Fishers of Men? The Interception of Migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and Their Forced Return to Libya
INEX Paper 2010
28 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2011
Date Written: October 30, 2010
This paper presents an extensive account and assesses the legality of the recent naval constabulary operations – undertaken by Italian and Libyan military vessels – in the central Mediterranean Sea, aimed at intercepting boat people in international waters and returning them to the Northern African coasts. If considered as a border control operation, the interception of migrants and their debarkation in a third country often lacks a valid legal basis. The latter is easier to be found under maritime law, by ‘labelling’ interceptions as rescue missions. Nevertheless, such operations must be conducted according to state obligations under human rights law and refugee law (especially the non-refoulment rule), which only allow Italian vessels to disembark boat people to a ‘safe third country’. The paper concludes that since Libya cannot be considered a ‘safe third country’ in this sense, the interception of migrants on the high seas and their forced return to Tripoli may entail violations of maritime, human rights, migration and refugee law at both an international, European and domestic level.
Keywords: FRONTEX, Interceptions, Irregular Migration, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean Sea, Non-Refoulement, Rescue
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