24. April 2015 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Frontex: „search-and-rescue operations not mandate of EU“ · Kategorien: Italien, Libyen, Mittelmeer, Mittelmeerroute · Tags: , , ,

The Guardian

EU borders chief says saving migrants‘ lives ’shouldn’t be priority‘ for patrols

Coastal fleet missions off Italy not mandated or resourced for full search and rescue operations, and nor is EU, says head of Frontex agency

The head of the EU border agency has said that saving migrants’ lives in the Mediterranean should not be the priority for the maritime patrols he is in charge of, despite the clamour for a more humane response from Europe following the deaths of an estimated 800 people at sea at the weekend.

On the eve of an emergency EU summit on the immigration crisis, Fabrice Leggeri, the head of Frontex, flatly dismissed turning the Triton border patrol mission off the coast of Italy into a search and rescue operation.

He also voiced strong doubts about new EU pledges to tackle human traffickers and their vessels in Libya.

“Triton cannot be a search-and-rescue operation. I mean, in our operational plan, we cannot have provisions for proactive search-and-rescue action. This is not in Frontex’s mandate, and this is in my understanding not in the mandate of the European Union,” Leggeri told the Guardian.

The capsizing of a trawler off Libya late on Saturday sparked a public outcry. EU foreign and interior ministers held an emergency meeting on Monday and a special summit on the issue has been called for Thursday in Brussels.

The ministers and the European commission agreed to bolster the current Triton mission, to increase its funding and assets, and to expand its area of operation while also calling for new military measures to “systematically capture and destroy” traffickers’ vessels. Thursday’s summit is to finalise the EU response.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, who called and will chair the emergency summit, said the leaders had to agree on quick and effective action. “Our overriding priority is to prevent more people from dying at sea … to agree on very practical measures, in particular by strengthening search and rescue possibilities,” he said.

But Leggeri ruled out putting his ships anywhere near the Libyan coast, saying stepping up search-and-rescue operations would only encourage desperate migrants to risk the passage. He signalled that Frontex was not asking for more boats, and voiced scepticism about the new talk of military action.

“We should not support and fuel the business of traffickers,” Leggeri said. “What happened in the past was that if smugglers are sure that European boats are patrolling very close to the Libyan coast, then traffickers use this opportunity to advertise, and say to potential irregular migrants: ‘You will be sure to reach the European coast. It’s very easy, European boats are patrolling not far from the Libyan coast, so let’s jump into the sea and you’ll see European boats very soon.’”

He added: “I don’t see how I could have – in the Triton operation, in the Frontex operation – provisions on proactive patrolling to search-and-rescue operations. I think, if you look carefully at the law of the sea, search and rescue is only where there is a distress call … It’s very difficult to find another solution. With aerial surveillance I think we can make a difference and anticipate more disasters.”

The so-called “pull factor” argument was first used by Theresa May, the UK home secretary, when Britain refused to take part in Triton last November on the grounds that it functioned as a draw for migrants. The German government and others take the same view, while the UN refugee agency, the International Organisation for Migration, Amnesty International and others have been calling loudly this week for a much more ambitious EU search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean, prioritising the saving of lives.

The template is Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation, which was highly effective last year until it was dropped and replaced by the much smaller and cheaper Triton.

EU governments agreed on Monday to “strengthen action to save lives at sea”, while Berlin said that funding of Triton would be doubled.

But Leggeri said the Triton operation still lacked resources promised by EU member states last year, and that he had requested not more naval resources but air surveillance capacity.

“Planes can detect, can disseminate the information to the Italian, Maltese, or even Tunisian search-and-rescue centres,” he said. “So planes help us to save time. We can detect, and we can anticipate, risky situations that may become a search-and-rescue situation.”

If European heads of government come good on their pledges on Thursday to expand Triton’s remit, Leggeri nonetheless questions whether they would match their promises with the necessary assets.

“I must say that for the time being we are still missing some boats and aerial means. We have planned Triton until the end of this year, 2015, and for the peak season, spring and summer, we are still missing assets,” he said. “Before extending Triton, we should first secure the assets for what has already been planned.”

His recommendation to Brussels, he said, was to expand air surveillance of the Maltese waters.

So far in 2015, the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean is slightly lower than last year’s equivalent figure, but less than 100 had died by this time last year while the death toll in 2015 has soared. The UNHCR said on Tuesday that 1,776 people were dead or missing this year.

The drowning of an estimated 800 at the weekend and 400 the week before are the worst single tragedies in the Mediterranean migration crisis.

Leggeri’s comments will disappoint campaigners who hoped that the worst Mediterranean disaster in living memory would trigger an immediate return to the kinds of expansive search-and-rescue operations that were cancelled last October, despite saving around 100,000 lives last year.

Although in emergencies Triton’s boats can leave European waters, its main focus is border protection within 30 nautical miles of the Italian shore. Its restricted mandate means that it has only been responsible for a third of all rescues this year, while Mare Nostrum saved well over half of last year’s record numbers.

Leggeri’s pessimistic message extended to the pledges this week of taking on the traffickers with force and destroying their vessels. In Brussels, senior officials have declined to say how this might work – whether vessels would be impounded at sea or in port, what would happen to the migrants on board, whether you would need European forces on the beaches of Libya, and how a UN mandate for such a mission might be secured.

Senior officials say the model is the EU operations launched off the Horn of Africa in the Indian Ocean in 2009 to combat Somali piracy. That entailed special forces operations along the Somali coast and on land.

The talk of military action is being spurred by ominous recent developments in the conflict with traffickers. There have been several recent incidents of traffickers drawing weapons on rescue crews in order to retain their vessels, officials in Brussels say.

Leggeri said it would be impossible to clarify what military operations might be used.

“If we have difficulty to find civilian assets such as one or two patrolling boats, and one aircraft, you can imagine what kind of questions will be raised if it comes to military assets.”

Kommentare geschlossen.