C Explanatory memorandum by Ms Strik,
The large-scale arrival of irregular migrants, asylum
seekers and refugees on Europe’s southern shores is not a new phenomenon.
The Parliamentary Assembly has already dealt with this issue in
several reports and has adopted a number of relevant texts, in particular Resolution 1637 (2008)
Europe’s boat people: mixed migration flows by sea into southern
on access to assistance and protection for
asylum seekers at European seaports and coastal areas and Resolution 1521 (2006)
the mass arrival of irregular migrants on Europe’s southern shores.
2. The events this year in Tunisia, Egypt and in Libya have,
however, brought about a new wave of desperate people, using desperate
means to flee danger and/or to find a new life.
2 Timeline of events
- Tunisia: On 17 December
2010, a young street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire
in a protest against the seizure of his merchandise by the police.
This tragic measure was followed by a wave of protests across the
country, which culminated, on 14 January 2011, with the departure
of the President of Tunisia, Mr Ben Ali, who fled the country.
- Egypt: On 17 January 2011, a man set himself on fire near
the parliament building in protest about the poor living conditions
in Egypt. In the following days, Egyptians took to the streets against
the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. After eighteen days of mass
protest, President Mubarak resigned on 11 February 2011, and handed
power over to the military.
- Libya: Protests erupted in Libya on 16 February after
a human rights campaigner was arrested. On 25 February, the protest
wave reached Tripoli. Rebel forces along with civilians took over
a large number of towns, and later came under attack from forces
loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. On 18 March 2011, the United Nations
Security Council voted in favour of a no-fly zone and air strikes
against Colonel Gaddafi’s forces. On 20 March 2011, British, American
and French air forces participated in Operation Odyssey DawnNote and attacked Colonel Gaddafi’s military.
A few days later, NATO took control of the military operations of
the allies in Libya. On 30 March, Libya’s foreign minister resigned.
- Protests, of different intensity, are also ongoing in
Yemen, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan.
On 8 March 2011, the Assembly’s Political Affairs
Committee held an exchange of views on the situation in Egypt. On
11 March 2011, the Standing Committee held a current affairs debate
on the Council of Europe and emerging democracies in the Arab world.
On 15 March 2011, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population,
meeting in Brussels, decided to ask the Bureau to propose to the
Assembly to hold a current affairs debate or alternatively a debate
under urgent procedure at the April part-session on the subject
of the large-scale arrival of irregular migrants, asylum seekers
and refugees on Europe’s southern shores The Committee on Migration,
Refugees and Population has also accelerated its work on “Rescue
at sea” and “Responsibility sharing in Europe” in view of the urgency
of finding solutions. Both reports ought to be debated at the forthcoming
4. On 15 March 2011, upon the initiative of the Secretary General
of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers held an extraordinary
meeting to examine possible Council of Europe action in the event
of the massive arrival of asylum seekers and migrants from the southern
Mediterranean. At this meeting, the Committee of Ministers supported
the Secretary General’s proposals on the elaboration of emergency
action plans, as well as proposals regarding the training of officials
dealing with requests for asylum.
3 Figures for arrivals
As a result of ongoing events in the southern Mediterranean,
according to the UNHCR, between mid-January and 6 April 2011, more
than 23 000 persons (including over 21 000 Tunisians) arrived by
boat in Lampedusa, leading to massive overcrowding at the migrant
reception centre. Only a small percentage of these persons have
sought asylum and most of them have meanwhile been transferred to
other locations in Italy.Note
The local reception centre, designed to accommodate 850 people,
at present hosts some 2 000 persons. This situation changes daily,
but what remains constant is the overcrowding. In the course of
the recent arrivals, several thousand people were forced to sleep
in the open air, close to the reception centre and on the docks. Many
people were unable to find shelter from the rain and cold weather.
The UNHCR also expressed serious concerns as regards the conditions
of hygiene, reported to be dire, and called on the Italian authorities
to take urgent action to alleviate overcrowding on the island, which
outside of the tourist season has only about 5 000 inhabitants.Note
7. Thousands of migrants have in the meantime been transferred
from Lampedusa to the mainland in Italy. Many of them were transferred
to a reception centre in Manduria, in southern Italy; others have
been transferred to the region of Puglia or to Sicily. The Italian
government has prepared an emergency plan to host 10 000 migrants,
as a temporary measure before their repatriation to Tunisia. On
6 April, Italy reached an agreement with Tunisia according to which
a six-month temporary residency permit will be granted to the Tunisians
already in Italy, while Tunisia has agreed to simplify and accelerate
return procedures for newly arriving Tunisians.
