SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

Spain overtakes Italy as sea route destination for migrants

The number of migrants arriving in Spain by boat is surging, the UN said Tuesday, and it has now surpassed Italy as the top destination for Mediterranean crossings.

Spain overtakes Italy as sea route destination for migrants
Handout picture from MSF shows migrants onboard the MV Aquarius at sea in June.

So far this year, 50,872 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe — less than half the number that made the treacherous journey during the same period of 2017, according to the UN migration agency.

But while the overall numbers have fallen dramatically, Spain has seen landings on its shores nearly triple, IOM said.    

“As we have predicted for several weeks now, Spain has become the most active route of African migrants and people using Africa as a stepping stone into Europe,” agency spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva.   

Spain “surpassed Italy this past weekend,” he said.   

In all, 18,061 migrants have arrived in Spain since January, compared to 6,500 during the first half of 2017, with nearly 10,000 of those arrivals registered in June alone.

At the same time, arrivals in Italy total 17,827 since the beginning of the year — compared to 93,237 during the same period last year. 

The dramatic drop of Italian arrivals came after a controversial deal reached between Rome and the Libyan coastguard a year ago.    

The numbers have fallen further since Italy's new populist government pushed the issue to the forefront of the EU agenda last month by refusing to open the country's ports to a number of NGO migrant rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean.

Spain has opened its ports to several rescue ships run by charities which were turned away from Italy.

READ ALSO: For migrants in Spain, survival means squats and odd jobs

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.

SHOW COMMENTS