New rules for Frontex rescues: EU Parliament approves search and rescue rules to prevent deaths at sea

Clearer search and rescue rules for EU border guards dealing with migrants at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean – ©Frontex_Eurosur 2014

New search and rescue rules to clarify how border guards serving in Frontex sea operations should deal with migrants and where they should disembark them were approved by Parliament on Wednesday. The regulation, already informally agreed by Parliament and Council negotiators, should enter into force before this summer.

These new rules, approved by the European Parliament this week, ensure that any operational plan for a Frontex operation must be in line with the relevant international law.

This has always been a bone of contention for Malta, as previous guidelines stipulated that the coordinating state would be obliged to take in rescued migrants.

European operations to combat illegal immigration on the nearby Italian waters, have been allocated 7.1 million euros for the period May-September, sources close to the European Union agency for external border security FRONTEX said Thursday. There are currently two Frontex operations underway in Italy: Hermes and Aeneas, respectively covering the southern Mediterranean between Italy and North Africa and the Adriatic and Ionian seas. Malta is not participating in any FRONTEX operations in these areas.

So far this year these have been running thanks to 4.8 million euros, carried forward from the November 2013 budget after the agency received additional funds following boat accidents off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa last October 2013, when over 350 migrants are known to have died. The total Frontex budget for 2014 was 89.1 million euros, the agency said.

Of this sum, 42.1 million was destined for operations, of which just over half was for sea operations.

The Frontex-sponsored operations are in addition to Mare Nostrum, a military and humanitarian operation launched by the Italian navy and coast guard last autumn in the wake of the Lampedusa disaster to spot and save migrants at sea.

On Tuesday, the Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told parliament over 20,500 migrants had landed on the Italian coast so far this year, as compared to 2,500 during the same period in 2013.

Speaking before a committee on the country’s borders, Minister Alfano stressed that the number of incoming migrants was on pace “to reach the record levels of 2011, when more than 62,000 people entered”.(via ANSAmed).

On 12 April 2013, the Commission adopted a proposal for a Regulation establishing rules for sea operations coordinated by Frontex. This Regulation will replace a Council Decision on the same subject-matter (2010/252/EU) which was annulled by the EU Court of Justice in September 2012 (C-355/10).

The Court had annulled the decision on procedural grounds, namely that it introduced new essential elements to the Schengen Borders Code. The Court found that the provisions on interception, rescue and disembarkation were essential elements of external maritime border surveillance which required political choices to be made and in the context of the EU’s institutional system this falls within the responsibility of the Council and the European Parliament.

In its ruling the Court decided to maintain the effects of the decision until it is replaced by new rules.

The new Regulation will apply to sea operations coordinated by Frontex. Its provisions on interception as well as search and rescue situations and disembarkation will be entirely binding (the provisions on search and rescue and disembarkation included in the Council Decision were non-binding).

The Council now needs to adopt the text approved by the European Parliament before the Regulation enters into force.

Commissioner Malmström welcomes the Parliament’s vote on new rules for Frontex-coordinated sea border operations

“Today’s vote is an important step towards enhancing the effects of sea border surveillance operations and to improve coordination in search and rescue situations that may arise during such operations.

We have witnessed too many tragic losses of lives in the Mediterranean recently: having clear binding rules on interception, search and rescue and disembarkation will help preventing such tragedies in the future. The new rules will ensure the effective and proper functioning of current and future Frontex-coordinated sea operations, contributing to protecting and saving migrants’ lives.

The new Regulation strengthens the protection of fundamental rights, including the application of the principle of non-refoulement in case of disembarkation in a third country. It also sets out clear procedures to be followed by border guards when facing a rescue situation during a border surveillance operation, in particular to assess the emergency situations of migrant boats”, said Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.

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