The Italian authorities seized a rescue ship - Iuventa - operated by German NGO Jugend Rettet on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The ship was used to save the lives of refugees and migrants attempting the dangerous sea journey across the Mediterranean from North Africa.
The move comes as the Italian government begun enforcing a ‘code of conduct’ on the operation of rescue ships that was fiercely criticised by NGOs and human rights organisations for putting lives at risk. Jugend Rettet was one of the five NGOs operating rescue ships that refused to sign the code of conduct.
GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer condemned the arbitrary actions of the Italian authorities:
“The code of conduct violates Italy’s international law obligations and compromise the neutrality of sea rescue missions. We strongly criticise the arbitrary actions of the Italian authorities against NGOs operating rescue efforts in the Mediterranean under already difficult conditions.”
“We call on the EU and member states to open safe and legal migration routes and to stop defaming and criminalising sea rescuers. Sea rescue is not a crime,” Zimmer added.
Basque MEP Josu Juaristi warned against a polarising discourse on refugees:
"The political attacks and police repression against rescue NGOs operating in the Mediterranean Sea are absolutely unjustified and create a society based on fear and hate, a society of ‘us vs. them’, and open the doors to fascism.”
“The actions of EU member states are criminal as they condemn to death thousands of people who are fleeing persecution and are searching for a better life for them and their families.”
“I would like to express my support for Jugend Rettet and all of the rescue NGOs and pay tribute to their work,” Juaristi stated.
GUE/NGL has called on member states to support Italy in dealing with the crisis. More resources should be dedicated to saving lives instead of militarising the Mediterranean. Member states must accelerate resettlement schemes and sharing of the burden.
1,600 offences detected in a global operation against marine pollution
Between 1 and 30 March 2021, 300 agencies across 67 countries joined forces against marine pollution during the third global operation 30 Days at Sea. Europol and Frontex co-ordinated the European leg of the operation, as part of the EMPACT action plan on environmental crime, while INTERPOL co-ordinated the global activities. The actions led to the identification of numerous crimes ranging from illegal discharge to waste trafficking and the investigation of thousands of suspects worldwide.
Frontline action followed five months of intelligence collection and analysis, enabling participating countries to identify hotspots and targets.
The simultaneous actions in March led to:
- 34,000 inspections at sea and inland waterways, coastal areas and ports;
- 1,600 marine pollution offences detected in total;
- 500 illegal acts of pollution committed at sea, including oil discharges, illegal shipbreaking and sulphur emissions from vessels;
- 1,000 pollution offences in coastal areas and in rivers, including illegal discharges of contaminants;
- 130 cases of waste trafficking through ports.
By using INTERPOL’s wide range of databases and analytical capabilities, countries were able to connect pollution crime with other serious crimes such as fraud, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, piracy, and illegal fishing.
Criminals attempt to abuse the pandemic also at sea
With many enforcement resources being reassigned to tackle the pandemic, criminals have been quick to exploit growing vulnerabilities in different crime areas including environmental crime. Inspections uncovered typical forms of marine pollution crime, from vessel discharges to waste trafficking by sea, but also criminal trends that have been growing amid the pandemic. Growing trends included COVID-19 disposable items such as masks and gloves, with 13 cases involving medical waste opened as a result of the operation.
A major criminal network trafficking plastic waste between Europe and Asia was exposed, triggering cooperation between authorities from both regions. So far, 22 suspects have been arrested and thousands of tonnes of waste have been prevented from being illegally shipped to Asia. It is highly likely that the waste would have likely been dumped there, contaminating soils and generating considerable marine litter.
Several countries from Europe, Asia and Africa reported illegal shipments of contaminated or mixed metal waste falsely declared as metal scraps. In one case, the Italian Coast Guard seized and prevented 11 000 tonnes of metal scraps mixed with plastic, rubber, mineral oil and other contaminants from being loaded onto bulk carriers headed for Turkey. Namibia, the Philippines and Croatia also reported cases of illegal waste shipments from Europe.
Global coordination to counter the pollution of our seas
Europol and FRONTEX (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) coordinated the European leg of 30 Days at Sea 3.0, while INTERPOL’s Environmental Security Programme coordinating the operation globally.
Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said: “Marine pollution is a serious threat, which endangers not only the environment but our health and in the long run our global economy. Criminals do not care about the environment; they do not think of tomorrow, but only of increasing their profits on the back of our society. Consolidated law enforcement efforts such as the operation 30 Days at Sea are critical to tackle these borderless crimes and protect our environmental heritage for generations to come.”
INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “The threat of pollution crime is constantly evolving, endangering the air we breathe, our water and soil. Although this is the third edition of 30 Days at Sea, it is never the same exercise.
It is thanks to a global yet agile network that we have seen the number of inspections more than double since the first edition: a clear sign that the international community will not stand for criminal attacks on our environment.”
“Environmental crime is one of many criminal activities Frontex targets as part of our mission as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. This is our contribution to the protection of the environment. I’m proud that, as part of 30 Days at Sea, Frontex aerial and maritime assets monitored nearly 1 000 vessels,” said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.
All three editions of Operation 30 Days at Sea 3.0 have been carried out with funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).
17 EU Member States: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden
50 non-EU countries: Angola, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chilie, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Dem Rep Congo, Ecuador Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Honduras, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Maldives, Namibia, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Zimbabwe Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, we support the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised forms of crime. We also work with many non-EU partner states and international organisations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.
In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organized crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 - 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU member states, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. Environmental crime is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.
Coast guard co-operation: Three EU Agencies strengthen co-operation in support of member states
An important step has been taken in further developing the mandate set out in the 2016 European Border Coast Guard Regulation. The Commission welcomes the renewed coo-peration between the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) on supporting Member States' coast guards in their activities. The three agencies signed yesterday a new working arrangement allowing them to continue working together to support national authorities on safety and security at sea including search and rescue, border management, fisheries control, customs activities, law enforcement and environmental protection.
The working arrangement notably covers cooperation on risk analysis and information exchange on threats in the maritime domain as well as compliance with fundamental rights, data protection requirements and access rights. The first working arrangement between Frontex, the EMSA and the EFCA entered into force in March 2017 for a duration of four years. Since 2017, the three agencies have been working closely together, exchanging relevant operational information, data from Earth observation instruments and providing state-of-the-art technologies and training for member states authorities.
'Please help us': Migrants, exposed to freezing Bosnia winter, await chance to reach EU
But it has become increasingly difficult to cross EU borders and impoverished Bosnia has become a cul de sac with its ethnically divided government unable to cope, leaving hundreds of people without proper shelter.
Ali, 16, from Afghanistan, has been sleeping in an abandoned bus for almost six months after he left a Bihac camp.
“I’m in really a bad way, there’s no one to look after us here and the conditions are not safe here,” Ali told Reuters.
“People who are supposed to support us have been coming and taking things from us and then selling those things inside the camp or in other places. We have nothing here ...Please help us.”
There are about 8,000 migrants in Bosnia, some 6,500 in camps around the capital Sarajevo and in the northwestern corner of the country bordering Croatia.
On Monday (11 January), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell talked by phone with Bosnia’s presidency Serb chairman Milorad Dodik, urging Bosnian authorities to improve dire humanitarian conditions of migrants and open centres more evenly distributed across the whole country.
The Serb and Croat-dominated parts of Bosnia refuse to accommodate any migrants, most of whom come from Muslim countries.
“Borrell stressed that failing to do so would have severe consequences for the reputation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” his office said in a statement.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is running the Bosnian camps, said its mobile teams are helping around 1,000 people squatting in houses that were deserted or destroyed during the Bosnian war in the 1990s.
“They don’t have the possibility of regular food distribution,” said IOM camp manager and co-ordinator Natasa Omerovic. “They can’t seek medical assistance.”
Until last week, an additional 900 people were left without shelter after the Lipa summer camp, some 26 km away, was set on fire just as the IOM decided to withdraw because it was not warm enough for winter.
Bosnian authorities, who for months ignored requests from the European Union to find an alternative location, have now provided heated military tents and beds.
On Sunday evening, a group which found shelter in an abandoned house in Bihac, ate a modest dinner cooked under torchlight on an improvised fire. They slept on the dirty concrete floor without water. Some wore only plastic slippers in the snow.
“Too hard life here,” said Shabaz Kan from Afghanistan.
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