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Home Archive for category "Migration"

The ‘Open Arms’ case: Reconciling the notion of ‘place of safety’ with the human rights of migrants

Published on May 21, 2018        Author: 
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The work of the NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea has been the subject of much controversy. One of the most recent cases regards the NGO Proactiva Open Arms: it has been accused of smuggling migrants during rescue operations at sea, and its rescue ship was impounded by the Italian authorities. This post examines the decision issued on 16 April 2018 by the pre-trial judge of Ragusa (Sicily) that ordered the release of the Open Arms vessel.

The relevance of this case is twofold. It obliquely tackles the legitimacy of the ‘pull-back’ agreement between Italy and Libya, as part of which the two states agree to collaborate with the aim of returning migrants to Libya, and which was recently challenged before the European Court of Human Rights (see this previous EJIL:Talk! post). Secondly, the decision, despite being just a pre-trial order, offers interesting insights into a contested area of international law which is gaining increase salience, i.e. the intersection between the Law of the Sea and the human rights of migrants.

This post argues that the order issued on 16 April is an important step forward in the definition of the notion of ‘place of safety’. International law merely states that people rescued at sea shall be delivered to a ‘place of safety’, but provides no definition of it (3.1.9. of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue 1979, “SAR Convention”). The decision by the judge in Ragusa interprets ‘place of safety’ in accordance with the human rights of migrants, and rightly overcomes inappropriate distinctions based on migrants’ statuses. Read the rest of this entry…

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High Risk, High Reward: Taking the Question of Italy’s Involvement in Libyan ‘Pullback’ Policies to the European Court of Human Rights

Published on May 14, 2018        Author: 
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The mere filing of a case is rarely a reason for legal commentary but in this particular case, it may well be. A few days ago, a broad-based coalition consisting of NGOs and scholars, led by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) filed an application against Italy before the ECtHR with potentially far-reaching implications for European migration policy and especially maritime border control. The issues at hand are so-called ‘pullback’ practices in which the Libyan coastguard – funded, trained, and equipped by the Italian authorities under an agreement signed in February 2017 – prevents migrant boats from heading to Europe’s safe shores.

The application concerns events that unfolded the morning of 6 November 2017. A migrant dinghy in distress before the Libyan coast was simultaneously intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and a rescue ship of the German NGO ‘Seawatch’. A messy and partly confrontational rescue process ensued. Of the (approx.) 120 migrants onboard the dinghy, more than 20 persons drowned before and during the operation. 47 others were ‘pulled back’ by the Libyan coastguard, allegedly experiencing human rights violations including torture and inhumane and degrading treatment upon their return in Libya. 59, more lucky individuals, were rescued by the Seawatch and brought to Italy. By merely looking at the facts, the advantages of having a broad-based coalition become clear. University of London Goldsmiths’ Forensic Architecture agency made available an impressive digital reconstruction of the events that unfolded that morning. These details could be a crucial ingredient for a successful case.

Still, the present case comes at a difficult time for migrant rights advocates in Europe. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Missing Link in Migration Governance: An Advisory Opinion by the International Court of Justice

Published on May 11, 2018        Author: 
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Even though the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has jurisdiction to resolve disputes on the interpretation and application of the 1951 Refugee Convention (Art. 38) and the 1967 Protocol (Art. IV), it has so far not adopted any relevant judgment or advisory opinion. States have not shown interest in activating the Court’s jurisdiction with regard to the Refugee Convention, but they have done so in a variety of disputes broadly linked to transboundary movement of persons or to international protection: Latin American diplomatic asylum (Asylum and Haya de la Torre cases), consular assistance (LaGrand  and Avena cases), and extradition, arrest  or surrender of persons suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity (Arrest Warrant and Habré cases), and terrorism (Lockerbie case).

As the world currently faces the worst migration crisis since WW II in terms of destabilization potential, due to the combined effects of the wars in Libya and Syria, and poverty in the Sahel, it is time to consider the challenges and benefits of the potential involvement of the ICJ in the global efforts of migration management and international protection. There are three questions to discuss, (a) necessity, (b) feasibility and (c) contribution of a potential ICJ ruling.

