EU: "Implementation Plan" on Central Mediterranean will exacerbate "abuse, mislead and expel" process in Italy's hotspots

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EU "Implementation Plan" on Central Mediterranean will exacerbate "abuse, mislead and expel" process in Italy's hotspots
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The EU's plans to limit the number of people travelling across the Mediterranean to Italy are set out in a detailed internal "Implementation Plan" (pdf) believed to be drawn up by the Council that is silent on the right to claim asylum in the EU - aside from ensuring that Italy "speed up examination of asylum applications" and ensure that it can "issue return decisions together with final negative asylum decisions," which is likely to exacerbate existing problems with access to the asylum procedure in Italy's "hotspots".

See: The Central Mediterranean - Alleviating the pressure: Implementation Plan(pdf)

The document "builds on the implementation plan of the Malta declaration (pdf) and includes the new measures of the Commission's Action Plan (pdf) to alleviate the immediate pressure on Italy" and its implementation is being overseen through the "Integrated Political Crisis Response" mechanism (IPCR, activated by the Council in October 2015) and by COREPER, the Committee of Member States' permanent representatives in Brussels.

Some of the actions have recently been adopted, such as the €46 million land and sea border management project "prepared by Italy jointly with the Commission" and announed on Friday (see the press release, pdf).

Others will no doubt be more complicated - for example the proposal to "reinstate control of borders in the transit areas of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger" by "supplying technologies, vehicles, joint patrols and other means, as well as coordination efforts in the context of the Libyan National Team for Security and Border Management (NTSBM)"; or to:

"encourage the participation of Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt in the Seahorse Mediterranean Network (ongoing) and ensure that the Seahorse Mediterranean Network is operational to strengthen border authorities of North African countries and develop their capacities to share information and coordinate actions with Member States and Mediterranean Member States."

The need for significantly improved intelligence on migration is also evident - for example, the military mission EUNAVFOR MED is to undertake:

"Reinforcement of the monitoring of departure points in third countries and the identification, detecting and tracking of suspicious vessels (including by using ship reporting systems, satellite and aerial surveillance), via the Eurosur Fusion Services managed by the EBCGA [Frontex]."

Member States are encouraged "to step up their efforts to provide information [to Europol's European Migrant Smuggling Centre] in order to improve the intelligence picture on the supply chain" of rubber boats, dinghies and engines.

One action is to:

"Strengthen the cooperation and communication between the EUD [EU Delegation] security advisors, European Migration Liaison Officers (EMLOs) as well as other networks such as the European Network of Immigration Liaison Officers in North African countries and EU agencies. EEAS to conduct an analysis of EMLO's reports to identify common trends and address information gaps. Member States to enhance their active contribution of strategic information."

And the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) is running a social media monitoring project to try to monitor migration flows and smugglers' activities, which:

"could be enhanced to focus on the Northern African route, monitors the activities of smugglers and migrant and asylum discourse in Arabic, Farsi, Dari, and Pashtu. It is on regular contact with Europol and Member States intelligence agencies."

Hotpots and access to asylum: "abuse, mislead and expel"

The demands for Italy to "speed up examination of asylum applications" and to ensure that the country can "issue return decisions together with final negative asylum decisions" do not seem likely to improve access for individuals to the asylum procedure. As Amnesty International points out:

"Europe’s so-called ‘hotspot approach’ to receive refugees and migrants in key arrival countries like Italy was introduced in 2015, as a way to faster identify, screen and filter all newly arrived men, women and children.

But Amnesty International’s research suggests that, in Italy, there are cases where it’s less ‘identify, screen and filter’ and more a case of ‘abuse, mislead and expel’."

A joint report on hotspots (pdf) by a number of civil society organisations published in December 2016 found that:

"Clear referral mechanisms were however not observed with respect to certain nationalities at the time of the field visits, on the assumption that they have no protection needs. It seems that nationals of Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia were directed to detention centres on the assumption that they have no protection needs."

The researchers Glenda Garelli and and Martina Tazzioli found that:

"The hotspot works as a preemptive frontier, with the double goal of blocking migrants at Europe’s southern borders, and simultaneously impeding the highest number possible of refugees from claiming asylum."

There is a significant emphasis in the Implementation Plan on expulsion, which a whole section on achieving "real progress in the return of irregular migrants" setting out the need to put in place EU readmission agreements "using all leverages" (for example, visa policy, pdf); organising "the deployment of European return intervention teams from the available pools and the organisation of return
operations, covering both charter and commercial flights"; and for Italy to consider applying "expedited return procedures" - thus further undermining safeguards in place to protect people from unjustified or unwarranted return decisions.

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