Update: About 1,500 people were rescued over the weekend by NGO vessels and a EUNAVFORMED ship. The Aquarius, leased by SOS Méditerranée and operated in partnership with MSF, rescued a total 537 people during several operations, including one in cooperation with the Sea Eye ship Seefuchs, a helicopter from the Italian Navy the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (IMRCC). On Saturday, in the midst of great tensions, SeaWatch rescued more than 90 people: after waiting for the Libyan Coast Guard to arrive, SeaWatch had to intervene when several migrants jumped into the sea at the sight of the Libyans, shouting “No Libya”.
Watch the story on RaiNews by Angela Caponnetto, reporting on board the SeaWatch ship.
1. The Open Arms has been released
On Monday April 16, news broke out of the release of the Proactiva ship Open Arms, which had been impounded at the port of Pozzallo since March 18. The decision by the Ragusa judge is an extraordinarily important one: “Libya is not yet capable of ensuring the fundamental rights of the migrants rescued at sea”. When the NGO refused to hand over the migrants to the Libyan Coast Guard on March 15, their actions were dictated by need.
The ruling validates the act of disobedience under article 54 of Italian criminal code. “The judgment is based on what need and grave danger means. Not just the dangers connected with the shipwreck, but also in terms of prevention – that is, what would have happened to these people if they had been brought back to Libya. In other words, the consequences that would have taken place if the NGO had not disobeyed the orders” explained Gianfranco Schiavone, vice president of the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), who was interviewed by Eleonora Camilli. This calls into question many of the charges that have been levelled at the NGOs over the last few months. And it may set an important precedent in the controversy over the validity of the Code of Conduct for NGOs implemented by the Italian Ministry of the Interior in the summer of 2017.
However, the ship’s release does not mean the case is closed, nor does it spell the end of Italy’s war on rescue groups, wrote Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch, explaining why the contradiction matters.
2. The seizure of the Iuventa: a new research refutes the accusations but the Italian Court of Cassation confirms its impoundment
Last summer, another rescue ship, the Iuventa, was seized by the Italian authorities and is still impounded, a decision confirmed on April 24 by a nw ruling of the Rome Court of Cassation. The German NGO Jugend Rettet was accused of getting too close to the Libyan coast and arranging the direct handover of migrants with smugglers.
On April 20, however, Forensic Architecture, an independent research centre agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, published the results of an investigation in a report titled Blaming the rescuers, an obvious reference to the smear campaign against rescue groups. The footage – exclusively released by Internazionale, Mediapart and the Intercept – would clear Jugend Rettet of all charges of aiding illegal immigration.
After analysing the audio and video material and the communication between all the actors involved, the Forensic Oceanography group concluded that the charges brought against the Iuventa and other NGOs are based on omissions and elements taken out of context, as Lorenzo Pezzini, an Italian researcher and one of the co-founders, explained in an in-depth report for Internazionale.
Today, Forensic Oceanography published their investigation into the #Iuventa case in #Italy, the latest exploration of the campaign of delegitimisation and criminalisation against #NGOs operating on the Mediterranean #migrant routes. It's here: https://t.co/udvXxmUMq3 pic.twitter.com/gdaLuAqkh5
— Forensic Architecture (@ForensicArchi) April 20, 2018
Last year in August, we analysed the papers on the seizure of the Iuventa, summarising eight essential facts we learnt and describing the growing militarisation of the Mediterranean, which saw a turning point in the summer of 2017.
Since the day of the seizure on August 2, 2017, Jugend Rettet tweeted,973 people have died on the Central Mediterranean route.
3. Welcoming Europe: an initiative from the European civil society
The campaign “Welcoming Europe: per un’Europa che accoglie” was presented to the Italian Senate last Thursday. The aim is to collect 1 million signatures for a more open, welcoming Europe, with safe passage and private sponsorships in support to refugees, an end to the criminalisation of solidarity in member states and effective access to justice for all victims of exploitation and abuse.
The campaign is using the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), a EU tool for direct democracy which compels the European Commission to hear the demands of citizens in a formal procedure: Welcoming Europe has a year to collect 1 million signatures in seven Member States. You can read the official ECI text here. Also read Annalisa Camilli’s article in Internazionale.
“Welcoming Europe” is supported by a vast coalition of civil society groups, and it comes a year after the launch of an all-Italian campaign, “Ero straniero – L’umanità che fa bene”, a popular initiative for a reform of Italian immigration laws which collected more than 90,000 signatures in six months. [disclaimer: CILD is also part of the initiative]
4. “Death would have been better”: tales from Libyan detention centres
“Death would have been better” is the opening line on the new Refugees International report on detention in Libya.
The report is based on February 2018 interviews conducted with asylum seekers and refugees who had been evacuated by UNHCR from detention centers in Libya to Niamey, Niger, where these men, women, and children await resettlement to a third country. The report shows that as the EU mobilises considerable resources and efforts to stop the migration route through Libya, asylum seekers, refugees and migrants continue to face horrendous abuses in Libya. Refugees International is particularly concerned that the EU continues to support the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept boats carrying asylum seekers.
5. Further crackdown on immigration in Austria, authorities to seize refugees’ mobiles and demand cash
The Austrian cabinet announced new measures on Wednesday, under which asylum seekers will be forced to hand over their mobile phones to the authorities to determine their identities and where they came from. They might be also forced to hand over sums up to 840 euros in cash to cover asylum expenses, The Local reported.