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Time to Investigate European Agents for Crimes against Migrants in Libya

Published on March 29, 2018        Author: , and
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In March 2011, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor of the international criminal court opened its investigation into the situation in Libya, following a referral by the UN Security Council. The investigation concerns crimes against humanity in Libya starting 15 February 2011, including the crimes against humanity of murder and persecution, allegedly committed by Libyan agents. As the ICC Prosecutor explained to the UN Security Council in her statement of 8 May 2017, the investigation also concerns “serious and widespread crimes against migrants attempting to transit through Libya.” Fatou Bensouda labels Libya as a “marketplace for the trafficking of human beings.” As she says, “thousands of vulnerable migrants, including women and children, are being held in detention centres across Libya in often inhumane condition.” The findings are corroborated by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNMSIL) and the Panel of Experts established pursuant to Resolution 1973 (2011). Both report on the atrocities to which migrants are subjected, not only by armed militias, smugglers and traffickers, but also by the new Libyan Coast Guard and the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration of the UN-backed Al Sarraj’s Government of National Accord – established with EU and Italian support.

These acts are not usually regarded as the bread and butter of international criminal law. Yet, for influential observers, they have seemed to reinstitute a modern form of slavery and to conjure images of mass arbitrary killings reminiscent of atrocity. For example, in a statement from November 22, 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron invoked slavery, explaining that trafficking in Libya has become a crime against humanity. For its part, the International Organisation for Migration, via its Missing Migrant project, has documented 46,000 cases of dead or missing worldwide since 2000.

During the whole time, however, various observers have pointed to the complicity of European countries with the relevant acts. Since 2011, Forensic Oceanography has been doing important investigative work in which the ethically fraught European involvement in preventing migration from Libya has been unfolded. Amnesty International has exposed a dark web of collusion, whereby EU states and Italy in particular have used Libyan militia to ensure migrants do not make it across the Mediterranean. Last December, John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, denounced European governments for:

“not just be[ing] fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these abuses.”

In perhaps the most recent evidence of such complicity, Italian authorities have seized the Spanish NGO rescue boat Open Arms and initiated a criminal investigation against members of its crew. The Open Arms, in response to a call from MRCC Rome of March 15, 2018, had rescued 218 people on the high seas and subsequently refused to deliver them to the (so-called) Libyan Coast Guard. After a row lasting several hours and including death threats, the vessel headed north for a medical evacuation in Malta, before requesting permission to disembark in Sicily. Despite Italy’s authorization, the captain and mission coordinator have been charged on counts of “criminal association” and “facilitation of irregular migration”. Italy claims they were obliged to hand over the survivors to Libya under its NGO Code of Conduct, disregarding that that would have amounted to refoulement. Italy thus flouted the requirement of delivery to a “place of safety” under the maritime conventions. It has become overwhelmingly clear that Libyan rescue operations in the Mediterranean are tantamount, as Charles Heller put it, to a plan of “rescue at gunpoint.”

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Torture in Libya and Questions of EU Member State Complicity

Published on January 11, 2018        Author: 
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Amnesty International has reported that ‘tens of thousands’ of refugees and migrants are being subject to torture and other human rights abuses at the hands of Libyan state officials and non-state actors operating in, and out of, Libya (the full report can be accessed here). The publication of the report has led to allegations that the European Union (EU) is complicit in torture. One finding of the report is that ‘EU member states are and have been well aware of the widespread human rights violations and abuses suffered by refugees and migrants in Libya’ (p. 56). Amnesty International has claimed that EU states ‘are complicit’ in torture. Whether the complicity spoken of can trigger the responsibility of these states under international law is implied, but far from clear.

There are many tangents to questions of ‘European complicity’ in the torture of Libyan refugees and migrants. For example, issues regarding the obligation of non-refoulement (p. 53 of report), or the extraterritorial application of human rights obligations (pp. 54-56) (for insights on these particular matters see Gauci and Jackson respectively). The following post will briefly analyse the applicable secondary rules relating to how EU states could be held responsible for complicity in torture under general international law in light of the facts contained in the Amnesty report. Read the rest of this entry…

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International Migration: Shared Commitment to Children’s Rights and Protection

