On 1st of November 2014, Frontex launched its border control operation Triton replacing the Italian led rescue Operation Mare Nostrum (OMN). OMN was established on 18th of October 2013 as a consequence of the ship wreckages off the island of Lampedusa. OMN is operating alongside the Italian coast including international waters and up to now saved more than 140.000 refuges. Unlike OMN, operation Triton does not include international water and is provided with a much smaller budget. OMN has a monthly budget from 9 to 11 Million Euro which is three to four times as high than the budget of operation Triton.
While Frontex launched operation Triton the Italian Minister of Interior, Angelino Alfano, announced during a press conference on 31st of October 2014 that the “phasing-out period [of OMN] is about to start.” Seeing the total numbers of those who reach out for Europe crossing the Mediterranean the decision to “phasing-out” OMN might be fatal.
With reference to Frontex, estimates are that in 2010 about 4500 people arrived in Europe crossing the Central Mediterranean route (coming from North Africa towards Italy and Malta). In 2011 and with the uprisings in the MENA region, Italian authorities detected about 64.000 migrants. Following in 2012, the figure dropped to 16.000 and went up again in 2013 to more than 40.000. Subsequently, accordingly to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 2014 (until August) underwent a dramatic increase of about 112.000 migrants crossing the water. These numbers could support the argument that with the launch of OMN people saw increasing chances to be rescued while crossing the water in their rickety boats. An argument which recently has been brought up by Joyce Anelay, Minister of State at Briton’s Foreign Office. Saying that the UK does “not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean,” believing “that they create an unintended ‘pull factor,’ encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading more tragic and unnecessary deaths”. Anelay continues by saying that „[we] understand that by withdrawing this rescue cover we will be leaving innocent children, women and men to drown who we would otherwise have saved. But eventually word will get around the war-torn communities of Syria and Libya and the other unstable nations of the region that we are indeed leaving innocent children, women and men to drown. And when it does, they will think twice about making the journey. And so eventually, over time, more lives will be saved.”
Calling on an “Urgent Question” the British House of Commons confronted Home Office Minister for Security and Immigration, James Brokenshire on 31st of October. Brokenshire pointed out, “that more people are dying in the Mediterranean following the introduction of Mare Nostrum and the emergency measures.“ He continues that „[if] we want solutions that save lives, we need to examine different options and alternatives.“ Brokenshire further emphasises that “it is the focus not simply of the UK Government, but the unanimous conclusion of all 28 member states of the EU.“
However, according to UNHCR an upward trend of refugees crossing the Mediterranean until end of September 2013 began before OMN was established. It is further worth to mention that the rise in 2013 is comparable to the same period in 2011. Civil unrests erupted throughout the North African states in 2011 such as Libya and Tunisia that soon sparked into the Middle Eastern region and affected countries like Egypt and Syria. Causing many people to flee their home country and even putting their lives at high risk by crossing the water. As Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life rings; bordering a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames.” He continues saying that “[the] answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.”
Foreign Office statement also played a part in the discussion at Al Jazeera’s show “Inside Story” broadcasted on 31st of October. Amongst the guest Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration and Ben Ward, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch Europe. Doyle opposed the view that more security at sea will encourage people to cross the Mediterranean. Instead he clarified that the numbers of people as well as their ethnic and national background changes and adapts to happenings in the MENA region. For example during and after the Gaza conflict predominantly Palestinians were found on the boats. “If the ‘pull factor’ is so attractive wouldn’t we expected Palestinians on the boat in spring? But we weren’t. We had Eritreans, we had people from Libya, with suddenly after the conflict in Gaza the boats where full of Palestinians” Doyle said. The argument also contains the assumption that people are risking their lives because they want to – ignoring the fact that they are actually forced to. It devalues the risks that are taken and the value of human life itself, which “is completely inconsistent with the values the European Union is supposed to represent,” Ward pointed out. Closing the discussion at Al Jazeera’s “Inside Story” he further raised the issue of Europe’s current negative debate on migration affecting a range of different policy areas. Respectively Ward mentioned the resettlement of Syrian refugees and the migration by boat. Seeing the responses and policy solutions the EU leaders come up with “[they] tend not to really recognise the importance of the European Union acting in accordance with the values it’s supposed to be founded on; respect for human rights [and] protection of refugees and instead you get a focus only on border enforcement [and] border security, seeing the issue essentially as a security problem rather than a human problem.”
For additional information on the European Council Meeting of 9-10 October and with respect to the Frontex led operation Triton click here.
To watch the discussion at Al Jazeera’s “Inside Story” click here.
To watch the meeting of the House of Commons on the matter “Refugees and Migrants (Search and Rescue Operation) click here.