Posts Tagged ‘migrants’

Italian coastguard staff break silence to express concern over government migrant policy

July 22, 2018
The decision by Italy’s new populist government to close the country’s ports to migrants saved at sea is causing unease within the heart of the Italian coastguard, some staff say, who until recently played a key role in rescue missions.
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Over the last decade the coastguard has coordinated the rescue of hundreds of thousands of migrants off the coast of Libya, in many cases pulling them from the water themselves in treacherous conditions.

But as of June, they have been ordered to transfer calls for help and reports of boats in distress to the Libyan capital Tripoli.

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Now — despite a culture of traditionally not criticizing government policy — a handful of coastguard staff have spoken out.

In an interview with Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore last week, a coastguard admiral criticized the government and in particular the nationalist interior minister Matteo Salvini’s new hardline stance.

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Matteo Salvini

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the admiral recalled that the Italian justice system had deemed Libya was not a “safe place” for rescued people to returned to. Many migrants trying to reach Europe are desperate not to go back to Libya as they potentially face abuse and rape in detention centres.

The admiral also denounced the absence of an official decree or act regarding the decision to close the country’s ports to vessels carrying migrants. In recent weeks the policy has left the coastguard powerless as several ships with rescued migrants aboard spent days stranded in the Mediterranean unable to dock in Italy.

READ ALSO: Italians send postcards to Salvini to protest migrant policy

Italians send postcards to Salvini to protest migrant policy
Image: Solo in Cartolina

On Wednesday, at an event marking the 153rd anniversary of the Italian Coastguard, admiral Giovanni Pettorino, coastguard commander, evoked the memory of Salvatore Todaro, a submariner who during WW2 took serious risks to rescue the survivors of a ship he had just sunk.

“In times of war, these things are not done,” a German admiral is said to have told Todaro at the time.

The coastguard commander concluded his speech given before Italy’s new political authorities, by recalling Todaro’s response: “We are Italian sailors. We have 2000 years of civility behind us and we do these things.”

Speaking anonymously to Catholic daily Avvenire and Radio Radicale, some coastguard officers said the priority to rescue those in danger was demonstrated earlier this month. On July 13th the coastguard was sent to keep watch on 450 migrants crammed into a fishing boat, but took part in a later rescue mission even though Rome had told them to let Malta take charge, the officers said.

Recalling the decision to intervene, the officers spoke of their “feeling of helplessness” which had built up in the weeks prior, as migrants attempted the perilous sea crossing.

The vast majority of Italy’s around 13,000 coastguard officers work along the country’s 8,000 km of coastline, but the institution says that more than 2,000 of them have had first-hand experience on vessels operating off Libya — where a large number of the migrant tragedies occur.

“At the moment, the atmosphere among the coastguard corps is not the best,” says Sergio Scandura, a journalist with Radio Radicale.

READ ALSO: Veteran Italian seaman speaks out about his experience of the migrant crisis

The month of June was the deadliest in the Mediterranean in recent years with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reporting some 564 deaths or disappearances, despite the fact that overall departures have dropped sharply since the summer of 2017.

Salvini’s hardline immigration stance appears, however, to be very popular among Italians: according to about half a dozen separate polls, some two-thirds of citizens approve his decision to close ports to rescued migrants.

His far-right League party — which governs the country as part of a coalition — has also experienced a boom in the polls: the League garnered 17 percent of the vote at the March general election, but opinion polls now suggest support of around 30 percent.

The new policy has come under fire from the country’s opposition politicians, however, and some of Italy’s prominent Catholic figures have also spoken out.

After two bodies were discovered in a deflated dinghy off Libya, along with one survivor suffering from shock and hypothermia on Tuesday, the Episcopal Conference of Italy released a statement denouncing a “tragedy which we cannot manage to get used to”.

“We warn unequivocally that to save our humanity from vulgarity and barbarism, we must protect life. Every life. From the most exposed, humiliated and trampled,” the bishops wrote.

By Fanny Carrier


Migrant rescue ship docks in Spain’s Mallorca — “One survivor, others dead.”

