EU continues to monitor migration to Lampedusa closely
(28 March 2011)
Reports are continuing to note the arrival of migrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa, previously a prominent migration destination for those seeking to enter the EU, a route which has been closed down in recent years through enhanced policing efforts. Concerns have arisen over the welfare of migrants arriving on the island, which houses a single detention centre designed to hold 800 persons, but now reportedly containing several thousand people. The UNHCR has also reported concerns over the welfare of many of the migrants, forced to sleep outdoors with limited resources. Many have been relocated to Sicily and the Italian mainland where there are additional processing capabilities Some migrants have also been directed by the Italian coastguard to the island of Linosa, 35 miles north of Lampedusa.. The UNHCR has noted the arrival over the past several days of nearly 2000 African migrants fleeing Libya, mostly Eritrean and Somali, in addition to the mostly Tunisian migrants who have left following political unrest in their home country. While there are now several thousand migrants awaiting processing on the island, it is estimated that almost 19,000 migrants have arrived on Lampedusa since the beginning of 2011.
On March 15, the Italian navy blocked a ferry from docking in Sicily that was carrying approximately 1800 Moroccans who had fled from Libya, after previously having been denied entrance by Malta. It was also believed that 41 persons had drowned after a boat had capsized off the Tunisian coast earlier that week. Previously Italy had sent migrants attempting to arrive by boat back to Libya under an agreement with Col Muammar Gaddafi, resulting in a significant decline of migrants and asylum seekers to Italy. Meanwhile many persons remain in limbo at the Egyptian and Tunisian borders with Libya, following political unrest in that country.
Responses from the local community of Lampedusa have been mixed, with many concerned over the impact upon tourism to the island. Approximately 5000 persons live on Lampedusa during the winter season. On 22 March some local residents protested and attempted to block the delivery of tents and toilets intended to aid the overcrowded migrant centre. The following week, fisherman blocked a small port using their boats to stop vessels carrying migrants from docking, though was largely seen as a symbolic act, as most are escorted in to other ports by official patrol boats. It has been reported that the Italian government has sent US$281 million in aid and credit to Tunisia to increase its border patrols.
In response to the recent migratory events, the EU border management agency Frontex has announced it will expand its two current maritime Joint Operations, Hermes (on 24 March) and Poseidon (on 26 March). Initially focused around the Pelagic islands south of Sicily in the Mediterranean, Operation Hermes, which began on 20 February 2011, has been extended until the end of August 2011, and now covers the region of Sardinia. Meanwhile, Poseidon has been extended to the island of Crete, expanding its role in the Aegean Sea. The decision to expand the operations followed a European Council meeting on 25 March 2011, where it was stated that:
“...the Commission will make additional resources available in support to the agency's 2011 Hermes and Poseidon operations and Member States are invited to provide further human and technical resources. The EU and its Member States stand ready to demonstrate their concrete solidarity to Member States most directly concerned by migratory movements and provide the necessary support as the situation evolves.”
On 28 March 2011, the UNHCR released the report ‘Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries 2010’, finding that asylum applications to western countries had fallen to below 50 percent of 2001 levels. It found that the largest declines were in southern Europe, down 33 percent from 2009. The report does not appear to discuss some of the possible reasoning behind the decline in this region, such as Italy’s previous agreement with Libya, and increased policing efforts by Frontex, through both maritime and land operations, amongst other examples.
Source: 'Italians block port in protest over migrants', Al Jazeera, 28 March 2011; ‘Italy migrant influx intensifies on Lampedusa island, BBC, 28 March 2011; ‘U.N. Reports Marked Drop in Asylum Seekers in West’, New York Times, 27 March 2011; ‘Hermes operation extended’, Frontex, 24 March 2011; ‘Update to Joint Operation Poseidon’, Frontex, 26 March 2011; ‘European Council Meeting Conclusions re Migrant and Refugee Flows from North Africa’, Migrants at Sea, 26 March 2011; ‘Italy's Lampedusa island hit by migrant crisis’, BBC, 22 March 2011; ‘Italy blocks ferry of Moroccans fleeing Libya’, BBC, March 15 2011