Friday, 22 May 2009

Migration on the high seas

There was a demonstration at the event I was interpreting for yesterday against an organisation called Frontex. The outdoor stage in Bremen's harbour area had a fairly small seating area in front of it so the representative of the company had the placards facing him the whole time - and quite some heckling too. The panel discussion was on how migrants who try to come by sea are treated. Frontex are one of the the private firms that the EU uses to coordinate oversight of the patrolling and security of its external borders.

The panel began with a passionate introduction from Stefan Schmidt captain of the Cap Anamur which five years ago saved 37 Africans who were in the Mediterranean because the small vessel they were in had sunk. When he then landed his boat in Italy he and two other senior members of his crew were taken in for questioning and he found himself facing trial, a four year prison sentence and 400,000 euros fine for "aiding and abetting illegal migrants". Schmidt has now founded an association which does not take sides on the migration debate but tries to gather information about what is actually happening to migrants on the seas.
The main panel discussion included the German minister of the interior Wolfgang Schäuble and François Boko the former minister of the interior of Togo who had fled into exile when the political situation in his country became dangerous, with executions and killings.
Naïve that I am I had not realised that today even coordination of external state borders is outsourced, I imagine that the excuse from the EU is that this is a way of avoiding creating a Europe-wide body to do the work. One of the effects of course is that it diffuses responsibility for who is at fault when their are violations of refugees' or migrants' rights.