July 21, 2018


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Rescue workers from the Proactiva Open Arms Spanish NGO retrieve the bodies of an adult and a child amid the drifting remains of a destroyed migrant boat off the Libyan coast, on Tuesday July 17, 2018. A migrant rescue aid group accused Libya’s coast guard of abandoning three people in the Mediterranean Sea, including an adult woman and a toddler who died, after intercepting some 160 Europe-bound migrants on Monday near the shores of the northern African country. (Proactiva Open Arms via AP)

A Spanish rescue vessel carrying two dead bodies and a survivor from a migrant boat wreck has docked in a Mallorca port after a four-day journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

The aid group Proactiva Open Arms had found the bodies of a small boy and a woman on Tuesday and accused Libya’s coast guards of abandoning them after intercepting dozens of Europe-bound migrants.

Video posted by the group showing the floating bodies and the rescue of another woman still alive caused outrage across Europe.

The rescuers had refused to dock in Italy saying they didn’t trust how Italian authorities would handle an investigation into the wreckage. Rome and the European Union have trained and financed the Libyan coast guard to halt the flow of migration.

The Associated Press

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Merkel admits her government lost public trust over migration feud

July 21, 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded during her annual summer press conference on Friday that the recent government crisis over migration policy cost her coalition public trust that will have to be won back.

“Yes, I believe that is the case,” Merkel said in response to a question as to whether the spat between her conservative CDU and its hardline CSU sister party over whether to turn back migrants at the border had reduced her standing in the eyes of the public, as reported by dpa.

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Merkel said she believed the debate over migration policy was an important one to have, but that the tone of the discussion “was often very harsh, and I attach a very, very great importance to the language.”

The weeks-long row had threatened to topple her “grand coalition” government after just 100 days in power. German Interior Minister and CSU leader Horst Seehofer’s push to start turning away migrants put him on a collision course with the chancellor, who insisted on avoiding unilateral decisions in favor of solutions in accordance with other EU member states.

Merkel made an 11th-hour deal with Seehofer to hold asylum seekers arriving at the country’s southern border with Austria in transit centers while their status is checked. The deal pulled the coalition back from the brink of collapse after threats by Seehofer to resign and speculation about the end of the long-standing CDU-CSU conservative alliance. The third partner in Merkel’s coalition, the Social Democrats (SPD), voiced humanitarian concerns over the creation of closed centers for migrants, further fueling speculation about the government’s collapse.

A number of opinion polls conducted in the aftermath of the dispute showed a dip in public support for the government. Two out of every five Germans want Chancellor Angela Merkel to step down in light of an ongoing dispute within her government over how to handle asylum seekers at the country’s borders, a poll released Friday showed. Furthermore, 43 percent of respondents to a YouGov survey said that Merkel should make way for a successor, while roughly the same percentage (42 percent) said she should remain in office.

Fifteen percent declined to respond to the question.Tensions on the question of migration could flare again if Merkel fails to strike bilateral deals with other EU countries that she hopes will see German authorities returning asylum seekers to the members states they first registered in. Merkel has been fighting a battle at home and abroad against critics who accuse her of endangering European security with her welcoming approach to migrants.

Merkel’s conservative coalition is under pressure from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). The party received a surge in support since 2015 when well over 1 million people entered Europe, mostly fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and populist leaders in southern and eastern Europe have rejected her calls for a wholesale reform of Europe’s migration system.

Libya rejects EU plans for migrant centers on its territory

July 20, 2018

Libya rejects a European Union’s plan to establish migrant centers there to stop asylum seekers arriving in western Europe and it will not be swayed by financial inducements, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said.

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FILE PHOTO: Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj

Italy last month proposed reception and identification centers for migrant processing in Africa as a means of resolve divisions among European governments over how to handle an influx of more than 1 million migrants since 2015.

Libya is a main departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe often on flimsy inflatable boats provided by smugglers that often spring leaks or break down.

“We are absolutely opposed to Europe officially wanting us to accommodate illegal immigrants the EU does not want to take in,” Sarraj told German mass-selling daily Bild in an interview published on Friday.

He dismissed accusations that Libya’s coastguard has shot at aid workers trying to rescue migrants.

