1. Is the Libyan Coast Guard abandoning migrant at sea?
Between July 16 and 17, the ship Open Arms from the Spanish NGO Proactiva arrived at the site of a shipwreck, rescued a woman from Cameroon, Josefa, and retrieved the bodies of another woman and a child. Footage and images from the rescue have circulated widely, with Open Arms accusing the Libyan Coast Guard and the cargo ship Triades of standing by. According to the NGO, the three migrants were left out at sea following a raid by the Libyan Coast Guard (who had intercepted 158 people) where the migrants refused to be sent back. Internazionale‘s Annalisa Camilli was on board and has covered the incident, including the first statement by Josefa: “We were at sea for two days and two nights”, the woman told. “The Libyan police came, and they started to beat us up”.
“Lies and insults from some foreign NGO”, commented Italian Interior Minister Salvini, who has announced further revelations from a third source which would disprove the NGO’s account (apparently a German reporter, who seems to be referring to another raid by the Libyans that took place at the same time). Read a summary by Fabrizio D’Esposito and Antonio Massari in Il Fatto Quotidiano.
Despite having been assigned the port of Catania on Tuesday evening to allow the woman to disembark, Open Arms asked the Spanish MRCC to coordinate the rescue operation so that it could then sail to Spain. Their 18 July statement reads:
[…] the repeated announcement of a sort of counter-investigation into the unambiguous facts of Monday night that we documented leads us to fear for the protection of the woman who survived and her complete freedom to testify safely. For these reasons, we have decided to move our ships to the Spanish coasts.
Charges of involuntary manslaughter were filed by Proactiva in Palma de Mallorca, but, as we learned on Sunday, no charges were filed against the Italian Government; only against the captains of the Libyan patrol and the cargo ship.
Demonstrations outside the Italian Ministry of Interior have followed, with protesters holding up their hands painted red.
2. NBA star Marc Gasol boards NGO rescue ship Open Arms
Also on board the Open Arms was Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies. To reporters who asked him about his motives, the Catalan NBA star, known for his commitment to social justice alongside brother Pau (also a professional player), said:
“Since I learned years ago that thousands of people were dying at sea, I’ve always felt a deep sense of injustice. I wanted to give my contribution as a human being. And I want to set an example to my children, Julia e Luca”.
As Rolling Stone noted, Gasol’s gesture has brought new attention to the exchange between Italian writers Roberto Saviano and Sandro Veronesi and the importance of bringing one’s body on the rescue ships.
Frustration, anger, and helplessness. It’s unbelievable how so many vulnerable people are abandoned to their deaths at sea.
Deep admiration for these I call my teammates at this time @openarms_fund pic.twitter.com/TR0KnRsrTE
— Marc Gasol (@MarcGasol) July 17, 2018
3. The Italian Coast Guard turns 153 – A few statements
July 21 marked the 153 anniversary of the foundation of the Italian Coast Guard, who have been carrying out rescue operations in the Mediterranean for years, coordinating with NGO vessels. The NGOs have also thanked the Coast Guard, as shown by this tweet from Sea Watch:
Senza la loro collaborazione, l'azione delle ONG nel Mediterraneo non sarebbe stata possibile.
Insieme abbiamo lavorato per preservare la vita umana in mare.
— Sea-Watch Italy (@SeaWatchItaly) July 21, 2018
Italian military have mostly been silent players so far, but a few statements have emerged that betray a sense of powerlessness with the way rescue operations are being managed and the relationship with their so-called Libyan counterpart. These feelings are exacerbated by incidents such as the ones involving the ships Diciotti and Monte Sperone (we wrote about it in last week’s review.)
Speaking with Il Sole 24ore, an admiral who would rather remain anonymous said that nothing is clear about the Libyan Coast Guard: “When Italy gives patrol boats to the ‘Libyan Coast Guard’ and when we see pictures of Libyan officers at sea, what military or paramilitary organisation is being referred to? Are they neutral organisations or are they armed by human traffickers? There is a Coast Guard in Misrata, one in Tripolitania, and probably a different one Zuara-Zauia.”
Interviewed in Avvenire, Admiral Vittorio Alessandro, formerly in charge of External Relations for the port authorities during the years of the Lampedusa crisis, also expressed his doubts:
How many Coast Guards are there in Libya?
There is no one single institution. There are three, as the UN reports have pointed out. We are very far from having a single reliable counterpart.
There is also some speculation of a handing over of migrants to Libya.
That’s against the rules. Italy was already sanctioned when Maroni was Minister of Interior, for handing over people who had escaped. That this is not a viable option is even more certain now that several rulings have confirmed that Libya has no safe ports and that those who are returned are facing certain death or detention.
An explainer made by the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (CILD) clarifies the issue of conflicting competence raised by the case of the Diciotti (something that could happen again in the near future). Last year, CILD had also published a guide to solidarity at sea.
Finally, after rumours of a possible withdrawal from Operation Sophia, news came on Saturday that Italy will not be withdrawing its ships. The withdrawal would have brought the mission to an end, according to the other member states. According to Marco Bresolin writing in La Stampa, the decision is said to have been reached under pressure from the President of Italy, aware of the importance of the EU naval mission led by Italy.
4. SPRAR plan for expansion comes to a halt
The SPRAR system, operated on a volunteer bases by individual Cities and considered the most efficient of its kind, has been awaiting the list of new project since July 1. The Interior Ministry was expected to greenlight the new SPRAR funding, but everything is at a standstill: no rankings for new centres, no covering of the costs. “In other words, there are no funds, which will have to be requested from the Ministry of Finance. The request will not be made until September”, Lorenzo Bagnoli wrote in Il Fatto Quotidiano.