Published on January 10, 2018        Author: 
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On 17 November 2017, the Committee on the Rights of Child (CRC Committee) together with the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW Committee) published not one but two joint General Comments (JGCs) on the human rights of children in the context of international migration. This was a significant event because two treaty monitoring bodies have worked together on a topic of global importance and this was the first time both Committees adopted two General Comments on the same issue. The first JGC covers General Principles (General Comment No 3 CMW and General Comment No 22 CRC) [JGC-GP] and the second deals with States’ human rights obligations in countries of origin, transit, destination and return (General Comment No 4 CMW and General Comment No 23 CRC) [JGC-SO]. The JGCs reiterate the central tenet of children’s rights that children are rights holders and first and foremost children, regardless of their or their parents’ nationality or migration status. Although the JGCs do not focus on one type of migration, it is acknowledged that children in unsafe or irregular migration are more likely to suffer rights’ violations than children in voluntary migration situations (JGC-GP, para 8).

Background

The two Committees were compelled to draft the JGCs by the continuing phenomenon of children caught up in international migration and the extent and diversity of human rights violations they experience on their journeys. The publication of the JGCs followed months of consultation and discussion engaging experts, NGOs and stakeholders (including child rights and migration organizations). The JGCs are an important contribution to the dialogue on international migration, especially in light of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants adopted by the UN’s General Assembly on 19th September 2016 and the ongoing negotiations on the Global Compact on Refugees, led by UNHCR and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, led by the IOM. International migration, according to the Committees, places children in a situation of ‘double vulnerability’, as children and as children affected by migration (in whatever form that takes). Consequently, both Committees are committed to strengthening the protection of all children in the context of international migration (JGC-GP, para 4). Read the rest of this entry…

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Repressing Migrant Smuggling by the UN Security Council and EU Naval Military Operation Sophia: Some Reflections on Jurisdiction and Human Rights

Published on November 3, 2017        Author: 
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On 5 October 2017, the UN Security Council through S/RES/2380 (2017) renewed for the second time the enforcement powers that S/RES/2240 (2015) granted to states in order to fight migrant smuggling and human trafficking off the coast of Libya.

In a previous blog post that I wrote here in October 2015, I concluded by wondering what the effects will be of S/RES/2240 (2015) and by questioning, from several standpoints, the use of military action against migrant smugglers and human traffickers and in the overall management of the migrant crisis.

These UN Security Council resolutions provide the legal basis for the EU naval operation mandated with the task of disrupting the business model of migrant smugglers and human traffickers in the Southern Central Mediterranean: EU NAVFOR MED Operation Sophia. Established in 2015 by Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/778, its mandate has been renewed until 31 December 2018.

Criticisms of Operation Sophia are widespread and concerns over its failure to meet its objectives and its human rights implications are no secret (see among others Meijers Committee and Not so Humanitarian after All). On the occasion of the second renewal of the S/RES/2240 (2015), it’s time to take a closer look at Operation Sophia’s results, at the legal shortcomings of the web of legal instruments regulating its actions, and the various consequences these have had. Read the rest of this entry…

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Is N.D. and N.T. v. Spain the new Hirsi?

Published on October 17, 2017        Author: 
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On 3 October the Third Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights published its judgment N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, which concerns Spain’s pushback policy in Melilla. It found a violation of Article 4 of Protocol 4 (prohibition of collective expulsions of aliens) and of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken together with Article 4 of Protocol 4. This post focuses on the issues of jurisdiction and the prohibition of collective expulsions addressed in the judgment, as well as its policy implications. 

Facts

The facts of the case are straightforward: on 13 August 2014 a group of Sub-Saharan migrants, including the applicants, tried to enter Spain via the Melilla border crossing which consists of three consecutive barriers. They managed to climb to the top of the third barrier. When they climbed down with the help of the Spanish forces, they were immediately apprehended by members of the Spanish civil guard and returned to Morocco in the company of 75 to 80 other migrants who had attempted to enter Melilla on the same date. Their identities were not checked and they did not have an opportunity to explain their personal circumstances or to receive assistance from lawyers, interpreters or medical personnel.