8. While it is understandable that Italy looks for rapid and
effective solutions to stop irregular migration, such accelerated
procedures should not exclude access to international protection
for those in need. Indeed, not only Tunisians are arriving in Lampedusa
from Tunisia, but increasingly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis. On
the weekend of 28 March, the first boats from Libya arrived in Italy,
with 877 people on board. A number of them will certainly have well-founded
claims for international protection and the UNHCR is engaging in contingency
planning with Italy as more arrivals can be expected.
3.2 Situation at the French/Italian border
9. This new agreement between Italy and Tunisia, which
reportedly will allow free travel within the Schengen zone for those
granted a six-month temporary residency permit, is unlikely to reassure
France and its concerns that many of the arrivals will seek to enter
France. Given the historical and cultural ties between the two countries,
many of the Tunisians who have arrived in Italy are believed to
have already tried to reach France to settle. For this reason, the
French authorities have reinforced border controls between Italy
and France. Intercepted irregular Tunisian migrants have been sent
back to Vintimille, in Italy.
10. The European Commission has criticised this decision, recalling
that both France and Italy are members of Schengen, a European border-free
space. Irregular Tunisian migrants intercepted by the French law enforcement
should be put in French detention centres and France should negotiate
their return with the country of origin.
Malta has so far received around 1 000 persons, almost
all in need of protection (819 arrived in a very short time spanNote
these persons are in detention awaiting processing.Note
them are over 411 Somalis, 250 Eritreans and 87 Ethiopians. There
are 557 men, 180 women and 82 children.Note
All of them were placed
in detention centres, including the children, before they could
be medically screened and moved with their parents to open centres.
12. Following the radical drop in arrivals by sea in recent months,
Malta’s detention centres were largely empty and can, for the time
being, accommodate recent arrivals. Malta is, however, concerned
about a possible larger scale of arrivals, which would stretch its
In facing these arrivals, the authorities are urged to pay
particular attention to setting up mechanisms for identifying, in
particular, vulnerable individuals, including women, children, victims
of trafficking, victims of torture, etc. Following a recent visit
to Malta, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner has heavily criticised
Malta’s mandatory detention policy.Note
practice is even more reprehensible when it concerns vulnerable
groups, especially children.
Notwithstanding the fact that there have been no
sea arrivals in Greece of irregular migrants, refugees or asylum
seekers coming from the conflicts in North Africa, one should keep
in mind that Greece received 10 300 claims for asylum in 2010 and,
according to Frontex’s Annual Risk Analysis report,Note
now accounts for 75% of all detections of illegal border crossings
in the European Union. Migration flows change quickly and Greece
is soon likely to have to face arrivals of mixed migration flows
in the aftermath of these recent events.
3.5 Reported push-backs
While push-back practices are clearly condemned,
denial of access to territory of persons coming from Libya should
also be condemned. On 14 March 2011, the Italian authorities denied
entry to about 1 800 persons aboard the ship Mistral
coming from Libya. The vessel eventually made
its way to Morocco.Note
The UNHCR has in the past already expressed serious concerns
about the impact of such a policy which, in the absence of adequate
safeguards, can prevent access to asylum and undermines the international principle
of non-refoulement. In this context, it is also worth underlining
European Union Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s clear statement
that the banning and push-back of migrants encountered at sea is
17. Countries concerned should be urged not to proceed with any
push-backs. Also, notwithstanding the need for action, there must
be no mass expulsion and access to international protection must
4 Refugees and migrants trapped by the conflicts
18. Fleeing the violent repression of the protests and
the armed conflict in Libya, by 8 April 2011, 460 000 persons had
crossed from Libya to neighbouring countries, primarily Egypt and
Tunisia, where they were stranded in hastily organised camps. Already
on 1 March 2011, the UNHCR and the International Organization for
Migration (IOM) made a joint appeal to governments around the world
to provide support for an emergency humanitarian evacuation of these
persons, mainly Egyptians.
