MEP says controversial migrant crackdown is ‘against organised crime’

Controversial Mos Maiorum police crackdown will identify main transit flows of illegal migrants, says MEP, who also warns against politicians using migration 'to score goals' with the electorate • Fundamental Rights Agency issues practical guidance to police as concerns arise over racial profiling

Nationalist MEP Therese Comodini Cachia has welcomed an EU-wide police operation being criticized by various human rights groups for targeting irregular migrants, while calling for more responsibility on the way migration is tackled by politicians.

The two-week police crackdown on irregular migrants – Mos Maiorum – was launched on 13 October by the Italian EU presidency, deploying thousands of police officers form 26 EU countries, Malta included, in the EU’s Schengen border-free zone at border crossings, railway stations, bus depots, and ports.

Comodini Cachia said that the operation was “against organised crime” and called for operational support on immigration.

“I welcome this intra-Schengen police operation as a means to provide the EU with information that is needed to ensure that we act more effectively to address organized crime which continues to thrive off the sufferance of those who would have already fallen victim to a destiny of the root cause of migration in their country,” she said, referring to human trafficking.

The plenary debate in Strasbourg on Mos Maiorum included contributions from MEPs who are critical of the police operation, which appears to be racially profiling migrants in a bid to find out whether they were carrying any documents. Questions arose about the lack of fundamental rights and democratic controls on this supranational EU operation: MEPs asked what the information collected was being used for, what was happening to apprehended migrants, and who had authorised the crackdown.

Benedetto Della Vedova, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy, said the human rights of those apprehended would be respected, and reiterated that the operation would "be of benefit above all to those who are vulnerable and at risk".

Some MEPs called the operation "a disgrace" while others called for an overhaul of the Dublin system, which places pressure on border countries by returning irregular migrants to their first point of entry on the EU border.

The concern of Labour MEP Miriam Dalli (S&D) was that under the Dublin system, migrants who entered from one country and caught in the Mos Maoirum operation would be sent back to the border country they came in from, such as Malta.

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola, while mentioning the need for the EU to offer legal migratory routes and safe return policies, railed against 'networks of evil' of human traffickers that targeted migrants. "Yes there is need for urgent action, but it is essential that every single action respects fundamental rights of people... We need to go after traffickers but fundamental rights must always be respected."

Metsola in fact pointed out that the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency had sent out practical guidance to help police respect fundamental rights when apprehending irregular migrants.

“I want to appeal to member states’ spirit of solidarity. I hope this sort of operation does not deliver a paradoxical resulting in increased responsibility for countries like Malta under the Dublin system. The ball is now in the court of the Council and the Commission – will you help member states carry out their responsibilities?”

The FRA in fact pointed out that the apprehending of migrants in the Mos Maiorum operation could have a disproportionate impact upon migrants' access to essential services, such as health, education and legal support.

"According to the EU’s Return Directive, any Member State decision to return a third-country national who is staying illegally in their country is subject to the principle of proportionality," the FRA said. "In other words, the legitimate aim of fighting irregular migration has to be balanced against fundamental rights concerns. These may include general public health considerations, the interest of the State in fighting crime, the interest in ensuring comprehensive birth registration, taking into account the best interests of the child, as well as other relevant fundamental rights set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights."

The FRA said that it was important that domestic protection procedures exist for asylum seekers, presumed victims of human trafficking as well as separated children. "Mechanisms must be in place at the borders to ensure that people who need to be protected are identified and channeled into appropriate procedures, and that they are adequately informed. Procedures should also be in place to identify survivors of torture and victims of other serious crime and for them to receive appropriate support."

Comodini Cachia: Mos Maiorum important for data collection

MEP Comodini Cachia said that countries like Malta required a proper EU operational support system which goes hand in hand with financial support, highlighting the need of an effective judicial cooperation as much as police cooperation.

“The issue of migration has often been used by politicians to score goals with a section of their electorate back home,” Comodini Cachia said, calling for more responsibility in politicians' words and actions.

The MEP underlined the benefits of Mos Maiorum to identify the main transit flows of illegal migrants through mainland, sea and air thoroughfares, saying this would strengthen cooperation in the fight against organized crime.

She called for improved links between EU internal and external policies on issues related to migration, while raising concern about the short duration of Mos Maiorum. “[It] therefore requires further action in ensuring consistency in the collection of data on migration flows combined with proper analysis to keep the EU abreast with the situations it seeks to counteract.”

Comodini Cachia, a human rights lawyer by profession, reiterated the importance of treating migrants humanely with full protection of their fundamental rights even in deportation and repatriation.

Criticism

Latin for “laws of the elders”, Mos Maiorum’s objective is to seize and possibly deport people without proper documents in an intelligence gathering exercise which the EU presidency says is necessary to “identify, prosecute and disrupt organised crime groups.”

Details such as age, nationality, date of birth, place and time of interception, means of transport, migrant routes and asylum applications, if any, will be included. Fake documents will be seized.

Police despatched at border points have to selectively stop people, usually of North African or African descent, to see whether they have valid papers.

Police will also try to obtain information on how much money a migrant has paid to enter the EU, their final point of destination, and the names of people who may have helped them along the way.

While it is believed that anywhere between 150,000 to 450,000 people without proper documents are in the EU, critics say the operation unfairly targets asylum seekers who cannot come in with a valid visa entry.

“Only a minority come with a visa valid for entry to the European Union,” German Green MEP Ska Keller told EUobserver.com.

Mos Maiorum’s final results will be discussed by the “Working Party on Frontiers”, a special committee in the Council – representing member states – on 11 December.

Aiding migrants evade crackdown

One app (link is external) is crowdsourcing and then mapping checkpoints used by police. On its site, Map Mos Maiorum says it hopes it will make the crackdown’s effects “visible to everyone”. 

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