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Appendix F: interview with the UNHCR

In document Navigating a Humanitarian Crisis (Sider 89-93)

13. What developments is your organisation working on regarding migration by sea?

9.6 Appendix F: interview with the UNHCR

What do you see as the current focal points of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean? What are the key issues?

Obviously, the very serious humanitarian crisis situation is Syria. 4.8 million people living outside the country, which is the biggest at the moment. 2,8 million live in Turkey, over 1 million in little Lebanon, with only 4 million inhabitants. A lot of responsibilities of the countries in this region.

Which means a lot of Syrian refugees who do not want to stay there, which means that they decide to come to European countries. Brazil is taking some; Canada and the United States are taking.

Countries are taking. But a lot of people decided to take the Balkan route, 800.000 or more people walked through Europe to come to Germany, Sweden and other European countries. Including Denmark. Also the horn of Africa, Eritrea, Eritrea has a big dictatorship. Young people have to provide military services, giving them the best year of their lives. Turning it into basically slavery labor. Clearly a dictatorship, meaning young people especially young men decide to leave. They come via. Libya and take a boat to come over the Mediterranean Sea to be picked up by Frontex, Italian Guardia Costiera. Second biggest group is Eritrea. Somali situation is still ongoing since many, many years. Many live in camps in Kenya. Kenya wants to close many camps pushing them back. Which means many decide to leave through Libya over the Mediterranean. Humanitarian crisis producing refugees. Then you have the phenomenon of mixed migrations where there are also other factors. Environmental disasters, poverty, natural capacities. Many mixed migrants are economic related, countries like Gambia, Nigeria, Mali… you have to look at these cases individually and look if it is economic migrants or a story of persecution. Migratory routes to South Africa is also happening. That basically recreates the roots to the situation as we have it today.

How does UNHCR see the role of the shipping industry in the migration crisis?

Very important you know in the Mediterranean. There was a phase before 2013 where the Italian coast guard was out and there were not enough boats out there and private vessels were called in to perform certain rescue duties. They were called in by the control center in Rome, which is responsible for the Mediterranean area and as you know the closest shipmaster had to go to perform certain rescue duties if they are called. They have to leave their original plan to go from A to B, and detour to go and perform certain recue duties. So very important. The big catastrophe out of Lampedusa October 3, 2013. Italian guardia di finanza and Italian boats where called in to do the mare nostrum operation to relieve private vessels, that worked more or less. But then Italy said this cost too much, this is for all of EU we cannot do it alone. And Frontex was called, Frontex is the European borderline agency and Frontex was called with the operation triton to come up with boats and vessels to patrol the international border in the Mediterranean. Ship from Spain, UK, German, Portuguese performing duties, SAR duties, Irish boats are there, Norwegian boats. So they have a mechanism to send out vessels under the Frontex and perform SAR-operations. That is still ongoing. They are reinforced by private vessels, NGOs. Two NGOs have boats out there, one of them is mfs, soctors without borders, the other one is migrations off shore, a Maltese organization. They enforce the Frontex triton operations several times a week. Very important role of the shipping industry.

— Probe: In UNHCR’s perspective, how has the shipping industry been performing this role?

They have performed very well I think. Because they respect and uphold still the principles of performing SAR, they have not changed or given up so. Yes we know some boats have been called in and they decided to continue to their trip and have not changed their itinerary but then immediately another boat was called and they performed. So basically I would say that the principle of the law of the sea is still working, it upholds the shipping industry’s respect. Yes they are not happy about that, especially a lot of Norwegian vessels were called and they said look Europe has to do more, and I think that has also helped getting some pressure on Frontex, of Europe to get more vessels and provide them with vessels so they can perform the patrol on the critical area much better. Nevertheless we have a lot of accidents still. We shall not forget that last year 3500 persons, migrants, refugees lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean, mostly the Libyan route, some departing from Egypt, less accidents on the Turkey to the Greek islands route, because it is not such a big stretch there. Whereas parting from Libya is risky, it is the Mediterranean, it is the high sea, so it is a lot with accidents because the vessels are not good enough of overcrowded or rubber boats lose …. This year we have already over 2900 that lost their lives, it is still a huge number and it means that we cannot abandon this task to perform SAR and every vessel is needed. Frontex with state vessels is needed, but then also the private vessels and the private shipping industry need to perform their duties.

