[From the Introduction]
Every year, thousands of people embark on perilous sea voyages on unseaworthy vessels, without a proper crew or any safety equipment, in an attempt to reach Europe from north and west Africa. Some are fleeing conflict; others are trying to escape grinding poverty. they are all looking for a better future. Many never make it to Europe: they die at sea from dehydration; they drown; or they are intercepted by patrol boats and returned to the country from which they departed.
While some of the women, men and children attempting this dangerous journey to Europe are leaving their own country, for many others the country of departure is not their own, but somewhere through which they were transiting in an attempt to reach Europe. If returned there, they will usually be considered “illegal” migrants, and face a real risk of arbitrary and prolonged detention, ill-treatment and other human rights violations. Even when not detained, irregular migrants, refugees and asylumseekers can be subjected to abuses at the hands of police and employers who exploit the vulnerability inherent in their irregular status.
What is Externalization?
Over the last decade, European countries have increasingly sought to prevent people from reaching Europe by boat from Africa, and have “externalized” elements of their border and immigration control. Externalization refers to a range of border control measures including measures implemented outside of the territory of the state – either in the territory of another state or on the high seas. It also includes measures that shift responsibility for preventing irregular migration into Europe from European countries to countries of departure or transit.
European externalization measures are usually based on bilateral agreements between individual countries in Europe and Africa. Many European countries have such agreements, but the majority do not publicize the details. For example, Italy has co-operation agreements in the field of “migration and security” with Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia, while Spain has co-operation agreements on migration with Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Mauritania.
At another level, the European Union (EU) engages directly with countries in North and West Africa on migration control, using political dialogue and a variety of mechanisms and financial instruments. For example in 2010, the European Commission agreed a cooperation agenda on migration with Libya, which was suspended when conflict erupted in 2011. Since the end of the conflict, however, dialogue between the EU and Libya on migration issues has resumed.
The European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the EU (known as FRONTEX) also operates outside European territory. FRONTEX undertakes sea patrols beyond European waters in the Mediterranean Sea, and off West African coasts, including in the territorial waters of Senegal and Mauritania, where patrols are carried out in cooperation with the authorities of those countries.
The policy of externalization of border control activities has been controversial. Critics have accused the EU and some of its member states of entering into agreements or engaging in initiatives that place the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers at risk. A lack of transparency around the various agreements and activities has fuelled criticism.
This report examines some of the human rights consequences for migrants, refugees and asylumseekers that have occurred in the context of Italy’s migration agreements with Libya. It also raises concerns about serious failures in relation to rescue-at-sea operations, which require further investigation. The report is produced as part of wider work by Amnesty International to examine the human rights impacts of European externalization policies and practices.
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