The immediate airlift response provided by several governments
– allowing tens of thousands of Egyptians to fly home within days
– has significantly relieved the overcrowding at the border. However,
the UNHCR urged states to maintain their efforts as people still
continue to flee Libya by the thousands. Indeed, an increase in
influx of Libyan families crossing to Egypt was observed early in
April with up to 2 500 Libyans per day crossing the border.Note
20. Furthermore, two other issues are of immediate concern in
21. First, there are an increasing number of people originating
from countries where wars are ongoing; Somalis, for instance, are
among those persons that have managed to cross the Libyan border
into Tunisia. These people cannot be repatriated to their countries
of origin. European countries therefore need to join efforts to
find appropriate solutions for those persons with international
Second, a number of migrants and refugees are still trapped
by the conflicts in Libya. The UNHCR reports that the majority of
it’s “most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers remain in Tripoli,
unable to relocate or access basic services”. It also reports that
a number of those who have tried to flee have been attacked, shot,
and even killed. Apparently, those coming from Sub-Saharan Africa
risk being considered by the population as being part of the mercenary
forces which act on Colonel Gaddafi’s side.Note
The situation is escalating and
those persons, terrified for their lives, hide in their homes and
cannot escape. Furthermore, they fear being forced to return to
their countries of origin.
23. Resettlement arrangements for these persons (some of whom
are asylum seekers, others are persons who have already been granted
refugee status by the UNHRC) should be considered by governments
of member states as a matter of utmost priority.
5 Deaths in attempting to reach Europe’s shores
24. At the end of March 2011, 27 irregular migrants were
found drowned in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Tunisia.
25. On 6 April 2011, a boat capsized off Lampedusa. Italian coastguards
rescued a total of 49 persons and 20 bodies have been recovered.
Many more are missing as the boat is believed to have been carrying
around 200 people.
Some boats are also reported missing. One reportedly departed
on 22 March (with 335 people on board) and one on 25 March (with
68 persons on board).Note
is reported that bodies have been found washed up on the Libyan
27. Such tragic accidents will continue, and are even likely to
increase in the coming days or weeks. However, Europe cannot simply
shut its doors and stop these boats, without dealing with the root
28. In the meantime, we have to take emergency measures and act
with solidarity. As the President of the Assembly said in a statement
on 1 April 2011: “We can’t just plug the hole and stop this flow
without dealing with the root causes, and in the meantime we have
to help those in need whether they are persons in distress on the
sea, people fleeing persecution or small islands taking the brunt
29. As the President of the Assembly concluded in his statement:
“Each death of a boat person is one too many.”
30. As soon as the first new wave of arrivals on Lampedusa
started, Italy declared a state of emergency on the island and appealed
to the European Union and its member states for help in dealing
with these and future arrivals. In February, within five days, more
people reached Lampedusa than had arrived by sea to Italy in the previous
twelve-month period. As stated above, Malta’s reception capacities
are under serious pressure – in view of probable much larger arrivals
when the weather conditions improve – Malta has also asked the European
Union to immediately introduce a burden-sharing mechanism.
31. On 1 March 2011, the UHCHR “in an endeavour to demonstrate
international solidarity and burden-sharing” made a proposal for
an emergency resettlement effort in the context of the Libya emergency.
By so doing, the UNHCR expressed its hope that countries would be
able to offer resettlement places additional to their agreed quota
32. On 16 March 2011, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European
Parliament supported the activation of a burden-sharing mechanism
in case of massive arrivals of asylum seekers from North Africa.
As of 23 March 2011, and due to the notable increase in migratory
pressure on Italy and the island of Lampedusa, in particular, Frontex
(the European Union border security agency) widened the operational
area of Joint Operation HermesNote
and extended its duration for five more
months, with the aim of strengthening Europe’s border control response
capability in the central Mediterranean. The operational area has
been extended to include Sardinia. Frontex reports that “In addition
to one aircraft and two vessels already financed and co-ordinated
by Frontex, one Dutch and one Portuguese plane have now arrived
in Pantelleria and Sardinia respectively to assist the Italian authorities
in strengthening their border control activities”.Note
26 March 2011, the operational area of Joint Operation Poseidon
covers the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, was also widened to
On 5 April 2011, the European Parliament adopted a resolution
on “Migration flows arising from instability: scope and role of
the EU foreign policy” (2010/2269(INI)).Note
this resolution, the European Parliament stressed that the European
Union cannot purely rely on Frontex to help Italy or Malta cope
with the migration crisis in the Mediterranean and urged the European
Council to put in place an action plan for the resettlement of refugees
while tackling the root causes (in particular unemployment) in migrants’
countries of origin and of transit.
