Facing the Migration Challenge: An Italian Perspective


2015-10-11 By Robbin Laird

Europe is facing a significant migration outpouring from the current Middle Eastern dynamics.

Illegal smugglers are finding a variety of ways to assist migrants to get to Europe.

And the European convention that the government on whose territory where migrants come must handle the problem is also challenging European unity.

Agreements are coming into place to find a more equitable way to shape the question of how best to handle the distribution of refugees.

And the European Union is toughening up its standards on migration at the same time.

This is clearly both a European and a national problem, as one can look at the political landscape of Europe and see how the migration issue has become one of most contested issues in internal European politics.

This is not an issue that can be micro-managed alone behind closed doors by European technocrats in Brussels.

In a BBC story published on October 8, 2015, the toughening of EU policy on migration was highlighted.

The EU has agreed to beef up its border force Frontex in order to speed up deportations of failed asylum seekers.

 The EU interior ministers also called for more effective re-admission deals with countries of origin outside the EU, so that more migrants go home.

 The conclusions from their talks said EU states should detain migrants who may abscond before they are deported.

 More than 550,000 migrants have reached the EU this year, many of them war refugees. Germany is hosting the most.

 Most refugees qualify for asylum under international law. EU countries generally grant asylum to Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans, but not to the many economic migrants from Africa and Asia.

 Last year more than half a million non-EU migrants were found to be “illegally present” in the 28-nation bloc. Most were ordered to leave, but EU countries deported only about 40% of those listed for removal.

 “Frontex should be allocated adequate resources to enable it to scale up substantially its support on return [of migrants],” EU ministers agreed.

 European governments are talking a lot about increasing the rate of deportations – or returns, as they like to call them. But talking about it and doing it are rather different things.

 Part of the problem is that returns policy is really the responsibility of individual member states. And some are better at it than others. Many countries find it easier to allow failed asylum seekers to travel elsewhere in the Schengen area, where they then live illegally.

 That’s why this ministerial meeting is insisting that everyone needs to work together far more effectively.

During my visit to Italy at the end of September, I had a chance to discuss the migration crisis with two members of the foreign policy think tank Centro Studie Internazionali (Ce.S.I.) in Rome.

A handout picture released on August 15, 2015 by the Italian navy press office Marina Militare, show a Italian Navy rescuing migrants crowded onto a fishing boat off the coast of Libya. (AFP)
A handout picture released on August 15, 2015 by the Italian navy press office Marina Militare, show a Italian Navy rescuing migrants crowded onto a fishing boat off the coast of Libya. (AFP)

Francesco Tosato is a senior researcher responsible within the Institute to analyze military affairs; and Miguel Taufer works with Tosato in providing assessment of military developments.

We focused primarily on the military response to the challenge, but broadened the discussion to the broader issues involved in shaping a comprehensive policy as well.

The analysts highlighted that European naval forces had been mobilized to deal with the illegal boat migrations with the clear objective of trying to break the effectiveness of the business model of the smugglers.

“In 2013, Italy launched Operation Mare Nostrum to deal with search, rescue and enforcement efforts with regard to sea-borne migration.

Italy sought from the outset to set in motion a broader European operation.

And this has happened as Mare Nostrum led to the engagement of Frontex which is the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union.

But the limits of Frontex is that it operates only within national boundaries.”

Question: Italy has spearheaded as well a broader European naval effort.

Could you discuss that effort?

Answer: Italy has worked for a broader European naval effort with EUNAVFOR MED in operation Sophia.

This is an operation that is organized by the European Union that uses military vessels that are more capable and are operating in the off of Libyan coast.

The command post for the operation is onboard the Italian aircraft carrier, the Cavour.

The British have recently sent a frigate to the operation and more air assets are now involved to enhance the situational awareness picture.

The purpose of the operation in part is to deter smugglers from operating their illegal practice.

The aim is to break the business model of the smugglers.

There are currently two main routes reaching Libya as a launch point into Europe. One comes from West Africa.

The other is an Eastern route from the heart of Africa, especially from Eritrea.

In addition, Syrian refugees are coming via an eastern route through the Balkans as well.

And they are coming via Turkey and then to Greece as well.

HMS Richmond sent by Royal Navy to board and seize vessels in the southern Mediterranean, said the Ministry of Defence. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA
HMS Richmond sent by Royal Navy to board and seize vessels in the southern Mediterranean, said the Ministry of Defence. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Question: This then poses the fundamental challenge of European states dealing with migrants at their borders and then entering national territory.

How will Europe as a whole deal with this challenge?

Answer: One task is to change the Dublin treaty whereby migrants ask for asylunm to remain in the country where they first enter. This obviously is a problem for the Border States in Europe, who want Europe as a whole to deal with the challenge.

A European solution will be required to distribute in some equitable manner those who are allowed to stay as how to deal with those declared as economic migrants rather than as legitimate refugees.

We cannot have 28 states with 28 different sets of rules for this challenge.

We expect that migration policy will be treated as a European wide political issue, not just as a national one.

And for those migrants who are not considered refugees, there is the challenge of shaping common rules to repatriate them as well.

