memorandum by Mr Mariani, rapporteur
1 Up to 1 500 migrants are feared to have drowned trying
to cross the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of 2015. This
figure is fifty times greater than at the same point in 2014. The
last week in particular has marked an unprecedented increase in
the death toll, and the most recent in the series of deadly incidents took
place on 18 April 2015, beating the previous tragic record: as many
as 700 men, women and children are feared to have drowned in a single
shipwreck. Up till now, the most tragic incident involved an estimated
500 people who drowned off the coast of Malta last autumn. At the
very moment of drafting the present report, on 20 April 2015, a
new shipwreck has been reported and, if confirmed, 400 new victims
are to be expected.
2 What is particularly worrying is the growing ruthlessness
of unscrupulous traffickers, who, in the chase for ever greater
profits, do not hesitate to commit the most serious crimes resulting
in severe human rights violations: there are reports of them allegedly
locking migrants in the hold, shooting at coast guards in order
to recuperate vessels, thus preventing them from rescuing victims,
or else abandoning drifting, overladen and decrepit “ghost vessels”,
at an extremely high risk for passengers’ lives.
3 The situation is not likely to settle down in the near future.
Armed conflicts and instability, persecution based on ethnic or
religious grounds and economic poverty in Africa and the Middle
East will continue to generate increasingly growing numbers of migrants
and asylum seekers. Estimated figures refer to 70 000 people waiting
for boats at the Libyan coast, which is a starting point for about
90% of sea migrants. Tens of thousands more are on their way to
southern Mediterranean shores. Once arrived, they remain in appalling conditions
and are reportedly ill-treated by traffickers before embarking.
Extreme violence is common in these temporary accommodation. Traffickers
operate with relative impunity, particularly in Libya, where the
State institutions are totally inefficient.
4 The mass arrival of refugees on European, mainly Italian shores,
puts the host countries under extreme pressure. Since the beginning
of the year, as many as 31 500 migrants have crossed the sea and
arrived in Italy. However, in one week alone, between 10 and 17
April 2015, as many as 13 500 migrants were rescued by the Italian
5 The recent declarations of the leaders of the terrorist organisation
known as “Islamic State” announcing their intention to smuggle their
own people mixed with the flows of refugees and tasked with committing
terrorist attacks in Europe have raised legitimate questions about
6 Furthermore, the tragic incident reported last week when,
as a result of a fight which broke out on one of the boats, nine
migrants of Christian origin were thrown overboard by passengers
of Muslim confession, coupled with recent reports about the killing
of 27 Christian migrants by the so-called “Islamic State” on the Libyan
coast, raises utmost concern about the threat of transposing religious
and ethnic conflicts onto the European soil.
All of these interlinked problems have been dealt with and
continue to be on the agenda of the Committee on Migration, Refugees
The present report, prepared under
urgent procedure, results from the utmost concern caused by the
sudden surge in deaths and deepening migrant crisis. In my opinion,
the problem of lives lost in the Mediterranean goes beyond the migration
issue and has a much broader political dimension. While it involves
a humanitarian dimension, it has become a political issue and it requires
an urgent political response at the European level.
8 Given tight deadlines, the present report cannot provide an
exhaustive analysis of the situation and it does not aspire to constitute
a thorough overview of irregular migration across the Mediterranean.
Similarly, it does not want to substitute for other relevant reports
under preparation in the Migration Committee (see footnote 3). It
comes up, however, with a political assessment and based on it some
concrete proposals aimed at identifying possible remedies to this
dramatic situation which cannot continue.
overview of irregular migration across the Mediterranean Sea
9 Numbers of irregular migrants crossing the Mediterranean
have been growing steadily over recent years, before they suddenly
exploded from the second half of 2014. In 2012, a total of 12 000
irregular migrants managed to cross the sea, in 2013, almost 60
000 landed on European shores (out of these, 43 000 arrived in Italy).
In 2014, the total number increased to over 210 000 including 170
000 arrivals in Italy. Based on the data provided by the Italian
Ministry of Interior, by 30 April 2014, the total number of those
arriving was 26 644. In 2015, the respective figure was higher by
5 000. We can expect that the whole of 2015 will mark record numbers
if no action is taken.
10 Regrettably the number of deaths has increased proportionally.
In 2012, 500 people were reported missing, in 2013, the number grew
to 600. There was a dramatic increase to 3 500 in 2014. This year,
it is already 1 500 and each day brings new dramatic reports.
11 There are several routes, which change very rapidly in order
to respond to external circumstances, including migration control
measures in specific countries. At present, the Central Mediterranean
Route is privileged with the main departure points being Libya (90%)
and Egypt, with the main arrival points being Italy and Malta. Mixed
migratory flows into Europe include refugees, asylum seekers and
economic migrants. The majority appear to be from Sub-Saharan Africa,
Eritrea (23%), Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria (17%) of whom most
were rescued in international waters.
12 The passage across the Mediterranean is facilitated by migrant
smugglers. These groups adapt their routes and methods in response
to changes in circumstances, such as the actions of European authorities. Much
of the loss of life in the Mediterranean is due to the methods used
by the smugglers who organise maritime transport: to minimise costs,
the boats used are often unseaworthy and to maximise profit, they
are always severely overcrowded; these boats often embark in dangerous
weather; basic safety equipment is inadequate or completely lacking;
there is insufficient food and water available for passengers; and
often the smugglers themselves abandon the boat on the high seas,
leaving the migrants to rely on their own minimal ability to navigate
and the hope of being rescued by public authorities. As I mentioned
in the introduction, their callous disregard for human life seems
to have grown over recent weeks.