Jurisdiction

Spain argued that the events occurred outside its jurisdiction because the applicants had not succeeded in getting past the barriers at the Melilla border crossing and therefore had not entered Spanish territory. The Court first recalled its general principles on jurisdiction (paras 49-51), referring in particular to Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy, and specifying that when the State, through its agents, exercises control and authority over an individual, and thus jurisdiction, the State is under an obligation to secure the rights and freedoms that are relevant to the situation of that individual (para 51). Applying these principles to the facts of the case, the Court first observes that:

‘la ligne frontalière entre le Royaume du Maroc et les villes de Ceuta et de Melilla a été délimitée par les traités internationaux auxquels les Royaumes d’Espagne et du Maroc sont parties et qu’elle ne peut pas être modifiée à l’initiative de l’un de ces États pour les besoins d’une situation de fait concrète’ (para 53).

Yet in the next paragraph the Court explains that it is unnecessary to establish whether the border crossing between Morocco and Spain is located on Spanish territory because:

dès lors qu’il y a contrôle sur autrui, il s’agit dans ces cas d’un contrôle de jure exercé par l’État en question sur les individus concernés (Hirsi Jamaa, précité, § 77), c’est-à-dire d’un contrôle effectif des autorités de cet État, que celles-ci soient à l’intérieur du territoire de l’État ou sur ses frontières terrestres. De l’avis de la Cour, à partir du moment où les requérants étaient descendus des clôtures frontalières, ils se trouvaient sous le contrôle continu et exclusif, au moins de facto, des autorités espagnoles.

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Offshore Processing and Complicity in Current EU Migration Policies (Part 1)

Published on October 10, 2017        Author:  and
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It has certainly been a busy summer in terms of developments in European Union (EU) migration policies. From an intensification of cooperation between Italy and the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and ‘pull back’ migrants at sea; to a controversial Code of Conduct for non-governmental organisations involved in migrants’ rescue operations at sea; and the further mobilisation of funds for the EU-Africa Trust Fund, things have been all but calm on the Southern European front.

Together with images of a right-wing Defend Europe ship sailing the Mediterranean to track the activities of humanitarian NGOs, the summer has also left behind renewed plans for offshore processing centres to identify persons in need of international protection outside of the EU. On 27 September 2017, the European Commission presented its new plans for a ‘stronger, more effective and fairer EU migration and asylum policy’, aimed at ‘enhancing legal pathways for persons in need of international protection’. Whilst press releases emphasise the resettlement aspect of the plan, a closer analysis of the official documents and related policies issued throughout the summer, reveals a slightly different picture.

In this first blog post we reconstruct a complex web of EU migration policies that, in our view, indicate a shift towards extraterritorial protection, and more specifically the introduction of a multi-stakeholder mechanism for the offshore processing of asylum claims in the Sahel. Read the rest of this entry…

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An Introduction: The Child in International Refugee Law

Published on August 29, 2017        Author: 
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I want to start by expressing my thanks to the editors of EJIL: Talk! for arranging this book discussion, and to Deborah Anker (with Nancy Kelly and John Willshire Carrera), Eirik Bjorge, Mary Crock, and Colin Harvey for agreeing to participate in the discussion. The participants are all leaders in their fields, and I am privileged that they have agreed to engage with The Child in International Refugee Law.

It is a sad reality that the horrors faced by refugee children – both in their country of origin, and in their attempt to secure international protection in a host State – continue to dominate our news feeds. In the past month alone, we have seen damning reports of Australia’s offshore processing regime, which has involved the transfer and detention of children, and, in some cases, the separation of children from their parents; reports that thousands of Syrian children in Jordan’s Za’atari camp are being deprived of an education; and reports that over 10,000 child migrants went missing in Europe last year. As Harvey recognises in his contribution, “there is no principled reason why children should face the formidable obstacles they do in the sphere of refugee protection”. The need for change is heightened by the reality that childhood is a wasting asset. As Goodwin-Gill recently observed, “[c]hildhood, once lost, is never recovered”.

The premise underlying The Child in International Refugee Law is that international law has an important role to play in securing greater protection for refugee children. As Beth Simmons persuasively argues, international law provides a “rights based framework to supplement the protective framework that has a much longer history in many societies”. It is particularly important in the context of children, with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) providing a “lever to give … would-be advocates influence over policies likely to have an important impact on the well-being of those who are not able to organize and speak for themselves” (Simmons, Mobilizing for Human Rights (2009) 307).

The central thesis of the book is that the 1951 Refugee Convention is capable of responding in a sophisticated and principled way to refugee claims brought by children. More specifically, the CRC has an important role to play in both informing and supplementing the 1951 Refugee Convention.

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