“We save hundreds of people off the coast of Libya every day – our ships are constantly on the move,” he said, adding that Libya was being left to rescue migrants from the Mediterranean alone and needed more technical and financial support.

The UN Migration Agency said 51,782 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea through 18 July. That total compares to 110,189 at this time last year and 244,722 at this time in 2016. The death toll to date this year is 1,490 it said.

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg


European Commission refers Hungary to ECJ for defying EU asylum laws

July 19, 2018

he European Commission’s legal request could lead to the EU’s top court imposing financial sanctions against Hungary. Brussels has also opened a new infringement procedure against Hungary’s “Stop Soros” laws.

Migrant transit center on the border between Hungary and Serbia (Getty Images/AFP/C. Segesvari)

The European Commission on Thursday stepped up legal proceedings against Hungary over its restrictive treatment of migrants and failure to comply with EU asylum rules.

The Commission announced it was turning to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over Hungary’s “non-compliance of its asylum and return legislation with EU law.”

It marks the third and final step in Brussels’ legal procedure against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, which has been ongoing since December 2015. Hungary’s could ultimately be slapped with financial sanctions should the ECJ confirm the Commission’s line.

The EU’s executive branch also opened up a new infringement procedure against Hungary over its new “Stop Soros” law, which criminalizes support for asylum-seekers.

Migrants in Hungary facing indefinite detention

In a statement, the Commission accused the Orban government of failing to provide migrants with effective access to asylum procedures.

Hungary only allows people to submit asylum applications at its “transit centers” on its border. Migrants are therefore often held and forced to wait in these special zones for significantly longer than the maximum four weeks allowed under EU rules. “The Commission considers that the indefinite detention of asylum-seekers in transit zones without respecting the applicable procedural guarantees is in breach of EU rules,” it said in a statement.

Budapest also stands accused of breaching EU guarantees for migrants sent back to their countries of origin and transit. According to the Commission, “migrants risk being returned without the appropriate safeguards” under Hungarian legislation.

Read more: Hungary joins US in refusing UN’s safe global migration compact

Hungary’s ‘Stop Soros’ laws

Brussels also denounced the Hungarian government for its “Stop Soros” law, which seeks to restrict non-governmental organizations supported by US financier George Soros.

One of the most controversial aspects of the new legislation is the criminalization of providing assistance to migrants with their asylum and residence applications. In extreme cases, activists and NGO employees face up to a year in prison for “assisting illegal migration” into Hungary.

Read more: George Soros — selfless philanthropist or liberal demagogue?

The Commission said the “Stop Soros” bill curtails asylum claimants’ rights to approach national, international and non-governmental organizations for help. It also introduces several new criteria to submit asylum applications that limit migrant’s rights and infringe on EU laws.

Budapest has two months to respond to the European Commission’s letter of notice.

dm/ng (Reuters, AP, dpa)

Italy: ‘We are no longer REFUGEE CAMP of the world’

July 17, 2018

ITALY has warned it will no longer act as the “refugee camp of the world” in a stinging migrant crisis attack on the EU.

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As the EU’s new migrant redistribution policy comes into effect, Italy’s new hardline interior minister hailed a victory.

This week 500 Libyan migrants have arrived in Europe. They will be taken in by Germany, France and Malta.

Interior Minister and La Lega head Matteo Salvini today hailed the scheme as a success and said the burden on the country was being eased thanks to the new proposals.

He said: “Italy is no longer the refugee camp of the world. There is now a government that protects the interests of the citizens, and now everyone in the EU has realised that we cannot be the only ones to accept migrants.

“But the objective is to stop departures, not the division at European level.”

He said Rome would be steadfast in its refusal of migrants and the country would only stick to agreed quotas.

Mr Salvini said: “Firmness and coherence produce results, the time of fearful governments has ended. We have saved women and children.

“An excellent team work of the whole government, thanks to our premier Conte.”

Matteo Salvini, Minister of Interior during his speech at the Lega Nord Meeting on July 1, 2018 in Pontida, Bergamo, ItalyGETTY

Matteo Salvini has hailed the new shared migrant plan and said Italy is “no longer a refugee camp”

“The next goal, to stop once and for all the mafia of human trafficking, will be to bring back the immigrants to their places of origin.

