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IMMIGRATION

‘Scuba skeleton’ sparks Morocco ID mystery

The discovery of a wetsuit-clad skeleton floating in the sea near Alicante, Spain, with flippers, phone, waterproofed clothes, a Moroccan passport and a wad of cash has triggered speculation as to the victim's identity, origin and cause of death.

'Scuba skeleton' sparks Morocco ID mystery
Police have speculated that the mystery victim may have perished while trying to swim from Morocco to Gibraltar. Photo: Jose Luis Roca/AFP

The crew of the yacht Yaiza found the "skeletonized body" adrift in the Ibiza canal, a stretch of sea which separates Alicante on mainland Spain with the island of Ibiza, according to Spanish national daily El País on Tuesday.

A Civil Guard vessel sailed to collect the body and take it for a forensic autopsy at the Alicante Institute of Legal Medicine.

Investigators at the Civil Guard headquarters are now busily attempting to trace the victim's identity through the items found with the body.

Clues include a black-and-grey wetsuit, flippers, and a backpack bearing the logo 'Keep Moving".

Inside the backpack, were a mobile phone, clothes in perfectly waterproofed packaging, a passport, and a bundle of cash worth €540 ($700).

Despite the scuba-type apparel, no oxygen bottles were found.

Currents and sea creatures are believed to be responsible for stripping the body of flesh, of which "not an ounce" remained.

The passport was issued to a Moroccan man, Abdelaziz Elfayafi, born January 8, 1989 in Imzouren.

Imzouren is a city of 100,000 residents in the Rif region of northern Morocco, near Al Hoceima, from where thousands have emigrated in recent years to seek a better life abroad.

It has not been confirmed that the body belongs to Elfayafi, but police sources suggested that the victim may have been an immigrant attempting to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain.

The body could have been swept by currents up Spain's east coast to the location where it was discovered.

Elfayi's profile on professional networking site LinkedIn shows that he held an Accountancy and Information Management degree.

His curriculum, posted on a number of internet sites, indicated that he spoke Arabic, French, English and Dutch.

His online data was last updated a month ago.

Civil Guard sources indicated that as no record of Elfayi exists in the Spanish database they would be continuing their enquiries with the cooperation of Moroccan authorities.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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