Imbounding Lifeline sets the tone of the political debate on migration

A Maltese paramedics aids a young child on board the Lifeline NGO rescue vessel stranded in the Mediterranean with more than 200 migrants as it finally berthed in Valletta, Malta, on 27 June 2018. EPA-EFE/DOMENIC AQUILINA

Imbounding Lifeline sets the tone of the political debate on migration


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Non Governmental organizations are calling into question the policy of keeping migrants in North Africa, implicit to the agreement secured on Thursday evening in Brussels.

Salvini sets the agenda

The Migrant rescue ship Lifeline offloaded its human cargo of 234 migrants at Maltese capital Valletta on Wednesday evening, that is, hours before a turbulent migration-focused summit in Brussels. The human cargo included 70 unaccompanied minors, 14 women, three babies and a child.

The German NGO ship has been impounded and its captain is being questioned. The ship was forced into Malta’s territorial waters as weather conditions offshore deteriorated.

Meanwhile, eight EU member states will share the migrants, whose asylum applications will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and may yet be deported.

The conclusion of this latest saga was hailed by Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini as “victory,” as he went on Twitter to hail his own political triumph.

The legal debate

Italy wants to force NGO ships to allow the Libyan coastguard to rescue the migrants and return them onshore in North Africa. NGO’s argue that allowing the Libyan coastguard to rescue migrants contravenes the Geneva Refugee Convention, as it exposes asylum seekers to “refoulement,” that is, a return to a country in which they may be subjected to persecution.

This discussion is central to the substance of the EU deal secured on Thursday evening in Brussels.

The deal talks of “closed” reception centers for migrants within the bloc but also “screening centers” for asylum seekers outside EU territory.

Both issues are controversial. Closed centres may resemble prison for families and refugees that could be legally contested.

“Screening centers” outside the EU, refers to countries that have offered setting up such infrastructure, namely Libya, Albania and potentially Jordan and Turkey. The agreement makes reference to “regional disembarkation platforms,” but it is unclear whether these states meet EU human rights standards. In the meantime, the EU will release the second €3bn instalment of Turkey’s 2016 compensation deal.

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