International Rescue Committee (IRC) report reveals gaps in reception for newly arrived in Italy. Appeal court reduces sentence of former mayor of Riace, ‘Mimmo’ Domenico Lucano and acquitted him of the most severe crimes. Cyprus ‘ranked’ first on returns in the EU according to ministry of interior. European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling “blasts” Malta’s detention regime. NGOs saving lives despite criminalization and crack-down by Italian authorities.
According to figures for the first nine months of 2023 from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex): “The Central Mediterranean remains the most active route into the EU this year, with more than 131 600 detections reported by national authorities in the first three quarters of 2023”. However, the agency notes that in September: “the number of crossings in the region fell by a third from the previous month”. The top nationalities of people arriving are Ivory Coast, Guinea and Tunisia. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s situation update on the Mediterranean reveals that Malta – notorious for its non-response strategy to distress at sea – had just 315 sea arrivals, while Italy saw more than 139,000 in 2023 as of 15 October. A study published on 12 October, by the IRC surveying 598 people arriving to Italy over a period of three months confirms that: “people on the move face extreme challenges in meeting their basic needs, not only upon their immediate arrival, but also during the following months, when they can no longer access vital support”. The study reveals that 40 per cent voice that accommodation is their priority need, with 18 per cent of people in transit having no place to sleep. 49 per cent said they have a need for further information and only 17 per cent feel “adequately informed” about their legal situation in Italy. 36 per cent struggle with access to phone or internet to communicate with their families or find basic information and 29 percent go hungry without sufficient food. The organisation, Refugees in Libya reported about a protest in Bologna on 14 October, joined by “Thousands of Bolognese, activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, mothers, brothers” demanding “dignified reception, access to healthcare, and the right to work” and asking “for the immediate asylum procedures for those who have been here for months without any asylum acknowledgement”. Meanwhile, Court of Appeal of Reggio Calabria has reduced the sentence of ‘Mimmo’ Domenico Lucano, the former mayor of Riace Municipality from 13 years and two months imprisonment to one year and six months and he was acquitted of the most serious crimes. In 2021, Lucano, who has won international recognition and praise for his work to rehabilitate hundreds of refugee families and reverse the de-population trend in the area had been sentenced on charges of “criminal conspiracy to facilitate illegal immigration,” “fraudulent practices” and “misappropriation of public property”. All the other 17 defendants related to the case were also acquitted by the appeal court. Gianfranco Schiavone, president of the Italian Consortium of Solidarity (ICS), stated “This incident will be remembered as a dark chapter in Italian justice, one in which an attempt was made to destroy a man and a model of being welcoming”.
Cyprus “ranks first among EU states for the highest percentage of returns of new asylum seeker applications, according to the Interior Ministry. The ministry states that the rate of “returns” of irregular migrants who apply for asylum is 97 per cent, making Cyprus first in the EU from March to September. Between April and June 2023, there were 1,775 returns of irregular migrants, mainly to Sub-Saharan African countries (Nigeria, Congo, Cameroon). Open University, the largest academic institution in the UK, has carried out a study entitled ‘Emotions, perceived threat, prejudice, and attitudes towards helping Ukrainian, Syrian and Somali asylum seekers’ focusing on attitudes in UK and Malta. The study revealed greater negative emotion associated with non-European refugees and asylum seekers in Malta, fueling prejudice leading to a lack of willingness to help them. “Ukrainians would be perceived more positively because that is the political discourse. They are also legally allowed to come to Europe as refugees whereas asylum seekers from other countries have very limited legal options, so they may choose to go to Europe through illegal routes and so are immediately seen as breaking the law,” said Sharon Xuereb, a staff tutor in psychology and counselling at the Open University. ECRE member, Aditus Foundation published a statement on 17 October on “Malta’s detention regime blasted by the European Court of Human Rights!”. The organisation reports on a ruling by ECtHR: “Malta must take concrete steps to bring its detention regime in line with human rights standards. The European Court of Human Rights has said this in no unclear teams in a judgement we are celebrating as a victory for human rights in Malta! Today, the Court delivered judgement in A.D. v. Malta. Together with JRS Malta, we had brought this case in March 2022 whilst AD was in detention and in collaboration with Advancing Child Right Strategic Litigation, ACRiSL. The Court found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty) and Article 13 in conjunction with Article 3 (right to an effective remedy).
