Operation Triton quite simply is not the answer. Until a comprehensive effort is on the table, with sufficient capabilities and resources, this two-thirds net reduction in search and rescue functions will only put lives at risk.
(Brussels 10 October 2014) Amnesty International is deeply alarmed by Italy’s announcement that Operation Mare Nostrum will end, with Frontex’s Operation Triton taking over in the Central Mediterranean. The new operation is not fit for purpose to meet vital search and rescue needs. As such, there is a real risk that further lives of migrants and refugees will be lost at sea.
The announcement by Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano that Operation Mare Nostrum would end came in the wake of this week’s European Union (EU) Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Luxembourg. Ministers met to discuss managing migratory flows to Europe, focusing on external border management mechanisms including Frontex’s Operation Triton.
“One can only question how many lives will be saved by an operation with a border surveillance mandate,” said Nicolas J. Beger director for Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “Until the EU commits to and configures a collective operation that matches or even surpasses Mare Nostrum’s actions, Amnesty International urges Italy to continue its search and rescue operation to save lives; but this time with meaningful support from all of the member states.”
The European Commission’s August announcement to launch Operation Triton to support Italy’s search and rescue efforts was widely seen as the first sign of an EU-wide wake-up call and collective response to the ongoing tragedies in the Central Mediterranean.
However, it has become clear that Operation Triton will not meet the real and current search and rescue needs in order to save lives.
This month one year ago 500 people lost their lives off the island of Lampedusa in horrific shipwrecks. Italy responded with a Euro 9 million per month search and rescue operation, covering European and international waters. The operation successfully saved the lives of 140000 people in one year.
With the arrival of 165000 refugees and migrants this year alone through the Central Mediterranean, half of them from Syria and Eritrea, it is clear that people will continue to take this dangerous route in search of safety and sanctuary. It is also clear that search and rescue efforts are desperately needed. For despite Italy’s best efforts, tragically, more than 3000 people are already estimated to have died at sea this year.
One year after the Lampedusa shipwrecks as people continue to embark on dangerous sea journeys and too often lose their lives at sea, operation Triton has only committed in the region of Euro 3 million per month, two-thirds less than Operation Mare Nostrum. It will also be closer to Italian shores, and has border monitoring as its remit.
“With ongoing instability in the Middle East, wider conflicts, and the deteriorating situation in Libya, desperate people are seeking safety and sanctuary in Europe,” added Beger. “As Europe reinforces its land borders, people are being pushed towards increasingly dangerous routes through the Central Mediterranean. Now more than ever the EU must ensure collective and comprehensive search and rescue mechanisms within the world’s most dangerous sea route.”
Amnesty International is urging the EU to take a long-term, holistic and shared approach to managing migratory flows to Europe. Safe and legal routes to Europe are needed so people do not take their lives in their hands at sea. These could include an increase in resettlement quotas, wider access to humanitarian visas, and facilitating family reunification.
“The EU must ensure a collective and concerted response to a shared responsibility. Italy must continue sea rescues but cannot do it alone,” said Beger. “Operation Triton quite simply is not the answer. Until a comprehensive effort is on the table, with sufficient capabilities and resources, this two-thirds net reduction in search and rescue functions will only put lives at risk.”
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