International Law Experts Warn Europe’s ‘Pull Back’ of Migrants is Illegal – Part 2

Even though fewer people are attempting irregular migration to Europe since the start of the year, the number of deaths that occur along the Mediterranean route has dramatically increased, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Amnesty International estimates. Courtesy: International Organization for Migration (IOM)

By Maged Srour
ROME, Sep 10 2018 (IPS)

“The Italian and other European authorities are engaging – on the migration issue – in a policy which has the foreseeable results of numerous deaths.” It is a grim warning from expert on international law, refugees and migration issues, and member of the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), Itamar Mann.

In February 2017, Italy entered into an agreement with Libya to provide funds to Libyan authorities for the coordination of relief operations in the central Mediterranean. Since the agreement, the Libyan Coast Guard has returned migrants to Libya who attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

However, according to a recent Amnesty International report both “Italy and the European Union (EU) are bolstering their policy of supporting the Libyan Coast Guard to ensure it prevents departures and carries out interceptions of refugees and migrants on the high seas in order to pull them back to Libya. This is also contributing to rendering the central Mediterranean route more dangerous for refugees and migrants, and rescue at sea unreliable.”

When IPS asked Mann if he thought there was a direct link between the “pull back” of migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean and the increased number of migrant deaths, Mann described this policy as “killing by omission.”

Even though fewer people are attempting irregular migration to Europe since the start of the year, the number of deaths that occur along the Mediterranean route has dramatically increased, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Amnesty International estimates.

According to Amnesty International:

• From January to July 2018, 1,111 people were reported dead or missing along the central Mediterranean route,

• The death rate among those attempting the crossing from Libya has surged to 1 in 16 in the period June-July, 2018,

• This was four times higher than the rate recorded from January-May 2018, which was 1 in 64.

Migrants arriving at Lampedusa, Italy in this picture dated 2011. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS.

Moral responsibility lies not only with Italy, but Europe too

In May, GLAN filed an application against Italy with the European Court of Human Rights for a 2017 incident where the Libyan Coast Guard allegedly intervened in the rescue, by an non-governmental organisation, of a sinking dinghy. At least 20 people died, including two children, when the vessel sunk. But the Libyan Coast Guard is reported to have engaged in “pull back” and returned the survivors to Libya, where they reportedly endured detention in inhumane conditions and were beaten, starved and raped.“While Italy retains legal responsibility, the process has been facilitated in multiple ways by the EU, and [therefore] the moral responsibility is not exclusively Italian.” — Itamar Mann, Global Legal Action Network (GLAN).

According to Violeta Moreno-Lax, a senior lecturer in law from Queen Mary University of London, and legal advisor to GLAN: “The Italian authorities are outsourcing to Libya what they are prohibited from doing themselves. They are putting lives at risk and exposing migrants to extreme forms of ill-treatment by proxy, supporting and directing the action of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.”

Mann, however, pointed out that, “while Italy retains legal responsibility, the process has been facilitated in multiple ways by the EU, and [therefore] the moral responsibility is not exclusively Italian.”
“The EU, for example, has tried to advance migrant processing centres in Libya, engaged in training of Libyan forces, and turned a blind eye to continued violations. So beyond the legal case, simply blaming Italy and ignoring the larger context would be misleading,” he told IPS via email.

The Italian government is expected to respond in due course to the legal papers.

Italy’s response to irregular migration

Italy’s stance on migrants has been reported previously. The country’s interior minister Matteo Salvini was reported by the Telegraph as saying his country would no longer be “the doormat of Europe” as it had been left to largely deal with the migrant crisis on its own. The newspaper reported that in May he had called for Italy’s coast guard and naval ships to be pulled back from patrolling the Mediterranean and brought closer to home.

There have been a number of other reported incidents of alleged “pull back”.