Mare Nostrum Operation

Operation Mare Nostrum (OMN) was established by the Italian Government last October 18, 2013 to tackle the dramatic increase of migratory flows during the second half of the year and consequent tragic ship wreckages off the island of Lampedusa.

OMN consisted of an empowerment of the Migration Flows Control (CFM) activities carried out within the Italian Navy operation Constant Vigilance, according to a 2004 national law.

The naval and air units deployed to Mare Nostrum was necessary to improve maritime security, patrol sea lanes, combat illegal activities, especially human trafficking, and tackle the Mediterranean humanitarian emergency in the Sicily Straits, averaging 5 Italian Navy ships and their air units at any given time.

The Italian Navy’s Operations Command, by means of the Operations Center, headquartered at the Command in Chief of the Naval Squadron (CINCNAV) in Santa Rosa base, Rome, controls all units deployed to Mare Nostrum. Also, in Santa Rosa was the Inter-ministry Maritime Surveillance Integrated Office which coordinates activities with the control rooms of other Public Agencies, Ministries, and Armed Forces.

The Italian Navy ships’ commanding officers intervened to seize mother ships and to stop human traffickers in accordance with the law enforcement on the high seas regulations.

The units the Italian Navy deployed to the Operation was:

  • One amphibious vessel with specific command and control features, medical and shelter facilities for the would-be migrants;
  • One/two frigates and two second line high seas units – either patrollers or corvettes – with wide range and medical care capabilities;
  • Helicopters onboard (to be readily deployed to Lampedusa or Catania);
  • A SAN MARCO Marine Brigate team in charge of vessels inspections and the safety of migrants onboard;
  • A Coastal radar network and Italian Navy AIS (Automatic Identification System) shore stations;
  • One ATLANTIC 1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) based in Sigonella for maritime patrol;
  • One Air Force PREDATOR A+ based in Sigonella for maritime patrol;
  • One MM P180 aircraft equipped with Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), based in Catania;
  • Two Camcopter S-100 unmanned aerial vehicles onboard ITS San Giusto;
  • One Forward Logistic Site (FLS) in Lampedusa for logistics support to the units deployed to Mare Nostrum.

The Air Force also contributed until last June 23 with unmanned aerial vehicles; and the Carabinieri Corps with a helicopter. Submarines have been used to gather evidence of the criminal activities. 

Operation Mare Nostrum covered a wide area in the Straits of Sicily: about 70,000 sq. Km, three times Region Sicily. 

330 smugglers have been brought to justice, thanks to the investigative bodies and their rapid and efficient investigations, but also thanks to the cooperation provided by the commanding officers, the 29th Naval Group Command, CINCNAV, the Interforces Team against Illegal Migration (G.I.C.I.C.), and the competent prosecutors. The Italian Public Security Bureau provided a task force of 14 operators and 2 cultural mediators based onboard ITS San Giorgio. 

The Fondazione Rava, the emergency services Corps of the Order of Malta, the Italian Red Cross military Corps and Nurses, all contributed to provide medical and hygienic care to the migrants onboard our units. 

As a matter of fact, last June 13 a cooperation agreement had signed with Ministry of Health – Prevention Department, (USMAF) – to embark medical doctors from the Sea, Air and Borders department, specialized in communicable diseases. 

An agreement with Save the Children has provided for the presence of professionals onboard the units for information, support, legal counseling and cultural mediation for the children and teen-agers rescued at sea.

All people rescued underwent medical triage, to assess their health conditions and necessary treatments. The USMAF doctors onboard allowed early prevention from the risks of possible infections spread ashore. 

During the last 364 days of relentless activity in all weather conditions, the units of the Italian Navy have engaged in 421 operations and rescued 150.810 migrants; 5 mother ships have been seized and 330 alleged smugglers have been brought to justice. These results have been achieved by 900 military engaged any single day day, 32 naval units and 2 submarines taking shifts in over 45,000 hours of active operations.

EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia

On 23 April 2015, the European Council stressed that the Union will mobilize all efforts to prevent further loss of life at sea, tackle the root causes of the human emergency in the Mediterranean – in cooperation with the countries of origin and transit – and fight human smugglers and traffickers. 

On 18 May 2015, the Council approved the Crisis Management Concept for a military CSDP operation to disrupt the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean (Council Decision 2015/778 dated 18 May 2015).

 As a result, and as part of the European Union’s Comprehensive Approach, on 22 June 2015 the EU launched a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED).

The aim of this military operation is to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels as well as enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers.

The Dublin Regulation (Regulation No. 604/2013)

Sometimes the Dublin III Regulation; previously the Dublin II Regulation and Dublin Convention) is a European Union (EU) law that determines the EU Member State responsible to examine an application for asylum seekers seeking international protection under the Geneva Convention and the EU Qualification Directive, within the European Union.

It is the cornerstone of the Dublin System, which consists of the Dublin Regulation and the EURODAC Regulation, which establishes a Europe-wide fingerprinting database for unauthorized entrants to the EU.

The Dublin Regulation aims to “determine rapidly the Member State responsible [for an asylum claim]”and provides for the transfer of an asylum seeker to that Member State.

Usually, the responsible Member State will be the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU.