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MareNostrum to end - New Frontex operation will not ensure rescue of migrants in international waters

Italy’s Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano announced yesterday (9 October) that the Italian operation Mare Nostrum that has saved more than 140,000 people since October 2013 will end and be replaced by the Frontex operation Triton. According to the Council Conclusions agreed by the EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Ministers, while the Triton operation is being deployed, there will be coordination with Mare Nostrum, in view of its “prompt phasing out”.

While Mare Nostrum operated also in international waters, Triton will only be active within 30 miles off the Italian coast, which has spread fears that more migrants and refugees will die in their attempt to reach Europe. Last week, ECRE and ProAsyl reiterated that if the search and rescue efforts were downsized, the death toll in the Mediterranean would rise.

Furthermore, while Mare Nostrum costs 9 million euro per month, it has been reported that Triton will have a budget of 3 million euro per month. According to Frontex, “while saving lives is an absolute priority in in all maritime operations coordinated by Frontex, the focus of Joint Operation Triton will be primarily border management”.

“The limited range and border enforcement mandate of Operation Triton are no substitute for Mare Nostrum. If the EU is serious about preventing future tragedies, it needs to give Triton the mandate and resources to rescue boats throughout the Mediterranean”, said Judith Sunderland, Senior Europe Researcher at Human Rights Watch,

Over 7,000 people have joined a campaign launched by ECRE member organisation Pro Asyl calling on the European Parliament to allocate the necessary resources to set up a European sea rescue service. Until this plan is implemented, Pro Asyl urges the European Union and its Member States to fully finance Mare Nostrum.

“Italy is ready to close down Mare Nostrum. We always said that we would close Mare Nostrum once Europe did its share. We now feel that we can say that Europe is doing its share”, said Minister Alfano. 

Frontex does not own planes or ships, and therefore the assets to be deployed for its operations depend on the contribution of EU Member States. The Agency has sent out a request to all Member States to contribute equipment for joint operation Triton but has not yet revealed which countries will be joining Triton.

EU Ministers also agreed to strengthen cooperation with third countries “with a view to preventing hazardous journeys by sea”. The initiatives identified include stepping up efforts to create the conditions necessary to start a “political dialogue” with Libya, including on migration issues; to identify ways of curtailing the supply of vessels from Tunisia and Egypt; to reinforce the border management capacities of Ethiopia, Niger, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia; and to propose a “credible number of resettlement places”.

Member States also agreed to ensure they have reception systems in place able to adapt to an increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving and to systematically fingerprint migrants. In addition, “in order to support Member States under pressure”, JHA Ministers agreed “to make full use of existing tools under the Dublin Regulation by applying the provisions on family reunification, including through the strengthening of family tracing systems, and through a greater use of the sovereignty clause, in line with the jurisprudence of Court of Justice of the EU”.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 10 October 2014.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 10 October 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.