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Eight Iraqis saved from refrigerated truck in Spain

Eight Iraqis, including four children, were found crammed inside a refrigerated truck in a service area in eastern Spain, police said on Saturday, adding that they had been trying to reach Britain.

Eight Iraqis saved from refrigerated truck in Spain
The Iraqis had been trying to reach Britain. Photo: Robert Atanasovski/AFP

The four adults and four children, aged two, five, eight, and 10, were all in good health, Spanish police told AFP on Saturday.

“After we received an anonymous call, yesterday (Friday), agents from the Spanish police opened the back of a refrigerated truck in a lay-by on the A23 motorway and found eight Iraqis inside, all in perfect health,” police said.

None of the migrants carried identification, but police said they were able to determine that all were Iraqi nationals.

The occupants included one family of two adults and three children, another family of a woman with a two-year-old daughter, and a man travelling alone.

It wasn't immediately clear how long they had spent inside the truck, but police said they were on their way to Britain when their truck was intercepted in the eastern province of Teruel.

“We do not know yet how these Iraqi families came to be in Spain,” police said.

The driver, a 37-year-old Romanian national, was arrested on charges of human trafficking.

According to Spanish media reports, a family coming from Iraq was found in a refrigerated truck on the same motorway and in the same province last month.

On August 27th, the decomposing bodies of 71 people were found inside a truck at the side of an Austrian motorway in a discovery which sparked a horrified response across Europe as it struggles with its worst migration crisis since World War II.

Investigations revealed that the migrants – mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – had been picked up at Hungary's border with Serbia and transported to Austria via Budapest.

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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