The Mare Nostrum refugee rescue mission must be continued – “Frontex Plus” is no substitute

Download the Briefing here

2014 threatens to be one of the most deadly years for refugees. Since the beginning of the year, more than 3,000 people seeking protection have died in the Mediterranean. In spite of this, the “Mare Nostrum” rescue mission, set up by Italy after the refugee disaster off Lampedusa, will not be continued. Instead, it is planned to deploy the EU border control agency Frontex to “combat irregular migration”. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière also supports the deployment of Frontex.

 It is totally misleading that the incumbent EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström called the planned Frontex deployment “Frontex Plus” since the operation which Frontex itself calls “Triton” is much smaller and more limited than “Mare Nostrum”. Moreover, Triton has a completley different approach: Triton is not a humanitarian mission like Mare Nostrum, but a border control operation. Therefore it is not primarily about rescuing refugees, but preventing irregular migration to Europe.

 What we Greens want

  • We Greens demand an effective continuation of Mare Nostrum. It is cynical move that, a year after the Lampedusa disaster, the Italian refugee rescue mission is to be ended and replaced by a European operation to fight irregular migration. Europe is therefore knowingly taking the deaths of refugees on board. In an internal paper on Triton, Frontex itself warns that ending Mare Nostrum “if not properly planned and announced well in advance would likely result in a higher number of fatalities”.
  • The German Federal Government and other Member States must help Italy in rescuing the refugees. Yet, instead of supporting joint European refugee protection, the German Interior Minister and his European colleagues are calling for greater action in the fight against irregular migration. By doing so they encouraging Fortress Europe. A large number of those who risk their lives on boats are people who are fleeing war and persecution. They come from Syria (17% of boat refugees in 2014) or Eritrea (23%). According to international law, Europe has a duty to protect them.
  • Europe must assume joint responsibility for people who are fleeing war and persecution. This also means that Germany and the other Member States should not leave Italy to receive and care for refugees alone. It also means finally developing safe and legal ways for refugees to come to Europe, instead of constantly tightening our borders against those seeking protection.

The facts

Mare Nostrum was launched in October 2013 by Italy after more than 360 refugees died in a boat disaster off Lampedusa. Thousands of refugees were rescued by Mare Nostrum. However, Italy has announced that it does not want to continue with Mare Nostrum. That is not only because of costs of around EUR 9 million a month. Italy also argues that the EU has left it to cope with the refugees alone. According to UNHCR figures, in the first half of 2014 alone (to 24 August) more than 108,000 refugees arrived on the Italian coast. According to the Dublin Regulation, Italy has to look after them itself.

Triton is scheduled to start on 1 November 2014. Then the Frontex missions Hermes and Aeneas, which are already operating in Italy, will be replaced, effectively merging and being extended to Triton.

Triton differs from Mare Nostrum in the following points:

  • A different focus: Mare Nostrum is a humanitarian mission to rescue lives. By contrast, Frontex is a border control organisation. For that reason Triton’s primary aim is not saving lives, but border control. Rescuing refugees is merely a side effect. Frontex is mainly concerned with fewer refugees coming to Europe. To that end, Frontex will ensure that the area of operation is relocated to the Italian coast, so that the journey for refugees is longer and more dangerous to deter refugees from making the journey to Europe at all. Frontex fails to recognise that many refugees are seeking to escape the inhumane conditions in Libya, where most of them are stranded – even if it costs them their life. In addition, Frontex intends to improve the prevention of “irregular migration” by having so-called debriefing teams question arriving refugees about escape routes and human smugglers.
  • Smaller operational area: While the operational area of Mare Nostrum comprises a total area of 43,000 square metres and stretches far into international waters, Triton is expected to cover Italian waters only. Triton’s operational area only extends 30 nautical miles into the Mediterranean and therefore ends where Mare Nostrum actually begins. Refugee boats which are in distress on the high seas may therefore not be detected early enough. A further important difference is that Mare Nostrum extends into the Libyan and Maltese maritime rescue zone. Mare Nostrum therefore fills an important gap in international search and rescue: there is virtually no sea rescue any more in the failed state of Libya, and Malta only rescues refugees if their boat has already capsized. By contrast, the deployment of Frontex has so far excluded the Maltese sea rescue zone and also does not go anywhere near the Libyan zone. Briefing with the map.
  • Fewer resources: Triton only has about a third of Mare Nostrum’s resources. While Italy spends more than EUR 9 million a month on Mare Nostrum, the EU intends to spend at most EUR 2.9 million a month on Triton. With Mare Nostrum, 900 marines are deployed in addition to the coastguard’s rescue services. The navy is also involved in the rescue mission with five ships, two helicopters, as well as two reconnaissance aircraft. By contrast, for Triton the Hermes and Aeneas Frontex deployments, which are already operating with 4 coastal patrol boats and one plane, are only being supplemented by a second plane and two ocean-going ships. Compared with Mare Nostrum, that is a drop in the ocean.
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