Posts Tagged ‘migrants’

Tunisian Navy Rescues 78 Migrants Off Coast

September 22, 2017

TUNIS — Tunisia’s navy rescued 78 migrants including two girls after their vessel en route to Europe took on water off the coast of Chebba and was stranded for three days, the defense ministry said on Friday.

Human traffickers increasingly use Tunisia as a launch pad for migrants heading for Europe after Libya’s coastguard aided by armed groups tightened its controls.

“Naval forces rescued 78 illegal Tunisian migrants 70 kilometers east of the coast of Chebba on board a boat that was damaged and leaking water,” the ministry said in statement, adding that nobody died in the incident.

Tunisia has been praised for its democratic progress after a 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali but successive governments have failed to create jobs for young people, some of whom head to Europe to seek work.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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Ship Carrying Migrants Sinks Off Turkish Coast, Kills Four: Coast Guard

September 22, 2017

ANKARA — Four people drowned when a fishing boat carrying migrants sank off the Turkish coast in the Marmara Sea on Friday, the coast guard said in a statement.

The boat sank off the northwestern province of Kocaeli shortly after calling for help. The statement said 38 migrants were rescued. The coastguard was seeking 15 to 20 others and was being assisted by two helicopters, planes and commercial boats.

The origin of the migrants and their destination was not immediately clear.

(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Some 100 Migrants Missing After Shipwreck Off Libya’s Coast

September 21, 2017

CAIRO — The Libyan coast guard says some 100 migrants are missing after a shipwreck off the country’s west coast.

Spokesman Ayoub Gassim told The Associated Press on Thursday that the damaged vessel was found the day before, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) offshore from the western coastal city of Zuwara. The migrant boat had set out earlier from the nearby city of Sabratha, bound for Europe.

Gassim says the vessel was carrying some 130 migrants, mostly Africans, of whom around 30 were rescued.

Libya has become one of the main migrant transit points to Europe as traffickers have exploited the chaos following the 2011 uprising. The European Union has given tens of millions of euros to Libyan authorities to try to curb the flow of migrants.


In Libya, Islamic State Seeks Revival in Gateway to Europe

September 18, 2017

Small cells of fighters are operating in the country a year after the group lost its main Libyan stronghold

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Libyans attended a funeral west of Tripoli last month for people killed in an attack the previous day that was claimed by Islamic State.Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Image

Islamic State has formed a number of clandestine cells in Libya a year after losing its main stronghold in the chaotic North African country, part of the militant group’s efforts to regroup on Europe’s doorstep.

The small cells, some comprised of up to several dozen fighters, have set up new bases outside Libyan towns in the past several months and started making money by hijacking commercial trucks and extorting migrant smuggling rings, according to Libyan and European security officials.

Islamic State has also told fighters to go to Libya from Syria, where a U.S.-led coalition is pushing the terror group from its de facto capital of Raqqa, according to a defector and security officials.

“They consider Libya to be the main entrance to Europe,” said Abu Baara al-Ansari, a Syrian who defected from Islamic State in June.

Mr. al-Ansari said he worked in Raqqa for Islamic State in the office that tracked visitors to the group’s territory. He is now in Turkey and was interviewed via the Telegram messaging system.

The group’s efforts to stage a comeback in Libya after losing control of the coastal city of Sirte last year have sparked concern among European officials. Attackers who traveled from Syria to Europe have taken part in a number of deadly terrorist attacks in recent years, including in Paris and Brussels.

A resurgent Islamic State “is definitely becoming a problem in Libya,” a European security official said. The terror group can raise revenue in Libya by tapping lucrative rackets and take advantage of weapon stockpiles in a country that is both vast and politically unstable, he said.

Members of Libya’s Presidential Council, which presides over the Tripoli government, didn’t respond to requests for comment about Islamic State’s activities in the country.

Islamic State said two years ago that it planned to infiltrate migrant groups and carry out attacks in Europe. Tens of thousands of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya and arrived in Italy this year.

Salman Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent, blew himself up outside a concert in Manchester in May, killing 22 people. Abedi had recently returned from a trip to Libya, and European security officials say the type of bomb he used indicates he may have been trained by Islamic State fighters there.

Forces allied with the U.N.-backed government in Libya fought Islamic State fighters in the coastal city of Sirte last year.Photo: Goran Tomasevic/REUTERS

Since the death of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, warring factions have carved Libya into fiefs and fought over its oil fields, leaving the economy in tatters.

“Daesh is exploiting the security vacuum,” said an intelligence officer from the city of Misrata who works with forces loyal to Tripoli, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Militias from Misrata—who support the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord in the capital, Tripoli—led the successful campaign to oust Islamic State from Sirte.