13 When 366 people died in a wreckage off the Italian island
of Lampedusa in October 2013, the Italian authorities, solely among
all European countries, took concrete steps to avoid further deaths
in the sea. They launched Operation Mare Nostrum, which deployed
a significant proportion of its maritime forces with the task of
rescuing migrants in international waters. This humanitarian Operation
put on hold long-standing disputes between Italy and Malta over
the extent of their respective search and rescue operations which
had undermined their effectiveness. Between October 2013 and September
2014, the Italian Navy rescued over 100 000 people.
14 For months, Italian authorities lobbied the European Union
to take over the Mare Nostrum Operation or at least to contribute
to it in a substantial way. Finally, in November 2014, the Italian
authorities decided to terminate the Operation. Financial reasons
certainly played an important role in this decision, but it has
to be pointed out that the present EU Dublin Regulation disincentives
any effective search and rescue operations by the southern European
countries as they all face responsibility, post rescue, of receiving
asylum seekers, processing asylum applications and, possibly, returning
rejected applicants. The Migration Committee is preparing a specific
report on the need for a revision of the Dublin Regulation and a
fairer repartition of responsibilities among the European countries.
15 In August 2014, the European Commission launched its own operation
named Triton, to be implemented by Frontex (the European Agency
for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders
of the Member States of the European Union). However, Frontex’s
capacity to respond to search and rescue needs in the Mediterranean
is not of a level comparable to that of Mare Nostrum in terms of
material and operational means. Moreover, its area of action is
16 It has to be recognised that the present increased death toll
is partly as a consequence of the termination of the Mare Nostrum
Operation. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the counter-effects
of this humanitarian rescue operation which by many observers is
thought to have contributed to the increased flows of seaborne migrants
setting out from North Africa.
17 Tens of thousands of migrants are currently trapped in Libya
and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) is deeply concerned for their safety. The same is true for
18 The sharp increase in the number of arrivals once again puts
into question the Dublin Regulation according to which the whole
responsibility for receiving and processing irregular migrants and
asylum seekers is laid upon a limited number of receiving countries,
Italy in particular. It also raises questions about the relevance
of the present asylum procedure and asylum law.
3 Possible ways to
address these challenges
19 It is clear that this unbearable humanitarian situation
cannot continue and Europe has to undertake swift action in order
to save further loss of lives. Life-saving operations have to be
reinforced and contributions should be better balanced between the
European countries. A strengthened collective European Union search and
rescue system should be introduced. However, life-saving and rescue
operations cannot be considered as the main remedy to the multifaceted
problem and have to be accompanied by other measures. More particularly,
they must not encourage irregular migrants to take to the seas.
20 Adequate measures should be taken in order to prevent criminal
networks of smugglers from operating. It has to be recognised that
the fight against trafficking of migrants is far from being efficient
and European co-operation in this respect leaves a lot of room for
improvement. The success of Task Force 120 that efficiently eradicated
Somali piracy could be seen as an example to follow in both saving
lives and combating traffickers. I hope that Mr Chikovani, who is
currently preparing a report on organised crime and migrants on
behalf of the Migration Committee, will look further into the possible
action to be recommended to Council of Europe member States in this
21 Sharing responsibility for receiving and processing irregular
migrants and asylum seekers is another issue which requires political
reassessment. The Dublin Regulation should be reviewed. I am confident
that Mr Nicoletti, the Migration Committee’s rapporteur on this
issue, will closely examine this question.
22 However, the key challenge is to reduce the number of people
setting off on a dangerous sea journey. It is crucial to identify
and address the ways to decrease migratory pressures in the countries
of origin and transit. Tackling the network of traffickers exploiting
and mistreating migrants is necessary but it will not, in itself,
be a solution to the problem.
23 Legal alternative migration channels (resettlement, facilitated
access to family reunification and other protection entry mechanisms)
advocated by human rights organisations and already in place (although
on a small scale) are to be recommended but they will not solve
the whole problem either. As long as economic differences and hardship
exist people will migrate in search of a better life. The only way
to truly change the reality is to address the situation at its roots.
24 Hence, the importance of humanitarian aid and development
projects in the countries of transit and origin. Improving standards
of living in these countries would certainly help to alleviate migration
pressure. Helping to develop capacity and institution building in
countries of transit and of first asylum would be beneficial for
all those concerned.
25 European countries should enhance their co-operation, including
judicial and investigative co-operation with the countries of origin
26 In order to ensure access to asylum for those in need of international
protection, the possibility of external application processing should
be given consideration. Such a solution would require a thorough
review of asylum policies, but it would be instrumental in addressing
the challenge of mixed migration flows.
27 The tragedies which we witness now on an almost daily basis
illustrate that existing mechanisms and arrangements are not sufficient
to prevent a dramatic loss of lives at sea. A comprehensive approach
is needed to address more effectively this situation. Urgent and
concerted action is needed.
28 In reaction to the most recent tragedy in the Mediterranean
on 20 April 2015, European Union ministers held an emergency meeting
in Luxembourg and proposed a 10-point plan to help address the crisis.
It will be submitted to a European Summit convened on 23 April 2015.
The proposed measures include the reinforcement of EU border control
operations (Triton and Poseidon) in the Mediterranean with more
money and equipment and an extension of its operation area. It proposes
a “systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers”
and to set up a new programme for the rapid return of migrants,
as some other measures aimed at reinforcing the fight against smugglers.
Support for Italy and Greece in the processing of asylum applications
and fingerprinting of all migrants are among other proposals. A
pilot project for resettlement of those in need of protection will
29 While these short-term emergency measures addressing some
of the concerns are welcome, they are nevertheless utterly insufficient
and I expect the comprehensive European Union Agenda on Migration,
due to be announced in May, to address other outstanding issues
mentioned in the previous paragraphs.