European Union interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg on October 38 were to hear a proposal from European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström for a large-scale maritime search-and-rescue patrol operation in the Mediterranean to prevent tragedies such as the recent boat sinking off the Italian island of Lampedusa in which more than 230 people died.
The proposal is for EU border agency Frontex to conduct a large operation, “right across the Mediterranean, from Cyprus to Spain, for a big save and rescue operation,” Malmström said on October 8 ahead of the start of the meeting of ministers from the 28 member states of the EU.
The agenda for the meeting included the aftermath of Lampedusa, as well as the Syrian situation with special focus on refugees fleeing the widespread fatal violence in that country.
The concept of the Mediterranean sea mission would be to “help better tracking, identification and rescue of boats, especially migrants boats,” Malmström’s spokesperson Michele Cercone said.
“It could help prevent tragedies like the one in Lampedusa,” e said.
“n the medium and long term, dialogue and cooperation with countries of origin and transit of migrants and asylum seekers must be improved. Firstly, greater efficacy in the fight against the smugglers and criminals who are behind these tragedies. We should not forget that behind the victims there real criminal networks that profit from exploiting people’s hopes,” euronews quoted Cercone as saying.
The implications for Frontex would be significant, given that it is the latest of a series of recent years in which its budget has been cut. From 118 million euro in 2011, its 2013 budget is 85 million euro.
A news conference on the outcome of the EU interior ministers’ meeting was expected on the evening of October 8.
In Bulgaria, meanwhile, where the country is struggling to cope with a record-high influx of refugees, mainly from Syria, President Rossen Plevneliev has expressed reservations about a call by the Defence Minister to convene a meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security to discuss the refugee flows.
Plevneliev, the head of state, responded to the call by Defence Minister Angel Naidenov by saying that it was “strange” to want the Consultative Council on National Security convened but not the security council at the Cabinet office.
The Consultative Council on National Security, convened by the President as head of state, brings together the prime minister, ministers with security and intelligence as well as other strategic portfolios, and the heads of security and intelligence services.
Plevneliev said that dealing with the refugee problem was the responsibility of the executive. As head of state, he did not want to convene the Consultative Council on National Security to put it at risk of being a talkshop. The executive should implement its plans to deal with the situation, he said.
“We should make the big distinction – the Consultative Council on National Security with the President is a consultative authority, while at the same time there is a Security Council, which is an executive authority. The latter is the institution that revises the plans, secures the financing and makes the important decisions,” Plevneliev told reporters.
He said that according to the messages he got from the ministers and the government, they had implemented their plan, they knew what they were doing, had the needed financing, and if necessary, they could take extra measures.
“It is exclusively within the authorities of the executive power to deal with the problem we are facing,” Plevneliev said.
Meanwhile, in Bulgaria a handbook was launched on October 8 by a private Plovdiv-based foundation outlining the details of obligations and legal rights provided for international treaties to which Bulgaria is party regarding refugees.
On October 8, in its latest update on the refugee situation, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry said that between 6am on October 7 and 6am on October 8, 54 people had been intercepted crossing the Turkish-Bulgarian border illegally. Of these, 39 were Syrian citizens.
The ministry said that the total accommodation capacity in regional units of the State Agency for Refugees and Interior Ministry facilities was for 3290 people. This currently was exceeded by 111 places. The agency has been taken to expedite the procedures for granting of refugee status.