An estimate by the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees American military operations on the continent, indicates there are only 500 Islamic State members active in Libya now. That is down from a peak of about 3,000 fighters when the group held Sirte in 2016.

But other officials said it is difficult to know how many Islamic State fighters are currently in Libya. And they say the group’s ability to operate relatively unhindered around the country raises concerns.


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Since driving Islamic State out of Sirte, the U.S. has seen “a marked decrease” in the number of foreign fighters traveling to or from the conflict in Libya, according to a U.S. State Department official.

European security officials and the Islamic State defector say the group’s fighters—including Syrians and Iraqis, as well as Libyans—have been trying to enter Libya in hopes of reaching Europe to launch attacks.

Islamic State members have in the past flown from Turkey to Sudan before going overland to Libya, according to European security officials. Meanwhile, Libyan forces in the south are monitoring a group of Islamic State recruits who made their way to Sudan from Syria and are trying to cross into Libya, according to a security official from the area with forces loyal to Tripoli.

Sudan is aware some fighters have taken advantage of its porous western border to infiltrate Libya, according to Rabie Abdelaty, who heads the political bureau at Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party. He says the government has deployed forces to stem the infiltration and to crack down on cross-border crime.

Libyans were among those who trained at Islamic State’s weapons lab in Raqqa, according to another Islamic State defector. Some of the devices were intended both for battlefield use and for carrying out attacks in Europe, said the defector, who said that he was involved in their design and that he left the group in 2016. Components are cheap and easy to get, and Islamic State videos show how to assemble them, he added.

Forces allied with the U.N.-backed government patrolled last month on the outskirts of Sirte.Photo: ismail zitouny/Reuters

In Libya, a rival government operates in the east of the country, where a group allied with Islamic State was ousted earlier this year from the city of Benghazi. In late May, around the time of the ouster, two members of the allied group were dispatched by Islamic State from Benghazi to go to Istanbul, according to a third person who said he had defected from Islamic State and who said he remains in contact with the group in Raqqa.

They were directed to make their way from Istanbul to Athens and to wait for orders about carrying out an attack in Europe, the defector said. A European security official said last month the movements of the two men were being monitored.

Islamic State fighters who escaped Sirte fled to other parts of Libya such as Bani Walid, west of Sirte. The fighters remained hidden in the surrounding valleys for months, but now have started to “set up checkpoints at times and hijack trucks and any goods in them,” said the intelligence officer from Misrata.

Other fighters escaped to the southwestern town of Ghat, near the Algerian border. The group has since expanded its presence in that part of the country to the desert oasis of Ubari, with fighters holding regular meetings in the town and moving freely in the vicinity of Libya’s largest oil field, according to the security official from southern Libya.

In May, Islamic State seized three fuel trucks en route to Jufra, a district between Sirte and Ubari, according to an Aug. 22 report from the U.N. Security Council.

Islamic State has forged business ties in the area with a local Islamist warlord who specializes in fuel smuggling, according to a European security official.

Islamic State also has a presence in other Libyan cities and towns, and groups that can range from five to 50 fighters roam outside urban areas, the intelligence officer from Misrata said. Those groups often travel in a small number of cars to try to avoid becoming a target, he said.

In January, the U.S. launched airstrikes on Islamic State training camps southwest of Sirte and other targets in Libya, killing dozens of militants, the Pentagon said.

—Ben Kesling, Nicholas Bariyo, Nour Malas, Nour Alakraa and Jenny Gross contributed to this article.

Write to Benoit Faucon at
Migrants trying to reach a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea, north of Sabratha, Libya, in July.Credit Santi Palacios/Associated Press

CAIRO — As they scrambled to curb the flow of migrants, Europe’s leaders wrestled with a vexing question: How to stop the ruthless Libyan militias that control the human-trafficking trade from dispatching countless boats across the Mediterranean?

Now Italy, after striking out on its own, appears to have found a solution — one that, though wildly successful for the moment, is provoking questions about its methods and the humanitarian costs.

Arrivals of migrants in Italy have plunged in recent months. In August alone, they fell 85 percent, leading some to charge that Italy was paying off Libya’s most rapacious warlords at the risk of further destabilizing the fractured North African country, while condemning migrants to misery.

Human rights activists liken the grimy conditions at militant-run detention centers inside Libya to concentration camps, while the top United Nations human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, recently warned that the Italian-led tactics were “very thin on the protection of the human rights of migrants inside Libya and on the boats.”

Italian ministers deny giving even a single euro to Libya’s armed militias. Instead, they attribute their success to painstaking diplomacy and other inducements, like the possibility of rejoining a regularly paid, national army.

“We approached the issue slowly, slowly, Italian style,” Mario Giro, deputy foreign minister, said in an interview. “We spoke to everyone.”