This situation has raised concerns, highlighted in a letter that ANCI (the National Association of Italian Municipalities) general secretary Veronica Nicotra sent to the Interior Ministry on July 11. According to operators, the delay could discourage further participation to the SPRAR network. In March 2018, the SPRAR system had funded 35,869 places, with 3,488 for minors. We had explained how the SPRAR system works here.
Last Monday, a week after Interior Minister Salvini sent out a memo calling for a further crackdown on asylum rights, The National Commission for Asylum has sent out a memo to all the presidents of the Territorial Commissions, with explicit instructions to cut down on humanitarian protection.
The response by the Italian Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) was quoted in Avvenire:
«This confirms what we have always maintained: these commissions are easily influenced, because the organ that should be the most transparent [i.e. the National Commission] is actually the biggest political tool».
Organisations from the Tavolo Asilo have voiced their concerns and asked to meet with the Minister: “The National Commission, as well as the Ministry, has no authority on the decisions of the Territorial Commissions, which must be independent and dictated only by the provisions of the law and the applicants’ personal histories, with no outside intervention that violates the Constitution. Especially in the case of unaccompanied asylum seeking minors, priority in the decision should be given to their superior interest”.
5. Migrant centres in Libya are near breaking point
Libya’s overcrowded detention centres are on the verge of collapsing: according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of people being held has swollen from 5,000 to 9,300, with thousands more at the mercy of smugglers in charge of unofficial detention facilities, Karen McVeigh wrote in the Guardian. The IOM estimates there are 662,000 migrants in Libya this year – up roughly 40,000 from 2017 -10% of whom are minors (more than half unaccompanied). There are also 179,400 internally displaced people inside the country.
Writing in The Vision, Yasha Maccanico, an Italian analyst and researcher with the British NGO Statewatch, explains a key factor in the fluctuations of migrant flows: “These arrivals can be linked to the attempt to raise the price in the negotiations between Italy and the Libyan militias”.
According to Maccanico, these power imbalances stem from a distortion of international cooperation, which has been reduced to a tool for containing migrants (Sara Prestianni had written about it for us).
6. Two years in the making, the Global Compact on migrants is now reality (but Hungary pulls out)
Many wondered if the final document would ever see the light. Scepticism was even higher after Trump’s USA left the table early in the discussions, but last week the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) was finally approved by UN member states. It is the first attempt to cut down on the negative factors that compel people to leave their homes – from poverty and a lack of opportunity to high crime rates and climate change – while amplifying the benefits that migration can bring individuals, communities, and countries of origin and destination. According to Marta Foresti (Overseas Development Institute) is far from perfect and not a done a deal – it is a voluntary non-binding agreement and it will not be formally adopted until December – but multilateralism has great political significance in an age of xenophobia and nationalism.
Hungary, however, has pulled out of the agreement, citing security concerns. Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said the agreement was “in conflict with common sense and also with the intent to restore European security”. Hungary joined the United States as one of two United Nations members that are not committing to the agreement. Last Thursday, the European Commission had decided to refer Hungary to the Court of Justice of the European Union “for non-compliance of its asylum and return legislation with EU law”.
7. Thessaloniki refugees find sanctuary in football
Aniko is a grassroots group created by volunteers, who have done an extraordinary job of bringing people from different ages, ethnicities, religions and genders together and making them feel like they belong somewhere, all in a few months. Sports events can break down barriers, so once a month, refugees and locals from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, Greece, Cameroon, Italy and other countries are sorted into teams to play soccer and build a larger community. Read the report from Thessaloniki by Open Migration contributor Marianna Karakoulaki and Dimitris Tosidis.
8. Governments are using migrants’ smartphones to deport them
Smartphones have helped tens of thousands of migrants travel to Europe. A phone means you can stay in touch with your family, get information on border closure, patrol activities and scams to watch out for. But smartphones also store a large number of personal information and data that can be used to track a refugee’s movements, which European governments are increasingly using to send migrants back. Photos and apps may contain location history, including the first country of entry, while chat messages can be indicative of political or religious affiliations, and be useful in denying protection. The UK and Norway have been searching migrants’ phones for years, while Germany and Denmark (where the authorities even search social networks) have expanded laws to that effect in 2017. Similar legislation has been proposed in Belgium and Austria.
9. Looking past outrage and violence to see the border
From the cries of a baby to images of distraught parents, coverage of the “crisis” on the border between the USA and Mexico has brought the tragedy of separated families into the homes of millions, and stirred outrage. But will these images and representation actually benefit people of the border or translate into change? Interviewed in Refugees Deeply, Gabriella Sanchez warns against “burst of intense, viral attention” that leave no trace once they have died out.
Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, thousands of migrants have said they were sexually abused while in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): more than 1000 between 2013 and 2017.
10. On the footsteps of migrants
This interactive game, half RPG, half online experience, has one goal: identifying in the migrants’ journey. The idea behind Into the footsteps of a migrant, supported by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Commission, sees 4 countries involved: Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Romania. According to Italian representative Cooperativa Camelot, the goal is to “develop a RPG that will enable players to work on their prejudice, stimulate empathy, and encourage reflection and critical thought. We would like to see it in schools, among formal and informal groups of young people and among professionals.”
Foto di copertina via Guardia Costiera.