In a letter of 6 April 2011, European Union Commissioner for
Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström urged all European Union member states
to rapidly seek agreement on burden sharing of refugees who are
fleeing Libya and the troubled North African coast into Europe.
She asked them to activate emergency measures and, if necessary,
a special directive of 2001 foreseeing a temporary protection mechanism
that will assist countries like Malta and Italy cope with the influx.Note
The European Union Commissioner’s letter also mentions short-term
measures that could be taken to stop arrivals of irregular migrants
from Tunisia, for example by reinforcing Frontex action or by putting
in place a partnership with Tunisia in view of the return of the
irregular migrants. Finally, the letter announces that the European
Union Commissioner will present in June a package of long-term measures.
Malta has immediately welcomed the content of this letter, underlining
that Malta had been arguing in favour of this since the beginning of
European Union Home Affairs ministers met in Luxembourg on 11 April
2011 to discuss these issues.
On 8 April 2011 the European Commission published a memo describing
in detail its response to the migratory flows from North Africa.Note
38. On 26 April 2011, a French/Italian Summit will take place
in Rome. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Italian Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi will discuss in particular migration
issues and the situation in Libya.
39. In terms of funding, the European Union Commissioner for Home
Affairs stressed that a €25 million emergency fund is available
and ready to be used to face the crisis. If necessary, additional
funds could be found. She also stated that, in any case, people
fleeing Libya would not be sent back by the European Union.
40. In the draft resolution, your rapporteur seeks to
tackle two issues; the first concerns the immediate humanitarian
and protection needs and the second concerns the steps to be taken
to tackle the root causes of this flow of migrants and asylum seekers
and refugees. There is no avoiding that in doing this, member states have
to show solidarity, and in this there has to be some form of responsibility
41. We have to be realistic and the solutions that we find will
have to balance the needs of the countries coming out of conflict
with the concerns and interests of our member states. This will
be a two-way process and will require give and take on all sides.
Europe will need to give economic, social and legal support for development
and democratic reforms, and will also have to look at legal avenues
of migration for persons coming from these countries. These countries
will have to tackle irregular migration on their side and not hinder return
of their own nationals.
42. In the short term, we must immediately be prepared to resettle
those refugees already recognised by the UNHCR and who are trapped
by the conflicts in Libya.
43. In the short term, we have to find immediate solutions for
those who are arriving daily on our southern coasts and whose numbers
are likely to grow if the conflict in Libya persists and worsens.
Whatever the solutions are, European states have to respect their
humanitarian obligations and their obligations under international
human rights and refugee law. They must provide access to fair and
effective asylum procedures, taking into account the needs of vulnerable
groups. They must not breach the principle of non-refoulement,
and must refrain from push-backs at sea.
44. Member states also need to consider resettlement solutions
to alleviate the burden currently on the shoulders of the countries
on Europe’s southern shores either by resettling asylum seekers
who have been granted protection by the member states in which they
have arrived or by a temporary suspension of the application of
the Dublin Regulations.
45. If a mass influx of Libyan refugees occurs as a result of
increasing terror by Colonel Gaddafi or the emergence of a civil
war in Libya, European Union member states should be prepared to
immediately apply the temporary protection directive.
46. Short-term solutions will not suffice, however. Europe will
have to address the root causes and be prepared to invest heavily
in the newly emerging democracies. If the youth of these countries
remain without perspectives, especially in terms of employment,
people will continue to try to reach Europe by desperate means in
the hope of finding a better life.
47. Both in the short term and in the long term, the Council of
Europe member states and the European Union have solutions. We must
make sure that we use our common resources in the most effective
way to deal with the current humanitarian problems and tackle the