JO Hermes – Situational Update


Warsaw, February 21, 2012 — Since the beginning of 2012, some 130 migrants have been detected in the operational area of JO Hermes, south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. The migrants, Tunisian and Somali nationals, used small and medium-sized rubber boats to reach Italy. This is a dramatic decrease in detections in comparison with the same period last year when over 5000 Tunisians had arrived on Lampedusa by mid-February. In 2011 this increased migratory flow triggered the launch of the Hermes operation, which began on 20 February 2011 and will continue until the end of 2012.

Last year the Central Mediterranean route leading from Tunisia and Libya to the Italian Pelagic Islands was one the main entry routes to Europe for irregular migration. From the beginning of 2011 until the end of the year over 56 000 migrants arrived in Italy, the majority on the small island of Lampedusa located only about 125 nautical miles from the north coast of Africa. The departure points and nationalities of migrants changed significantly throughout the year, due to the volatile situation in North Africa.

The migratory flow form Tunisia reached a peak in March 2011 when 191 boats arrived in a single month. By the end of the first quarter of 2011 the number of Tunisian migrants had reached 20 000. The situation changed dramatically at the beginning of April. With the outbreak of civil war in Libya the number of arrivals from Tunisia dropped but Lampedusa experienced a new migratory wave, this time from Libya. Between April and August over 25 000 migrants arrived. Originally from the Horn of Africa, sub-Saharan and Asian countries, they had been living and working in Libya when the conflict broke out. Unlike migrants from Tunisia, who were mostly young, single men, the boats from Libya carried families that included small children, pregnant women and the elderly. The numbers of arrivals from Libya dropped dramatically in August following the liberation of Tripoli by the National Transitional Council and from September until December only two more vessels arrived from Libya. Overall in 2011 some 400 boats reached Lampedusa, including 300 boats from Tunisia and over 100 from Libya.

Migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean pay criminal networks to organise their trip to Europe. The fees charged by facilitators vary depending on the route the migrant is taking and range from several hundred to several thousand Euros. Arresting facilitators, who regularly put people on boats that put their lives at risk, is one of the goals of the operation. From the beginning of the operation until February 2012, 165 facilitators were arrested by the Italian authorities.

Unseaworthy and overcrowded boats as well as difficult weather conditions on the open seas make a migrants’s trip across the Mediterranean very dangerous. Last year vessels participating in the Hermes operation saved over 20 000 migrants at sea during search and rescue operations. Despite these dramatic efforts many migrants did not make it to their final destination. In 2011, according to UN sources, over 1500 migrants lost their lives in the Central Mediterranean, making it one of the highest death tolls for many years.