At the end of July, Italian authorities reportedly rescued migrants at sea and returned them to Libya. Also in July, the story of how migrants on the Italian coast guard ship, the Diciotti, were reportedly blocked from disembarking by the country’s ministry of interior generated much criticism and gave rise to a heated debate in Europe. The migrants were eventually allowed to disembark in Trapani, Sicily, after intervention by Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella. 

“The repatriation of refugees to Libya is illegal, as international law prohibits the transfer of people, who encounter distress at sea, to ‘unsafe havens,’” Benjamin Labudda, an expert on migration issues and housing conditions of refugees in the European context and a PhD Scientific Assistant at the Institute of Sociology of University of Muenster, told IPS.

Non-refoulement’, a well-known fundamental principle of international law, no country receiving asylum seekers can expel or return them to territories where their lives or freedom could be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Concern for migrants sent back to Libya

Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesperson for IOM, told IPS he was also concerned about the return of migrants to Libya.

“If a boat is rescued in international waters and returned to Libya, we are facing a ‘pull back’. The fact that we are referring relief operations in international waters to Libya is ambiguous because the migrants would probably be taken to an unsafe port,” he said.

He said the issue should be kept under close observation, as according to international law migrants rescued at sea should not be returned to Libya, which was “not a safe harbour.”

“We must promote legality, through more residence permits and integration policies,” said Di Giacomo. “A simple closure would be misunderstood by the countries of origin of these migrants. They would only see ‘the rich Europe that sends back the poor Africans.’”

Labudda added that agreements for the distribution of refugees among EU countries must be institutionalised and enforced, as many countries still refuse to welcome refugees.
“A solution regarding the structure of a process of distribution has to be found as soon as possible in the upcoming months,” he added.

MOCCAE gathers universities, international experts to discuss improving UAE’s ecological footprint

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) hosted a workshop at its headquarters in Dubai with international leading experts and the UAE’s university researchers to discuss how to improve the UAE’s Ecological Footprint.

By WAM
DUBAI, Sep 10 2018 (WAM)

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) hosted a workshop at its headquarters in Dubai with international leading experts and the UAE’s university researchers to discuss how to improve the UAE’s Ecological Footprint.

“The UAE has rolled out various environmental initiatives which have led to a constant decline of Ecological Footprint. Yet, we need to accelerate this effort further as the country’s 50th anniversary is rapidly approaching. As the methodology of Ecological Footprint is very complex and a lot of data is required to calculate, we would like to have a strong support from university researchers in the next few years.”
The workshop was organized to engage the academia in the executive team’s effort for understanding how to improve the UAE’s Ecological Footprint while obtaining more accurate, timely estimation of results. Researchers from around 10 national and private universities attended the event, along with the executive team and relevant federal and local authorities. MOCCAE aims to identify a few universities which can collaborate on analyzing the country’s Ecological Footprint trend as well as become part of the global partnership.

In the opening remarks, Eng. Aisha Al Abdooli, the ministry’s Director of Green Development and Environmental Affairs, noted: “Ecological Footprint is a very important measure for us to understand the state of the UAE’s efforts for sustainable development, and we have been working closely with international organizations to improve UAE’s footprint.”

“The UAE has rolled out various environmental initiatives which have led to a constant decline of Ecological Footprint. Yet, we need to accelerate this effort further as the country’s 50th anniversary is rapidly approaching. As the methodology of Ecological Footprint is very complex and a lot of data is required to calculate, we would like to have a strong support from university researchers in the next few years.”

“We hope this will be a great opportunity for researchers to learn about the methodology and applications directly from the international experts and relate it to the development of future research agenda to support the country’s sustainable development.”

The UAE’s Ecological Footprint has been on a constant decline since 2000. In 2017, the Prime Minister’s Office requested MOCCAE to establish a cross-ministerial executive team who sets up a clear target for improving Ecological Footprint and works towards fulfilling the UAE Vision 2021. MOCCAE also adopts the measure as one of the 41 Green Key Performance Indicators to monitor the progress of the country’s transformation towards a green economy as outlined in the UAE Green Agenda 2030.

WAM/Hassan Bashir