Saturday, 12 October 2013

EUROPE: Drones surveillance/ Migrant-Spotting

In the wake of last week's tragedy on Lampedusa, the EU is planning a system that uses drones and satellites to track refugees at sea. But it doesn't offer ways to save people like those killed in the deadly incident.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström of Sweden said the new system would protect refugees from death because it would more quickly track immigrants making the dangerous journey in boats that aren't sea-worthy. If the European Commission's position on the new Eurosur program for border protection, which was approved by the European Parliament on Thursday afternoon, is to be believed, this will now be radically improved.

But the system for surveilling "irregular migratory flows," as they are called in the official jargon, is precisely the kind of monitoring apparatus America's NSA intelligence service might dream up. Using drones, intelligence equipment, offshore sensors and satellite search systems, they plan to survey the Mediterranean in its entirety, linking data through "system-of-systems" technology. National coordination centers are also expected to assist in the exchange of data with the European border protection agency Frontex.

Eurosur is set to go into force in seven member states in December. The goal is to further reduce the number of illegal border crossings, close to two-thirds of which take place through passage by sea. Even if European politicians are trying to suggest otherwise in the current refugee debate, sea rescue operations aren't one of Eurosur's declared tasks. The regulation states merely that Eurosur should provide the infrastructure and tools needed by member states "to improve their situational awareness and reaction capability when detecting and preventing irregular migration and cross-border crime as well as protecting and saving lives of migrants at the external borders." How these rescues are to be coordinated and what happens to those migrants who are rescued is not mentioned anywhere in the regulation.

It says rescue on it, but that isn't actually a part of Eurosur. In the future, we'll know how many refugees coming to Europe are in danger, because, with Eurosur, all member states need to inform Frontex about refugees in distress at sea. But they don't need to make more of an effort to save those people.

Critics, furthermore, claim the system is expensive and the estimated €244 million ($331 million) installation and operation costs are unrealistic. Experts estimated the price tag at up to €874 million, and pointed out that no proper technological risk assessment has been carried out.

An even greater cause for concern is that the drones could warn Algerian or Libyan authorities about refugees leaving their shores. Bilateral agreements are planned with those countries -- at least, after the pilot stage. This could allow them to catch refugees and bring them home before they reach the European border. Algeria and Libya have often been criticized by human rights organizations for their treatment of refugees and doing the EU's dirty work.

After consultation between the Council of Europe, the powerful body representing the leaders of the 28 EU member states, and the European Parliament, Britain's proposal to give Eurosur data to the United States, however, has ruled out. That, apparently, was one step too far.

A week after the Lampedusa tragedy, another boat carrying migrants capsized between Sicily and Tunisia, yesterday. Rescuers have recovered 34 dead and 206 survivors.  Since 1999, more than 200,000 people from Africa and Asia have landed on the shores of Italy and Malta fleeing civil wars, hunger and misery. It is estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 people have perished making their way to Europe by sea. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees , 32,000 immigrants arrived on the shores of Italy and Malta this year. Two-thirds of them have applied for asylum.

To be sure, Fortress Europe's walls are becoming less and less porous -- with drones surveillance, radar and satellite controls in the Mediterranean Sea, European Union will not stop millions of people from fleeing the world's impoverished and war-ravaged nations. They will continue to sacrifice their family savings and risk their lives to get here. And for as long as these people have no future at home and can't even be certain they will survive the next day, they will continue to flee -- either to a place that is better or one that at least offers the prospect of a future.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Rescue Operation in Italy after the Lampedusa tragedy, a week ago..