“In Italy, and in Europe, only those who have permission are allowed.”

Referring to the two Open Arms ships that are returning to Libya, he said: “Save time, effort and money. Be aware that Italian ports are not available”.

Mr Salvini’s statement follows a deal being struck over the weekend, which saw Italy agreeing to take 50 of 450 migrants in to the country if the rest of the bloc followed suit.

Guiseppe Conte, the Prime Minister of Italy and a relative political newcomer in Italian politics, thanked countries such as France and Germany for agreeing to share the responsibility on Sunday.

Mr Conte said on Twitter: “This is the solidarity and responsibility that we have always asked of Europe and that now, after the results obtained at the last European Council, are beginning to become a reality.”

But he condemned Austria for remaining silent on the issue, while Visegrad nations such as Hungary and Czech Republic, refused to open their borders.

On Sunday, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis refused to take part in the shared responsibility initiative, saying the new proposals were “a road to hell”.

Czech Prime Minister and billionaire businessman Andrej Babis took issue with the plan and wrote on Twitter: “I received the letter from the Italian PM Conte asking the EU to take care of part of the 450 people now at sea and such an approach is the road to hell”.

Read the rest:

Italy’s request to take migrants is “road to hell”: Czech PM

July 15, 2018

Billionaire Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Sunday he saw Italy’s request that EU peers take some of 450 migrants stranded at sea on two Frontex vessels as “a road to hell.”

While France and Malta have already agreed to take 50 each, the Czech government chief held on to his anti-migrant stance which he shares with other leaders in the region including Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

© POOL/AFP/File | Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s minority government won a confidence vote this week

“Just like the other EU prime ministers, I got a copy of a letter from Italian Prime Minister (Giuseppe) Conte… in which he asks the EU to take care of some of 450 people now stranded at sea,” Babis tweeted.

“Such an approach is a road to hell,” added the 63-year-old Slovak-born populist, whose minority coalition government won a confidence vote Thursday thanks to backing from the Communist Party.

This approach “only motivates smugglers and increases their income. Our country won’t take any migrants,” Babis added, calling for “a principle of voluntariness.”

“We have to help migrants in the countries from which they come, beyond Europe’s borders, to stop them from setting out on their journey,” said Babis.

Migration is a hot political issue in the Czech Republic, an EU and NATO member of 10.6 million people, where just a handful of refugees have settled since the migrant crisis of 2015.

In an April poll by the Czech Academy of Sciences, 58 percent of Czechs said the country should accept no migrants from war-ravaged regions.

Some 35 percent of its 1,115 respondents said it should accept them temporarily and only three percent were willing to let them stay in the country.


France, Malta to take quarter of Italy’s 450 rescued ship migrants

July 15, 2018

Italy said Saturday that Malta and France had agreed to take 100 of the 450 migrants who were rescued from a fishing boat in the Mediterranean, claiming victory in the latest standoff but demanding even greater European solidarity.

Premier Giuseppe Conte said that Malta and France had come forward in response to his request to all 27 other members of the European Union to share the burden of welcoming the migrants.

“It’s an important result,” Conte wrote on Facebook, along with a copy of the letter he wrote to top European Commission officials demanding that other European countries make good on their verbal pledges to help Italy deal with the influx.

© Giovanni Isolino, AFP | Would be immigrants wait to disembark in the port of Catania, on the island of Sicily on March 21, 2017

The migrants had been aboard a large fishing boat when the Italian and Maltese coast guard control centers began squabbling Friday over who was responsible for taking them in.

Malta said it had fulfilled its obligations by monitoring the vessel to see if it needed help. Malta says the ship’s crew made clear they didn’t need help and were heading toward the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Italy insisted Malta should have opened its ports to the ship.

Early Saturday, the migrants were taken off the boat and transferred onto a rescue vessel from the EU border patrol agency Frontex and a ship from the Italian border police.

The Maltese government said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had agreed to participate in the migrant relocation initiative, similar to one involving the Lifeline ship of a German aid group several weeks ago. But he stressed that Malta at all times followed international law.

