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Action Plan for Central Mediterranean: mandatory code of conduct for NGOs, massive expansion of detention and hotspots in Italy
5.7.17
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The European Commission has published an Action Plan containing a swathe of measures "to support Italy, reduce pressure along the Central Mediterranean Route and increase solidarity," in order to try to address the "structural challenge" represented by the "loss of life and continuing migratory flows of primarily economic migrants on the Central Mediterranean route."

This includes a proposal for Italy and the Commission to draw up a code of conduct for NGOs conducting search and rescue missions, and demands for Italy to massively increase the capacity of its hotspots and its detention centres as well as extending the maximum period of detention up to 18 months, the maximum allowed under EU law.

The proposal for a code of conduct for NGOs - who already have their own code of conduct for search and rescue missions at sea (pdf) - drew the ire of a senior UNHCR official, according to an Agence Europe report:

"On Tuesday morning, the new Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for the Central Mediterranean route, Vincent Cochetel, tore the project to shreds, questioning its very purpose. Reiterating that rescues at sea are a fundamental principle of law, he said that if there is to be a code of conduct for NGOs, it must apply to everybody, including vessels that shut off their GPS signal in order to avoid having to save lives at sea."

And: 'Are we really the problem?' ask aid groups saving migrants (France 24, link)

"Privately-run aid organisations rescuing migrants off Libya have slammed the idea of creating a "code of conduct" for them to follow, saying European ministers tackling the crisis are bungling their response."

Amnesty International has also condemned the Action Plan. Iverna McGowan, Director of the organisation's European Institutions Office said:

“This is a woefully inadequate plan that does little to address the dire situation in the Central Mediterranean and the lack of EU solidarity. Instead of proposing yet more migrants be detained and more speedily returned, EU leaders need to once and for all take real action to prevent drownings at sea. Their priority must be to step up search and rescue, and provide safe and legal routes to Europe.

Outsourcing more and more responsibility for search and rescue to the Libyan Coastguard is irresponsible and ineffective and has led to more deaths at sea. In allowing the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats and return them to Libya, the EU is showing blatant disregard for the lives of refugees and migrants."

Action Plan

See: European Commission press release: Central Mediterranean Route: Commission proposes Action Plan to support Italy, reduce pressure and increase solidarity (4 July 2017, pdf) and from 3 July: Migration: Joint declaration by Commissioner Avramopoulos and the Ministers of Interior of France, Germany and Italy (pdf)

And: European Commission: Action plan on measures to support Italy, reduce pressure along the Central Mediterranean route and increase solidarity (SEC(2017) 339, 4 July 2017, pdf):

"The loss of life and continuing migratory flows of primarily economic migrants on the Central Mediterranean route is a structural challenge and remains an issue of urgent and serious concern not only for Europe but also the African continent as a whole. On 30 June, the Italian Minister of Interior, Marco Minniti, addressed a letter to the President of the Council of Ministers, the Estonian Interior Minister Andres Anvelt and to the Commissioner for Home Affairs and Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, warning that the situation in Italy would soon no longer be sustainable. The issue of migration in the Central Mediterranean will be on the agenda of the informal meeting of the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs of 6 and 7 July. This is the Commission's contribution for the discussion at that meeting and does not exclude further actions in light of the outcome of the discussions and developments on the ground."

Principal headings:

1. Measures to reduce migratory pressure along the Central Mediterranean Route and increase solidarity

  • Better coordination of Search and Rescue activities (SAR) in the Central Mediterranean
  • Step up actions to enhance the capacity of the Libyans to control borders (on which point see: Restricted document highlights plans for ongoing EU interventions in Libya)
  • Reinforce actions to reduce migratory pressure on Libya and fight smuggling and human trafficking
  • Achieve real progress in the return of irregular migrants
  • Deliver in full the existing relocation commitments
  • Member States should urgently provide additional funding for the EU Trust Fund and in particular its North Africa Window to ensure its sustainability for 2018 and beyond, in line with their stated commitments

2. Stepping up implementation of EU migration policy with Italy

  • Italy should step-up the full implementation of the Minniti law, including: doubling current 1,600 capacity of hotspots, increasing detention capacity to at least 3,000 places, extend maximum detention period to 18 months
  • EU to step up funding for migration management in Italy
  • In addition, Italy should take the following steps: rapid asylum procedures, "make wider use of inadmissibility grounds possible in appropriate cases", "avoid providing travel documents to asylum seekers to prevent secondary movements"
  • Further EASO support should be made available for the additional actions, in particular for the use of rapid procedures.

3. Towards a sustainable crisis management

  • "To put the arrangements for handling crisis situations on a firmer footing, it is imperative that the European Parliament and the Council make progress on the negotiations on the Dublin proposal as a matter of urgency."

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