Last year’s October election resulted in the formation of a government led by Sebastian Kurz, who had promised a crackdown on immigration following the high number of asylum applications received by Austria in 2015 (we analysed the data in April 2016). Kurz’s party is in a coalition with the far-right FPÖ, and one of its members, Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, said his aim was “a restrictive and enforceable law regarding the rights of foreigners” in order to end “abuse” of the asylum system.
The seizure of mobile phones is a rather controversial measure which has already been proposed by other governments and has no defined legal framework behind it, as Privacy International explained in its analysis, focussing on the UK.
The measures are due to be voted through by Parliament in the next few weeks.
6. Germany to take in 10,000 vulnerable refugees
We move on from Austria to Germany, a country that despite a difficult political situation and a shaky coalition government, will accept 10,000 refugees from North Africa and the Middle East under a programme to resettle people considered particularly vulnerable: the announcement came from the EU Commissioner for Refugees Dimitris Avramopoulos.
The EU program aims to provide a legal, direct and safe route to Europe for refugees in need of protection. At least 50,000 refugees from crisis areas are to be brought into the EU by 2019. The EU will be supporting host countries by providing €500 million in funding for the program, Deutsche Welle wrote.
Germany remains a country that, in spite of growing difficulties, is still offering interesting models and experiments in integration, such as this coding school for women refugees.
7. New asylum seekers will be free to travel from Greek islands
An important decision just came from Greece, where a court has ruled that migrants landing on the islands should no longer be held there while their asylum claims are assessed. They bad been prohibited from doing so since March 2016. The ruling, however, applies to new arrivals only and not to asylum seekers who are already on the islands.
The restriction on leaving the islands, imposed by Greece’s Asylum Service, has resulted in severely overcrowded camps and violent protests over delays in asylum decisions.
The Council of State, Greece’s top administrative court, annulled the decision. It found no “serious and overriding reasons of public interest and migration policy to justify the imposition of restriction on movement”, a court official said. The Greek Council for Refugees, which had taken the issue to court, said the decision was a “an important victory for all those who defend the rights of refugees”, while An EU official described the ruling as a “big worry”.
More than 15,000 asylum seekers are living in island camps, more than double their capacity. Read the report from Lesbos by Niccolò Zancan on a situation that is becoming more and more untenable.
8. Windrush Generation: further proof that the British government is hostile to migrants
Paulette Wilson was born in Jamaica and has been living in the UK for 50 years. Anthony Bryan was 10 years old when he left his country and came to London in 1965, as was Richard Stewart when he moved from Jamaica in 1955.
The latest social crisis in the UK is the one surrounding the Windrush Generation, the Caribbean migrants who arrived in the UK after WW2 (the Empire Windrush was the first ship to make the crossing). After living all their lives as British citizens, several of them have been now accused by the government of being illegal immigrants and threatened with deportation to their countries of origin, because they have no documentation to prove they reside in the UK legally.
The cases have been documented since last November: the Guardian has put together a timeline of key events.
It is further proof of the “hostile environment” that the UK is creating for immigrants, especially after Brexit, and the most vulnerable are paying the price: “Very often people are being denied services they are entitled to.” said Anne Stolteberg of Migrant Voice UK in this article by Caitlin Logan. “Because this atmosphere has been created, people are being refused in situations, for example where they have the right to work but because employers are worried and their passport is being renewed, or their landlords aren’t sure.”
As Downing Street is meeting with the Commonwealth heads of government, diplomats from Caribbean countries are asking for clarification and reassurance. Initially, the UK government did not seem to take a serious approach to the problem, but soon, as more stories surfaced and more people were affected, the issue seems to have become prevalent not only in public discourse but also in the political debate.
Over the last few days, more than 140 MPs from all parties have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, calling for a swift solution to the crisis. Interior Minister Amber Rudd announced the creation of a special home office team to ensure that these people are no longer classified as illegal immigrants and has promised that none of them will be deported for lacking papers.
9. French organisations take to the streets, Generation Identity try to block migrants at the Italian border
After a surge in acts of solidarity from the border, in response to the recent evacuations, right-wing extremists from Generation Identity installed a fence to block migrants at the Col de l’Échelle, near Bardonecchia. Their actions (we wrote about their origins and political ties here last summer, when they targeted the ship C Star) were met with a solidarity network that blocked the provincial road near Montgenèvre and broke through the Gendermerie lines.
Meanwhile, in Paris, human rights associations are protesting a proposed reform, the so-called law for controlled immigration and effective asylum right.
The protest, organised by BAAM (a Paris-based association that provides legal and language services to migrants), saw a very diverse crowd and many migrants take to the streets, but no major organisation. See the report in pictures on The Submarine.
10. Lebanon, Human Rights Watch reports mass evictions and expulsions of Syrian refugees
“Our homes are not for strangers” is the title of Human Rights Watch reports detailing mass evictions and expulsion of 3,600 Syrian refugees at least 13 Lebanese municipalities since 2016.
While Lebanese municipal authorities make tepid claims that the evictions were based on housing regulation infractions, Human Rights Watch found the measures taken by these municipalities have been directed exclusively at Syrian nationals, and not Lebanese citizens or other foreign nationals.
Cover photo from the Facebook page of Briser les Frontières