In the central Mediterranean, NGO rescue operators still save lives despite the ongoing crack-down by Italian authorities. MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans announced on 14 October that its rescue vessel Mare Jonio returned to the central Mediterranean. “After weeks of continuous checks by the Italian authorities (the last inspection on board took place two hours before departure), despite threats of criminal consequences up to arrest if all ‘rescue equipment and supplies’ were not offloaded from the ship, we finally set sail”, the organisation wrote. On 18 October, the organisation announced that its rescue vessel, Mare Jonio, had been blocked and sanctioned by Italian authorities after disembarking 69 survivors in Trapani. According to the organization, a fine of up to 10,000 euros and administrative detention of the ship for 20 days were imposed under the so-called “Piantedosi” Decree Law from January 2023 for failing to comply with instructions of the MRCC in Rome and refusing to hand over survivors to Libyan ‘authorities’. The Iuventa crew – still with four members facing charges in a trial that has long turned into a farce – reported on 14 October citing one of the defendants: “Yesterday we testified in court. The prosecution just walked out while we were talking. They didn’t want to hear what we had to say. Yet we can clearly say how false the prosecution is”. Another crew member spoke in the court not to explain “why the accusations made against us [Iuventa crew] are unjustified but rather to show “who should really be on trial”. The crew member referred to 1000 deaths as a consequence of the “prosecutor in Trapani wanting to investigate against us”. SOS Humanity conducted a series of three rescues within just 18 hours and stated on 16 October: “The 90 survivors on board must wait 3 days to travel the 1,000+ km to Bari – despite their right to a prompt disembarkation”. The organisation further reported of the medical evacuation of a survivor on 17 October and confirmed the disembarkation of the rest of the survivors on 19 October. On 18 October, MSF Sea reported: “Rescue completed. The 63 survivors rescued by MSF over the weekend have safely disembarked today in Genova. To reach this place of safety, Geo Barents had to travel 1,166 km, as far as going from Paris to Rome!”.
Meanwhile, the cycle of death and distress continues across the Mediterranean as Malta continues its non-response tactics. Three people died and two are missing while eight people were rescued after a shipwreck off the Greek island of Symi on 16 October. Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) reported on 18 October: “2 people were found dead in two different shipwrecks yesterday. On Lesvos, 1 man was found dead & 37 rescued, while on Samos 1 woman died & 46 were rescued. No more deaths! We need safe and legal pathways for asylum seekers now”. The NGO hotline, Alarm Phone reported on 48 people in distress in the Maltese SAR zone on 12 October, rescued alongside another group of survivors by Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario after being ignored by authorities. In a joint statement on Maltese non-response in June Alarm Phone, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Sea-Watch state: “Malta has once more neglected its legal obligations under the law of the sea and abandoned 14 persons in distress at sea resulting into one death. Civil society groups Alarm Phone, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Sea-Watch, all operating in the Central Mediterranean Sea, have documented blatant rights violations and are calling on Maltese authorities to put an end to Malta’s policy of systematically refusing to carry out rescue operations and deliberately putting lives at risk”. On 19 October, Alarm Phone reported about Maltese non-response to 30 people in distress in the country’s SAR zone who were later believed returned to Libya.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 2000 people have died or gone missing on the central Mediterranean in 2023 as of 15 October while more than 12,000 have been intercepted and returned to Libya.
For further information:
- ECRE, Mediterranean: In Advance of Council Agreement on Crisis Package Med 9 Urged Support to “Front-line” States as Greece Praised own Deterrence Policies and Italy Attempted to Broaden Instrumentalisation Scope Amid New National Decrees, Maltese Non-response Continues – NGOs Save Lives, October 2023
- ECRE, Editorial: Be Careful What You Wish For: EU and SAR in the Med, September 2023