Italian Navy vessel Virginio Fasan, performing search and rescue activities in the Central Mediterranean as part of the Mare Nostrum operation, August 2014 © Amnesty International
(Brussels, 28 August 2014) Yesterday following a meeting with the Italian Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström announced that a new Frontex operation will be launched to assist Italy in managing the migration flow in the Mediterranean.
Amnesty International regards the fact that the European Union (EU) is finally considering ways to address the dramatic loss of lives in the Mediterranean as a positive although much belated step. We have consistently been calling on the EU and its member states to strengthen search and rescue (SAR) operations. Regrettably, it has taken a death toll of nearly 2000 people this year alone to create the momentum for discussions on what the EU and its member states can do to offer tangible help.
There are no details yet, however statements from the European Commission confirm that a Frontex-coordinated operation in the Mediterranean – “Frontex Plus”- is to complement Italy’s Mare Nostrum Operation. Mare Nostrum was launched in the aftermath of the October 2013 Lampedusa tragedies which claimed the lives of more than 500 people. Amnesty International stresses that the operation’s success will depend on adequate resources and assets being put in place by the member states. Clarity is needed on the ways in which the mandate and mission of Frontex will be adapted to operations whose goal must be to save lives and guarantee access to protection to those needing it, rather than on border controls and preventing irregular migration. The focus on SAR should be clearly set out in the operational plan of “Frontex Plus’’. There should also be measures aimed at accountability and transparency in cases of failure to protect life at sea.
Amnesty International also reminds all member states that regardless of joint EU operations, they continue to have obligations to protect life, and guarantee access to protection to those attempting to cross their borders. The organisation urges Italy not to stop Operation Mare Nostrum until a system which is at least equally effective is deployed. Any gaps in SAR response capacity or rushed withdrawal of resources and means will result almost certainly in large scale loss of life.
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