Europe: Population movement - Information bulletin

The situation

The increase in the number of arrivals through the eastern Mediterranean route experienced in the first half of 2018 has triggered a substantial increase in secondary movements through the western Balkans – particularly in Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Authorities in Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina registered over 7,108 migrants between January and June 2018, which is almost three times more than the 2,600 registered in the same period of 2017. Notably, these figures only represent migrants who were registered by the authorities, and the total figures are estimated to be considerably higher.

In the Mediterranean Sea, the case of the rescue ship Aquarius, operated by the French-German NGO SOS Méditerranée and Doctors without Borders (MSF), has sparked international debate in the past four days.

Between 9 and 10 June, the ship picked up 629 migrants from inflatable boats off the coast of Libya. Among the people saved were 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 younger children and 7 pregnant women. The ship then sailed towards Italy to disembark, but the Italian government refused to open ports, asserting that the vessel should proceed to Malta. The government of Malta argued that it was not involved in the rescue mission overseen by the Italian coast guard, and Italy should be responsible according to international law.

On 11 June, the Council of Europe, IFRC and UNHCR, along with other organizations, called on governments to prioritize human lives and urged them to open ports for the Aquarius. Subsequently, the Spanish government offered the ship a “safe harbour” in the port of Valencia – a port 1,300 km (or a three-day journey) away from the location of the Aquarius. The Aquarius is currently sailing south of Sicily and is expected to enter the Sicilian channel this evening. The transfer of 51 women, 45 men and 10 children to Italian coastguard and navy vessels has been completed to date. On 13 June, Italian coastguard ship Diciotti, carrying more than 900 migrants who had been saved in multiple rescue operations off the coast of Libya, could dock in Sicily shortly after Italy had turned away a foreign vessel with rescued migrants on board.

IFRC personnel are on standby for deployment to support National Societies in the Balkans and Mediterranean. Communication lines are being maintained between the IFRC Regional Office for Europe and the National Societies that are preparing for and responding to the needs of migrants in the escalating situation.