In just one month in office, Italy under the hard-line, anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has upended years of Italian policy toward migrants by refusing them entry.

Italy in general feels that the European Union has left it alone to handle the tens of thousands of migrants coming across the sea every year. Salvini is pressing the EU to step up and take in the migrants who land in Italy and is trying to help Libya prevent them from leaving.

Aid officials say migrants who are being returned to Libya are at risk of facing abuse, rape, beatings and slavery.


Italy rescues migrants, asks other countries to host them

July 14, 2018

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is trying to find countries willing to take in some 450 migrants rescued from an overcrowded ship in the Mediterranean on Saturday, a source at the premier’s office said.

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FILE PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte 

A ship operated by EU border agency Frontex and a vessel owned by Italy’s tax police picked up the migrants near the Italian island of Linosa and more than 100 nautical miles from Malta, which rejected pressure from Rome on Friday to rescue them.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is leading a high-profile campaign to exclude humanitarian rescue ships from Italian ports and has said the migrants will not be allowed to land in Italy.

Eight of the migrants who needed medical assistance were taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa for treatment, the source said.

The source, who asked not to be named, said Salvini had spoken with Conte on the telephone about how to resolve the situation.

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“The migrants could be distributed immediately among European countries, or Italy would contact Libya to send them back to where they came from,” the source said.

A third option would be to leave the migrants on the ships temporarily while their asylum requests are considered, the source added.

The source said Conte would write to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and other European heads of state to urge them to apply the European principles on migrants that were restated at a summit in June.

“Italy is no longer willingly to take on, alone, a problem that affects all European countries,” the source said.

Late on Friday, Malta said the people traveling on the packed vessel were Italy’s responsibility.

In two similar stand-offs between Rome and Valletta since Italy’s new populist government took office, migrants ended up in Spain and in Malta.

According to international law, refugees cannot be returned to a place where their lives are in danger. Both the United Nations and EU have acknowledged that Libya is not safe.

Earlier this week, however, Salvini asked EU interior ministers to declare Libya a place of safety where migrants can be taken after they are picked up at sea. German, Austrian and French ministers agreed it could be done, Salvini said.

Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Helen Popper



450 migrants stranded at sea as Italy, Malta dig heels in

July 14, 2018

Another 450 migrants on board two military vessels were stranded at sea on Saturday as Italy and Malta locked horns over whose responsibility it was to offer them safe harbour.

The boats, which are currently in Italian waters, had initially set sail from Libya in a single wooden vessel which was identified early Friday while passing through waters under Malta’s jurisdiction.

But Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has authority over the country’s ports, on Friday refused to let them dock in his latest show of intransigence over migrants stranded at sea.

And on Saturday, as those on board were transferred to two other vessels, he insisted the boats be instructed to “head south, to Libya or Malta”.

© AFP | Late on Thursday, an Italian coastguard vessel carrying 67 migrants was allowed to dock in Sicily

“We need an act of justice, of respect and of courage to fight against these human traffickers and generate a European intervention,” he said in talks with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, his remarks carried by Italian news agencies.

In an exchange of messages, emails and phonecalls on Friday, Rome had tried to push Valetta to take responsibility for those on board the wooden boat.

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Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

But Malta said the ship was much closer to the Italian island of Lampedusa, insisting that those on board only wanted to reach Italy.

On Saturday morning, they were transferred to two military vessels but where the vessels will dock remains unclear.

Eight women and children were taken to Lampedusa for medical treatment.

The new standoff kicked in just hours after 67 migrants were allowed to disembark from an Italian coast guard ship in Sicily late on Thursday.

Salvini, who took office when Italy’s new populist government came to power on June 1, wants to block any further migrant arrivals by boat and has banned charity rescue ships from docking in Italian ports, accusing them of aiding human traffickers.

Last month, the French rescue ship Aquarius and the German boat Lifeline, who between them were carrying hundreds of migrants, were forced to divert to Spain and Malta respectively after Italy turned them away.

Italy, Greece and Spain have been on the front line of the migrant crisis, with Europe deeply divided over how to share the burden of the massive influx of people seeking to create a new life in Europe.