Frontex begins Operation Hermes in Lampedusa following request from Italy
(22 February 2011)
Following an official request from Italy, in response to the large amount of Tunisian and North African migrants arriving in Lampedusa, Frontex has launched operation Hermes as of 20 February 2011. Frontex, also known as the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, situated in Poland, received the request from the Italian government on 15 February 2011. In a statement issued by the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, it was stated that Hermes will be “deployed to assist the Italian authorities in managing the inflow of migrants from North Africa, particularly arrivals from Tunisia, on the island of Lampedusa.” The mission will run provisionally until 31 March, with the possibility for extension, focusing on the Pelagic Islands, as well as Sicily and the Italian mainland.
The Hermes mission will comprise of experts from Member States of the European Union, and will also include Italian and Maltese aerial and naval support. The estimated 30 experts’ role will include debriefing and interviewing migrants, focusing particularly on those that require asylum, referred to as “second line activities” by Frontex. In a press release issued by Frontex it was stated that:
“Their task will be to gather information necessary needed for analysis, to make assumptions concerning migrants’ nationalities, and to enable early detection and prevention of possible criminal activities at the EU external borders.”
Following these initial steps, the mission will then focus on providing assistance in return operations of migrants who have been denied the ability to remain in the EU to their home country. A supporting engagement by Europol in Operation Hermes points to a specific concern regarding the presence of organised crime elements having originated from non-EU nations. Further, Frontex will provide risk analysis experts to identify security risks at the southern peripheral boundaries of the EU. Italy has also received €100 million from the European Union for assistance in responding to the significant numbers of arrivals on its southern island of Lampedusa, a former destination for migrants seeking entrance in to the EU that had been effectively shut down through Frontex maritime patrols in 2009. The following roles and EU Member States involved have been listed by Frontex as:
• Naval means: Italy
• Aerial means: Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Malta, Spain
• Experts: Italy, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain
Meanwhile Greece has suggested it may also request emergency assistance from Frontex, following the collapse of Egypt’s government. While there has been no reported increase in migrants from Egypt, Greece has implemented stronger patrols at both its maritime and territorial boundaries. Greece’s land border with Turkey already has a significant presence of border patrol experts from the Frontex-organized Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABITs), deployed in November 2010, that will remain until at least 3 March 2011.
Concern has also arisen from the EU Commission, and Member States including Italy, regarding current political unrest in Libya. In 2009 a secret deal was struck between Italy and Libya that saw funding given to Libya to patrol its maritime borders for migrants headed to the EU, and to take back migrants that are intercepted by the Italian coastguard. Libya received a reported €50 million to conduct maritime patrols along its 1250 miles of coastline, though had initially request €5 billion from the European Commission. The Libyan leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi has threatened to end the deal if EU countries continue to critique his handling of current pro-democracy protests. The deal has been widely denounced by human rights groups, noting the lack of safeguards for migrants and asylum seekers detained in Libya.
Source: ‘Hermes 2011 running’, Frontex, 22 February 2011; ‘EU to step up Mediterranean control’, Stanley Pignal, Financial Times, 19 February 2011; ‘Hermes 2011 starts tomorrow in Lampedusa’, Frontex, 19 February 2011; ‘Statement by Commissioner Malmström announcing the launch of the Frontex operation "Hermes" in Italy as of 20 February 2011’, States News Service, 20 February 2011; ‘Brussels deploys team to help Italy with immigration pressure’, Deutsche Welle, 20 February 2011; ‘Greece beefing up patrols to stem immigration from Egypt’, Anthee Carassava, AOL News, 1 February 2011; ‘Libya threatens to stop help on EU immigration’, Agence France Presse, 20 February 2011.