Thursday, 27 August 2009

News Digest

Having been out of action for the past week, due to circumstances beyond our control, we return with a digest of some of the news that you may have missed.

Malta, Italy and Libya:

The stretch of the Mediterranean between Libya and the Malta/Lampedusa area has long been a major route for clandestine migration into Europe, and the Maltese and Italian governments have long sought solutions to decreasing the numbers attempting to cross the sea from Libya. Italy and Libya have recently concluded a pact that saw them agree to operate joint naval patrols and for Italy to be able to return migrants (contrary to international law) directly to Libyan waters without processing any potential asylum applications.

At the same time the simmering political row between Italy and Malta over maritime jurisdiction has reached boiling point. The Italian island of Lampedusa is 200km south of Sicily and 130 km west of Malta (Malta itself is only 90 km from Sicily) and there has long been disputes over exactly who is responsible for dealing with migrant boats in the area, each having refused to take responsibility for vessels that they say are in the other's maritime 'search & rescue zone'.

Now both sides are taking an even hard line on dealing with each other, as well as with floundering migrants. Malta has long argued that it bears a burden out of all proportion to its size and its detention centres have been grossly overcrowded for years, whilst the recent increasingly repressive political atmosphere in Italy has seen the Italian navy even less likely to render humanitarian aid to migrants in trouble at sea. Now they merely tow them back to the African mainland.

The latest flare-up stems from an incident on 20 August when a boat with 5 exhausted and weakened Eritreans, including a 7-year old boy, landed on Lampedusa. The Eritreans claimed that they were the only survivors and that the other 73 passengers had all died of lack of food and water and been thrown overboard. The boat had left Libya 3 weeks before but had run out of fuel 3 days into the voyage. They had been given bread and water by a passing fishing boat at one point but apparently had refused assistance, other than life jackets and fuel, from an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) vessel 2 days before they arrived at Lampedusa, saying they wished to continue on to Italy.*

Both the UNHCR and the Vatican were quick to express their outrage and blame both sides. However, that did not stop the Italian opposition from claiming the migrant's arrival on Italian territory as a failure of the Berlusconi regime's immigration policy, a policy that will see the migrants face a fine of €10,000.

Franco Frattini, Italy's Foreign Minister in turn blamed Malta, claiming it's search & rescue zone was "too large for tiny Malta", sparking a war of words with Maltese officials. He also turned his fire on the rest of the EU for not doing enough to stop the migrants from reaching Italy and not sharing the 'burden' of those that did. In response the EU's duty president, Swedish Premier Carl Bildt, promised that the matter would be discussed by EU foreign ministers at the end of October. A relocation project is also due to be unveiled in September by the EU justice commissioner, Jacques Barrot.

The mainstream Italian media were also not slow to get involved in the controversy, whipping themselves up into a frenzy, with Il Giornale claiming that Malta is the "most racist country in Europe." And, in an act of rank hypocrisy, the paper also warned of the threat of growing far-right and police brutality against immigrants in Malta. [video link]

In recent day more boats have been intercepted in the area. Two days ago 57 migrants were rescued by Italian coastguards off of Lampedusa. One was evacuated to the island suffering from dehydration whilst the remainder were taken to Sicily. And just today 79 Somalis landed in two groups on Malta, with one dead migrant from one of the groups being recovered from the sea.

It seems that however much the Italians and Maltese want to bicker over who is responsible for the migrants that make it across the Mediterranean alive, no one wants to take responsibility for the ones that fail in their quest for a better life. Migrants from across the world will continue to want to come to Europe however high EU governments high they build the walls of Fortress Europe and however loud they trumpet their desire to keep them out.

* The AFM has also released a photograph of the 20 August boat casting doubt on the migrants' story and claiming that it is far too small to have set sail with 78 passengers.


On 24 August G4S announced that its profits have soared since winning new contracts to run Brook House and Tinsley House IRCs at Gatwick airport. The 2 detention centres are expected to generate £10 million and £5m a year respectively for the company over the next five years.

In other news G4S was fined £5,000 after UK Border Agency officers found the firm had employing an illegal worker at its Glasgow offices. A spokesman for G4S claimed that it was an "isolated incident" after it was found an employee was working in excess of the 20 hours a week permitted for a resident on a student visa.


In the early hours of 23 August part of the construction site of a new detention centre at the Fairoaksbaan, Rotterdam Airport in The Netherlands was set on fire. On-site offices used by the management of the planning and construction companies responsible for the construction were targeted in protest against the continuing construction of Fortress Europe and was planned to coincide with the start of the international No-Border Camp on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Canada, Roma & Fingerprints:

Canada has imposed swingeing visa restrictions on Czech citizens in an attempt to prevent Roma people form going to Canada to claim asylum. Canada's Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, claimed the aim was to stop “economic migrants jumping the queue” who could easily move to “26 other Western democracies in the European Union.” He also paid lip-service to the fact that the Roma faced social and economic discrimination but that the Czech Republic was “in compliance with the European human rights law" and that there “is no policy of state-sponsored persecution against the Roma.”

This clearly ignores the fact that, whilst the Roma have the right to free movement within the EU, their chances of finding work in other countries is severly restricted because of widespread anti-Roma prejudice. And in the Czech Republic itself, despite recent anti-discrimination legislation designed to put the country in step with European Union human rights law, persecution of the Roma is on the increase.

Amnesty International recently said that, “Roma in the country continue to suffer discrimination at the hands of both public officials and private individuals, including in the areas of housing, education, health care and employment. Not only do they face forced evictions, segregation in education and racially motivated violence, but they have been denied justice when seeking redress for the abuses against them.”

Other recent news sees the signing of a data sharing agreement between the UK, Canada and Australia to share fingerprint data of people applying for asylum or resisting deportation. New Zeland and the United States are expected to sign-up in the near future, mirroring the type of cooperation between the five states that operates under the UK-USA Security Agreement on signals intelligence. It is not known whether this agreement will give the 4 non-EU countries access to Eurodac fingerprint data system.

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