Many are skeptical: Money and the threat of brute force are the usual considerations when it comes to persuading the fractious militias that hold sway across Libya. But if Italy’s aggressive new approach to migration includes dealing with unsavory strongmen, it would not be the first time.

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Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan for a successful Brexit

September 16, 2017


Boris Johnson has laid out his vision for Britain’s departure from the European Union. Here is his 10-point plan for a successful Brexit.

Britain will spend £350million a week on the NHS

“Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week. It would be a fine thing as many of us have pointed out if a lot of that money went on the NHS, provided we use that cash injection to modernise and make the most of new technology…

“One of the advantages of investing in the NHS – if we combine that investment with reform – is that we can turbo charge the role of our health service in driving bioscience.”

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The UK will not pay to access the EU single market

“We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours.”

The door will not be slammed on migrants

“We will have an immigration [system] that suits the UK, not slamming the door – but welcoming the talent we need, from the EU and around the world. Of course we will make sure that business gets the skills it needs, but business will no longer be able to use immigration as an excuse not to invest in the young people of this country.”

Taxes will be reformed – and the ‘tampon tax’ axed

“We should seize the opportunity of Brexit to reform our tax system. Andy Haldane the Bank of England’s chief economist argued in 2015 that our system is currently skewed so as to discourage investment.

“He believes that reform could raise output by around 20 per cent.

“Outside the EU there are obvious opportunities – in agriculture, fisheries, in the setting of indirect taxation.

“At the stroke of a pen, the Chancellor will be able to cut VAT on tampons; often demanded by parliament but – absurdly – legally impossible to deliver.”

Britain will be able to become a “champion” for free trade

“We will be able to get on and do free trade deals, to campaign for free trade that has lifted billions out of poverty and that so badly needs a new champion.”

Old friendships with Commonwealth countries will be renewed

“We will be able to intensify old friendships around the world, not least with fast-growing commonwealth economies, and to build a truly Global Britain.”

Brexit will be a success

“This country will succeed in our new national enterprise, and will succeed mightily.”

Foreigners could be prevented from buying homes in Britain

“It is often pointed out that the price of housing in certain parts of London may be increased by buyers from overseas. But there is no point in putting any kind of tax on foreign buyers, because the inhabitants of 27 other countries cannot legally be treated as foreign.”

Britain will borrow more to pay for the “infrastructure it deserves”

“We should use the opportunities afforded by historically low interest rates to give this country the infrastructure it deserves – and especially in London, the most dynamic and productive urban economy in Europe, where things seem frankly to have gone a bit quiet since the departure of the last Mayor.”

Work on gene therapy will be accelerated

“We will be able to accelerate our work on gene therapy – an infant science, now taking its first faltering steps, whose potential is gigantic.

Merkel Warns Hungary of Financial Consequences of Defying EU on Migrants

September 15, 2017

BERLIN — Hungary could face financial consequences if it defies a European court ruling ordering it to accept its allocated share of refugees arriving in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a newspaper interview.

The remarks suggest a hardening of Germany’s line on the right-wing Hungarian government of Viktor Orban, who has been outspoken in his opposition to an agreement that each European Union country should agree to take in a quota of refugees.

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Viktor Orban

“Anyone who rejects this solidarity must accept that this will not be without consequences, including for negotiations over future financial support,” Merkel said in the interview with Nordwest Zeitung published on Friday.

Merkel’s tougher line, which comes a week before parliamentary elections in which the conservative is running for a fourth term as Chancellor, mirrors the position of Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic rival, who has long been a fierce critic of Orban’s nativist style.

More than 1.5 million migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe since 2015, many fleeing war in the Middle East.

The EU’s highest court ruled on Sept. 6 that member states must take in a share of the refugees, dismissing complaints by Slovakia and Hungary and reigniting an east-west row that has shaken the Union’s cohesion.

A suspension of financial support could have serious fiscal consequences for Hungary, which has prospered on the back of large claims on EU cohesion and development funds.

Hungary has been allocated 25 billion euros ($30 billion) in European Structural and Investment funds via a range of programs over the period 2014-2020, according to the European Union website.

Orban, who has built border fences and made keeping out migrants a key plank of his re-election campaign for next year, this week announced plans for a “national consultation” on Brussels’ plans to distribute asylum-seekers in the EU.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

EU mulls longer Schengen checks to fight terror

September 14, 2017


© AFP/File | Travel in the 26-country Schengen area — which includes 22 EU countries plus non-EU Iceland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — is normally free of border and passport controls

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The EU said Thursday it may allow countries in Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone to carry out internal border checks for an extra two years to tackle terror threats.Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said there was no longer any need for temporary checks that several countries reintroduced last year as a result of Europe’s migration crisis.

