Open Arms ship with 60 migrants aboard docks in Barcelona

A ship belonging to Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms docked in the port of Barcelona Wednesday with 60 migrants rescued off the Libyan coast on board, after Italy refused to take them in.

Open Arms ship with 60 migrants aboard docks in Barcelona
Photo: AFP

After a four-day crossing of the Mediterranean, the 60 migrants — 50 men, five women and five minors including three who were unaccompanied, according to the NGO — were due to be examined by Red Cross workers.   

They will then be transferred to shelters.

They “are doing well given the circumstances, there was no serious medical emergency and they're happy because we told them the government wanted them to come here,” said Anabel Montes, the NGO's project manager.  

The Open Arms ship arrived in Spain over two weeks after the Aquarius, a French NGO rescue vessel carrying 630 migrants, was given authorisation to dock in the eastern port of Valencia.

It had been refused access by Italy and Malta in what caused an international outcry.

Malta then let another charity rescue boat, Lifeline, dock with 23 migrants aboard.   


Photo: AFP

EU leaders have accused charities of playing into the hands of people smugglers with their missions rescuing migrants off the coast of Libya.   

On Wednesday, the Sea-Watch charity said Malta has blocked its reconnaissance plane “Moonbird” from taking off, after impounding its Sea-Watch 3 vessel on Monday.

“It's obviously in order to prevent rescues at sea,” Sea-Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told AFP.

The plane, which is operated in conjunction with a Swiss pilot relief group as well as backed by Germany's Protestant churches, is used to help spot migrants in distress at sea.   

“About 1000 would have drowned for sure, if our #Moonbird would not have found their sinking boats at the last second,” said Sea-Watch on Twitter.   

Faced with growing tensions in the EU over the issue, member states struck a deal on Friday to stem the arrival of migrants.   

The accord includes the setting up of secure centres for migrants in the bloc, “disembarkation platforms” outside the bloc and sharing out refugees among member states.

On Wednesday, Activists in Barcelona climbed the statue of 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus and hung up a giant orange life-vest to highlight the loss of migrant and refugee’s lives in the Mediterranean Sea.




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.