Dienstag, 19. Januar 2016

Frontex meets with the Associations in Catania

Press release
On Thursday, 14th January, a meeting took place in the press room of the Catania police station between several associations, police representatives, Mrs Paglialunga and Mr Nicolao, the regional representative of Frontex.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the Catanian Rete Antirazzista (Anti-Racist Network) as well as, by the network's invitation, the Catania Bene Comune (Catania commons), the Campagna LasciateCientreare (Campaign against deportation centres), Borderline Sicily and the Associazione Diritti e Frontiere (Rights and Frontiers Group).

Mr Nicolao explained the work and function of Frontex, first quite generally and then in relation to Sicily in particular, where the agency has been present since July 2015. Mr Nicolao emphasised the practices undertaken by the agency in taking finger prints of all migrants disembarking from rescue ships, both in the Hotspots (Lampedusa and Trapani) and in the landing ports. Frontex's headquarters in Catania, which will have the role of co-ordinating Frontex's agents throughout Sicily, has still not opened in the former convent granted by the city administration for their use, as there is still structural work to be completed.

At sea, Frontex agents support the Italian police forces.
After some questions by the present associations, Mr Nicolao explained that:

  • Operation Triton has access to planes and ships already under the command of the Italian authorities, coordinated by the commander of the Guardia di finanza in the airbase of Pratica di Mare.
  • Their priorities are the finding of sea vessels for the effective rescuing, and the identification of all persons who are rescued.
  • In relation to the ships utilised, he explained that they are provided by the member states, following Frontex's evaluations and directions.
  • If the means used by Operation Triton are not sufficient, Frontex will ask member states for the necessary means to complete its work, which would then be included within the Operation Triton and financed by the European Union.
On the ground, Frontex agents support the Italian police forces, providing:

  • Screening experts who attempt to find out the nationalities of migrants via questions put to them with the assistance of cultural mediators.
  • Finger printing experts to support the police forensic officers in taking finger prints and making photographic identification.
  • Debriefing experts: voluntary and anonymous interviews which will not influence the eventual asylum procedures, nor function as police statements, but to be used only for gathering information on voyage and consequent routes.
  • Support for procedures relating to economic migrants: repatriation, acquisition of travel documents, financial support to the Italian state.
The Frontex representative emphasised that the agency respects fundamental human rights: an expert on human rights monitors Operation Triton and the agency involves a consultant forum (which includes NGOs, UNHCR*, IOM*, Save the Children, etc), who provide independent recommendations.

Mr Nicolao then reaffirmed that Frontex is in favour of forced identification, as those who do not identify themselves “have something to hide”. Frontex has to guarantee Europe's security, uncovering terrorists and “foreign fighters”. Recourse to the use of force in identification would be used in different stages: a first phase based on providing information and a second phase, for those who refuse, which would include the transferral to other structures. In any case, the activity of taking fingerprints would always be delegated to the Italian police.
The Frontex representative emphasised that the agency and its personnel only provide a supporting role to the Italian authorities.

The interventions of the associations and the humanitarian workers present raised various doubts and criticisms relating to:

  • The Hotspots, detention for the taking of fingerprints, the recourse to the use of force, and the lack of any juridical basis.
  • The differentiation, at the moment of arrival, between “economic migrants” and refugees via the so-called “notification paper”, a brief questionnaire for the migrants issued by police, which contains misleading orders and is not clear on the difference between economic migrants and asylum seekers
  • Deferred rejections, with the command to leave the country within seven days, allowing people deprived of any means of sustenance or documents to be abandoned in open countryside (Agrigento)
  • The non-functioning of the relocations and the consequent tense situation in the Hotspots
  • Accompanied, forced Repatriations (only a few days after entrance into the country by means of rescue operations), in particular of Nigerians and Egyptians, including the reference to “group flights” running monthly from Roma Fiumicino to Lagos.
  • Lack of application of the clause in the Dublin Convention which allows migrants to join their families.
  • Prolonged detention in reception centres of various kinds, such as the CSPA* at Pozzallo, where Frontex agents are also present, and which is to become a Hotspot, without any juridical validation.
  • The form of cooperation of vessels included in Frontex's assets with the vessels participating in the EUNAVFORMED* operation, in particular in respect to the interventions at the borders of Libyan territorial waters and the related demand to carry out search and rescue.
The responses given by Frontex to the various questions, on the basis of information contained in official documents of the UE, can be summarised as following:

  • Frontex expects that all the planned Hotspots (five in Sicily) will soon be in operation, and under Italian regulations, because there are no directly binding rules on European level which order the operative details of this feature.
  • A reinforcement of Frontex is planned, with a higher number of agents involved, as well as the following launch of a new border police and a new European coast guard.
  • At the Hotspot at Trapani Milo, opened last December 28th, there are four Frontex agents and two from EASO*.
  • At the old CPSA* at Pozzallo, where there has been a permanent Frontex presence since November, and which will shortly become a Hotspot, a presence of at least 12 Frontex agents is predicted, as well as two EASO* officials.
  • At the old Lampedusa centre of initial aid and arrival (CPSA), at Contrada Imbriacola, now re-defined as a Hotspot, there are 17 Frontex agents and one from EASO*.
  • It is not clear when the other two Hotspots in Sicily will open, one planned for Augusta (where there has been opposition from the local administration) and one at Porto Empedocle (Agrigento).
  • The sorting HUB at Siculiana (Villa Sikania) for those who enter the reception system after having given their finger prints and registered a request for asylum, or eventually relocation, is not an appropriate structure, and the CARA* at Mineo in which no Frontex agents are currently working, has an uncertain future which depends on the Italian authorities.
  • In relation to the revision of the Dublin regulations and the relocation operations, the Frontex representative held that whoever is fleeing from war cannot choose the place in which they request asylum (aside from those with family ties, as already considered in the regulations). He said that to convince migrants that do not want to be identified, and so as to accept the relocation operations, they will organise a Skype chat with someone who has already been relocated in order to relay a positive experience.
  • He attacked MSF* harshly for their report on the CPSA* at Pozzallo, saying that it was all lies and that MSF* wrote it only in reaction to the missed renewal of their agreement with the Prefecture. The same Frontex representative claimed that the agency worked some time ago inside the CSPA* at Pozzallo and that which was described has no correspondence with the truth.
  • By the interventions of representatives from the police station and Frontex it was also revealed that the workers who were previously part of the Praesidium project are now engaged on the basis of different agreements with the Ministry of the Interior (Save the Children, OIM*, UNHCR*), intervening only when they manage to be present, perhaps turning up to the disembarkings, during collective court hearings, but without aiding migrants individually, due to the reduced number of workers and the chronic lack of interpreters.
The day following the meeting, the next boat of migrants came into the harbour of Catania, and confirmed the form of operations anticipated by the agency's representative during the meeting. Particularly distressing was the situation of migrants numb with the cold, still wrapped in anti-hypothermia blankets, waiting in line in the wet, before a tent in which they were subjected to fingerprinting. In this first phase, there were no recorded cases of use of force, but the blinds were down, with only police officers present, and a total exclusion of the voluntary workers who in the past have contributed to a more humane welcoming of migrants.
This new year of disembarkings in Sicily has opened with a sign of closure over the lives and journeys of migrants, and those who help them. The police practices have pre-empted decisions made in Brussels by those still searching for a legal basis. All the attention is concentrated first on the taking of finger prints, and then on the identification of so-called economic migrants, with collective rejections in mind, a barrage of unjustified measures which create new ranks of “illegal immigrants”, who in only a very limited number of cases are actually forcibly taken to the border.
The associations reiterate their clear opposition to the militarisation of initial reception, and their doubts regarding the legitimacy of prolonged detentions for the ends of taking finger prints, as well as the recourse to the use of force by the police in responding to those who refuse to give their fingerprints, simply so as to not be subjected to the consequences of the unjust Dublin Convention.
  • They strongly request the immediate suspension of the Dublin Convention, the reconversion of the current Hotspots into centres of initial aid and reception (CSPA), with the full involvement of associations, as well as independent cultural and linguistic mediators, both at disembarkings and in centres of very first reception.
  • They request the end of the administrative practice of collective rejection, carried out without distinction by the Sicilian police stations, frequently only on the basis of nationality, and the provision of full access to the procedures of international protection, including the provision in advance of information given by the EU Directorate, which still remains to be applied.
  • They request the recall of the circulars adopted by the Ministry of the Interior (such as that of 6 October 2015) which establish practices deprived of any legal basis at a national level, concerning the form of the detention of persons taken to or confined in the Hotspots by police force, or other similar structures of very first reception, which manifest a limitation on personal freedom.
  • They press for a reinforcement of missions of search and rescue in the Central Mediterranean, in the context of worsening marine weather conditions and the deteriorating situation in Libya, placing the saving of human lives at sea before any ends of a military nature.
Rete Anntirazzista Catanese, ADIF, Borderline Sicilia, Campagna LasciateCientrare, Catania Bene Comune

*UNHCR: UN’s refugee agency
*IOM: International Organization for Migration
*CSPA: Centro di Soccorso e prima Accoglienza: Primary care and initial reception center.
*EUNAVFORMED: As a consequence of the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks, the EU launched a military operation known as European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), also known as Operation Sophia, with the aim of neutralising established refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean.
*EASO: the European Asylum Support Office.
*CARA: Hosting Centre for Asylum Seekers
*MSF: Médecins Sans Frontières

Translation: Richard Braude