Most migrants crossing Mediterranean will be sent back, EU leaders to agree
Exclusive: Confidential draft from summit reveals that only 5,000
migrants will be allowed to resettle in Europe with large numbers
likely to be repatriated
Only 5,000 resettlement places across Europe are to be offered to
refugees under the emergency summit crisis package to be agreed by EU
leaders in Brussels on Thursday.
A confidential draft summit statement seen by the Guardian indicates
that the vast majority of those who survive the journey and make it to
Italy – 150,000 did so last year – will be sent back as irregular
migrants under a new rapid-return programme co-ordinated by the EU’s
border agency, Frontex. More than 36,000 boat survivors have reached
Italy, Malta and Greece so far this year.
The draft summit conclusions also reveal that hopes of a major
expansion of search-and-rescue operations across the Mediterranean in
response to the humanitarian crisis are likely to be dashed, despite
widespread and growing pressure.
The summit statement merely confirms the decision by EU foreign and
interior ministers on Monday to double funding in 2015 and 2016 and
“reinforce the assets” of the existing Operation Triton and Operation
Poseidon border-surveillance operations, which only patrol within 30
miles of the Italian coast.
The European council’s conclusions said this move “should increase the
search-and-rescue possibilities within the mandate of Frontex”. The
head of Frontex said on Wednesday that Triton should not be an
operation primarily aimed at search and rescue.
Instead, the EU leaders are likely to agree that immediate
preparations should begin to “undertake systematic efforts to
identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by
traffickers”. The joint EU military operation is to be undertaken
within international law.
The statement describes the crisis as a tragedy and says the EU will
mobilise all efforts at its disposal to prevent further loss of life
at sea and to tackle the root causes of the human emergency, including
co-operating with the countries of origin and transit.
“Our immediate priority is to prevent more people dying at sea. We
have therefore decided to strengthen our presence at sea, to fight the
traffickers, to prevent illegal migration flows and to reinforce
internal solidarity,” it says, before adding that the EU leaders
intend to support all efforts to re-establish government authority in
Libya and address key “push” factors such as the situation in Syria.
But the detail of the communique makes it clear that the measures to
be agreed fall far short of this ambition.
In particular in terms of sharing responsibility across the EU the
draft statement suggests only “setting up a first voluntary pilot
project on resettlement, offering at least 5,000 places to persons
qualifying for protection”, it says.
The EU leaders also make a commitment to “increasing emergency aid to
frontline member states” – taken to mean Italy, Malta and Greece –
“and consider options for organising emergency relocation between
Emergency teams are to be deployed to Italy to help register,
fingerprint and process applications for asylum protection as
refugees. Increased support is also to be given to Tunisia, Egypt,
Sudan, Mali and Niger to monitor and control their land borders to
prevent potential migrants getting to the shore of the Mediterranean.
EU leaders are expected to stress their determination to fight the
traffickers and will promise to bring them to justice, seize their
assets and make a concerted attempt to take down any online material
likely to attract migrants and refugees.
On Monday, ministers and the European Commission agreed to bolster the
Triton mission, to increase its funding and assets, and to expand the
operational area of Triton, which is run by Frontex. But the head of
Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, said on the eve of the summit that saving
migrants’ lives should not be the priority for his maritime patrols
despite the clamour for a more humane response after the deaths of 800
refugees and migrants at the weekend.
He flatly dismissed turning the Triton mission into a
search-and-rescue operation and voiced strong doubts about new EU
pledges to tackle human traffickers and their vessels in Libya.
“Triton cannot be a search-and-rescue operation. I mean, in our
operational plan, we cannot have provisions for proactive
search-and-rescue action. This is not in Frontex’s mandate, and this
is, in my understanding, not in the mandate of theEuropean Union,”
Leggeri said. Instead, he appealed for planes to conduct aerial
surveillance so they could anticipate more disasters.
The summit comes as a joint letter to EU leaders signed by more than
50 former European prime ministers, foreign ministers and business
leaders, condemned the death toll of migrants in the Mediterranean as
a “stain on the conscience of our continent” and demanded the
immediate restoration of expansive search-and-rescue operations.
Signatories include the former EU commissioner and Conservative party
chairman, Chris Patten; the former Swedish prime minister, Carl Bilt;
French former foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner; and George Soros of
the Open Society Foundation.
The letter appeals to EU leaders to go beyond the 10-point plan agreed
by foreign and interior ministers on Monday and instead calls for an
immediate restoration of expansive rescue operations “with a mandate
and level of funding that match the humanitarian emergency that
confronts us”. The letter says the decision to withdraw support last
October for Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation had only succeeded in
vastly increasing the number of deaths.
Patten said: “Today’s crisis summit must be clear on its first and
most urgent priority, increasing search and rescue back to at least
previous levels. Addressing the drivers of migration, from conflict to
human trafficking, climate change to human rights abuses is also
critically important but will take a longer term strategy to address.
My message to EU leaders is clear – history will judge you harshly if
you fudge this.”
David Cameron made clear on Wednesday his intention to support an
expansion of search-and-rescue operations when he and the deputy prime
minister, Nick Clegg, declared that the “coastguard policy” – a
reference to Triton – that replaced Mare Nostrum, had not worked. “Now
we need to make sure we do more to save lives. That will involve more
search and rescue, and there is a contribution I’m sure we can make to
that,” Cameron said.
But it is understood that the British prime minister was facing stiff
opposition from his own home secretary, Theresa May, and his foreign
secretary, Philip Hammond, in his intention to support the expansion
of search-and-rescue operations at the summit beyond the limited
Triton measures agreed on Monday.
May and Hammond were said on Wednesdaynot to be budging from their
belief that such rescue operations would create a “pull factor” and
lead to more deaths by encouraging more migrants to risk the dangerous
“May is still holding out for a deterrent approach. She wants to focus
on action against the traffickers and a rapid returns programme,” one
Brussels source said.
“May and Hammond have been pushing back, partly for face-saving
reasons, given that they were so involved in the initial decision last
October to demand an immediate withdrawal of the Italian Mare
Nostrum,” said another source.
Cameron is understood to have shifted his position this week as the
extensive media coverage convinced Downing Street and Tory election
strategists that voters see the tragedy in the Mediterranean as a
humanitarian crisis rather than an immigration issue. He is now
expected to override the objections of his home secretary and foreign
secretary. “He will have to bump them into it,” said one source.
Received on Thu Apr 23 2015 - 09:24:35 EDT