From UNHCR’s perspective, what are the most challenging aspects about the shipping industry’s involvement?

The challenge for them first of all is that they are not trained or used to find migrant boats with 200-300 persons. What can they do immediately? If they are a big ship, a sea tanker it may not be a problem but then they do not have the personnel helping and providing first help and assistance.

They might not have enough food and water on board so it may be really challenging, also you need to handle a crowd you know, you have a crew of maybe 25 persons and you need to control 200-300 person also when they are exhausted so it could be a problem, also a security risk. It could be a financial problem because then they have to sail to another port, which they have not foreseen. So basically they lose 3-4-5 commercial days. I don’t think any insurance company will compensate. So also some economic responsibilities, some financial burden the shipping industry is carrying. Because they cannot claim back the money from the state you know.

Have the role and responsibilities of the shipping industry changed? If so, why and how?

I don’t think so. I think the responsibilities are still the same. But I think their involvement that the risk that one of their ships is involved in SAR has become bigger, the numbers of incidents where private vessels have been called is certainly on the rise since 2010. Probably statistically you can look.

What channels of communication does UNHCR use to interact with the shipping industry? (probe for interactions with IMO, etc.)

There are international conferences where the IMO, where there are a certain exchange taking place. I still think the exchange is not big enough, probably more could be done.

Have you had an ongoing dialogue with the shipping industry?

I didn’t have myself interaction, I had interaction with two Norwegian vessels, we say thank you to them, provide them with certifications for their exceptional live saving work. That was an interaction, otherwise not much of a direct contact

What themes are discussed in these forums/interactions with the shipping industry?

Then you should try to ask someone who was in those meetings, I can’t tell you very much. We are in the field in Malta and in Rome, the information that I coming back. There is minimal information that is coming, so I can’t really tell you what conclusions they have had or what has been discussed.

How do you see EU and their effort to solve the problem? And shift the burden of the shipping industry away. Their response to the concerns raised by you, shipping, etc.

I think the EU has reacted especially after the mare nostrum operation, it took them some time to react and to have adequate means put aside and to call for enough boats to this operations. In the beginning there were not enough boats, there were again accidents and people lost their life. Their response was slow and under the pressure of humanitarian crisis, and pressure of public opinion, and migrants losing life then they increased and came up with more adequate responses.

And what do you think about what they are doing now? Has it improved, are they doing enough?

I can say and I think the responses are adequate and are good, ongoing, and I think there is also a permanent…. In SAR, EU, Frontex they are well-equipped and doing a good job.

What is your opinion about the national states responsibilities and the EU’s responsibilities in regards to the regulation? Do they have enough responsibilities or should more be responsibility be written into the legislation?

Member states, Italy still has a big responsibility in the operation despite it is Frontex. So some member states still do additional work in addition to what the EU is doing. And other states are simply doing nothing or not enough, so there are big discrepancies.

So should the responsibility be divided equally between them? Would that help the solution?

Look some member states are front states; they are there where it happens. Italy, Greece. To a far lesser extend Spain, you cannot compare Spain to Greece and Italy. There are kind of geographically natural exposure. But it means that front states needs clearly more help from other states further behind. And the states behind cannot just hide away and say we cannot see. It needs to be a solidarity work, a work that involves Europe, which asks member states to come up with more solidarity measures and not come up with fences and borders.

The shipping industry quite clearly states that they shouldn’t be a part of a solution to this problem; do you think it is a problem that the shipping industry has been so involved?

It is clear, as long as there is irregular traffic, there is a SAR duty to be performed. Whether the shipping industry likes it or not you cannot abandon the law of the sea.

Has the UNHCR tried to join force with the shipping industry to put greater pressure on the EU or acted individually?

When you look at press releases and statements of UNHCR, yes you can see that there was always clear statements that EU has to do more, the Frontex vessels were not enough, there were always

thank you messages when shipping vessels were involved in rescuing. I think we understand well the problem. We have asked Europe to do more. We are certainly conscious and aware of the problem, and joined forces by stating that EU has to do more.

In document Navigating a Humanitarian Crisis (Sider 89-93)