But he said the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, would present plans soon to “update” the rules when it came to security reasons, with EU sources saying that could happen in October.

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“The Schengen borders code may not be sufficiently adapted to address the evolving security challenges,” Avramopoulos told a news conference in Brussels after talks with EU interior ministers.

Avramopoulos cited recent deadly terror attacks in Spain and Finland, which have followed others in France, Belgium, Germany and other countries.

Travel in the 26-country Schengen area — which includes 22 EU countries plus non-EU Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein — is normally free of border and passport controls.

Under current rules, countries can reinstate ID checks at their borders with other Schengen-area states for six months when there is a terror threat, extending that for up to two years in exceptional cases.

The new plans would allow them to bring back checks for renewable two-year periods, up to a maximum total of four years, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by AFP.

France, Germany, Austria, Denmark and Norway back the plan, saying the current limits are inadequate against a “long-term terrorist threat.”

France reinstated checks for security reasons the day after the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, but they are due to expire at the end of next month.

Border checks introduced by Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway in May 2016 to deal with a huge influx of migrants into Europe from Syria and North Africa are set to expire in November.

The reintroduction of so many checks raised concerns about the collapse of the Schengen zone, seen by many in Europe as a symbol of unity and freedom.

School segregation in Europe ‘form of discrimination’

September 12, 2017


© AFP/File | The open-air classroom in northeast Paris for migrants waiting for a decision by the French government on their asylum claim

STRASBOURG (FRANCE) (AFP) – School segregation in Europe is “one of the worst forms of discrimination”, the region’s top rights watchdog said in a report published Tuesday.

Many European countries continue to exclude disabled children, Roma children and migrants or refugees from mainstream schools, according to the report by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

“School segregation harms children’s learning opportunities and is a clear injustice against minority and other vulnerable groups of people, which also perpetuates their marginalisation,” said Nils Muiznieks.

Countries have an obligation to combat segregation in schools, but the reality is very different, the report said.

Political leaders and education authorities can sometimes be reluctant to bring about changes that alter the existing privilege in education, it added.

The report made a series of recommendations aimed at the leaders of the 47 Council of Europe member states, including strengthening the law.

“The legislation should be comprehensive and explicit enough to address situations in which tradition, freedom of choice, parental consent or urban segregation serve to legitimise discrimination and high concentrations of Roma children, children of migrant background or children with disabilities in specific schools,” the report said.

A move towards more inclusive education systems will also require a change in attitude.

Parents of the majority population often prefer to send their children to schools without minority and migrant groups.

The report also called for a ban on the use of tests as a selection tool and suggests assigning the best teachers to the most difficult schools.

EU Border Agency Chief Sees Spike in Spain Migrant Arrivals

September 11, 2017

BRUSSELS — The head of the European Union’s border agency says the number of migrants arriving in Europe through Spain has more than doubled this year.

Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri said Monday that “we have registered almost 14,000 arrivals in Spain, arriving from Morocco, from the western part of the Maghreb.”

Leggeri said it “means that the figures were multiplied by more than 2.5 this year” compared to the same January-August period last year. He said most migrants were Moroccan nationals.

He says arrivals to Europe from Libya through the central Mediterranean have dropped but could he not say whether the rise in Spain was due to tougher migrant controls around Libya. He says, as of now, “Frontex has no indication of such displacement.”

Cyprus rescues 305 Syrian refugees in two boats

September 10, 2017


© AFP/File | A Syrian refugee walks between tents at a reception centre in Kokkinotrimithia outide the Cypriot capital Nicosia on March 7, 2017

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cypriot authorities brought ashore more than 300 Syrian refugees early on Sunday after spotting two boats in open water off the northwest coast of the Mediterranean island, police said.It was one of the largest waves of migrants to be received by Cypriot authorities in a single day since civil war erupted in Syria in 2011.

The 305 migrants, who included 30 women and 73 children, said they had set off from the Turkish port of Mersin and paid up to $2,000 (1,600 euros) each for the crossing.

Police arrested a 36-year-old man on suspicion of piloting one of the boats. He was expected to appear before a court in the resort town of Paphos later on Sunday.

Police said the migrants were in good health and would be transported to a reception centre outside the capital Nicosia. A woman and her 10-month-old baby were taken to hospital as a precaution.

Cyprus, an EU member state located 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Syria’s Mediterranean coast, has not seen the massive inflow of migrants experienced by Turkey and Greece.

Since September 2014, however, more than a dozen migrant boats have reached the island, bringing in nearly 1,500 migrants including the latest arrivals.

Some were trying to join relatives on the island while others were seeking refuge in Europe.