Afghans.

Frontier Cyprus. Member of the European Union since May 2004, today at least 12,000 asylum seekers live on the island. In 2006 there were 3,778 applications, the 378% more than in 2005. And in 2007 there have already been more than 3,000 arrivals. Only 300 people have a residence work permit. They come from Syria, Pakistan, Iran and Africa. They travel hidden aboard Egyptian and Turkish cargo-vessels which land in the region controlled by the Turkish authorities. And then cross the “green line” and enter without documents in the region controlled by Greece. Many of them are detained in degrading conditions, sometimes for years.

The water tower. The latest reports told about an uprising in a prison in Nicosia, where six Iranians and one Afghan spent four days climbed on the water tank tower of the detention centre, asking their asylum applications to be reviewed. Some are kept in detention for four years. And in a prison in the southern port of Limassol, a migrant attempted suicide after a hunger strike organized by the detained migrants was violently repressed by the police. Cyprus is becoming a new door of the European Union. But it has already become a new sentinel of the fortress Europe.