NBA star Marc Gasol recounts dramatic migrant rescue

Spanish basketball giant Marc Gasol, star of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, recounted the dramatic sea rescue of a migrant off the Libyan coast in which he took part, in a video sent to AFP Thursday.

NBA star Marc Gasol recounts dramatic migrant rescue
Marc Gasol helped out on the rescue ship. Photo: Proactiva Open Arms / AFP

World champion with Spain in 2006 and a three-time NBA All Star, the 33-year-old is travelling on a rescue ship belonging to NGO Proactiva Open Arms, whose two vessels sail back and forth in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants in distress.

On Tuesday morning, he contributed to the rescue of a 40-year-old woman from Cameroon who was drifting on a deflated dinghy next to the bodies of a little boy and another woman.

“It's a real shame to be here in the Mediterranean with so little help for the people of Open Arms,” he said in a video sent to AFP by the NGO.   

Marc Gasol helped out on the rescue ship. Photo: Proactiva Open Arms / AFP

In a photo published on his Twitter account, Gasol is seen wearing a red helmet, the NGO's grey t-shirt and sunglasses, helping lift the stretcher carrying the woman from a dinghy to the main ship.

“Frustration, anger, and helplessness. It's unbelievable how so many vulnerable people are abandoned to their deaths at sea,” he tweeted then.   

In an interview with Spanish daily El Pais, Gasol said the photo that went viral in 2015 of Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach shocked him into more awareness of the migrant issue.

A year later, he met Oscar Camps, founder of Proactiva Open Arms, and decided he would go on one of their missions when his sporting agenda permitted.

In the video, he said the ship he was on overheard a radio conversation between a merchant ship and Libyan coastguards over a vessel in distress on Monday evening.

But no rescue appeared to be taking place so after six to eight hours his ship set sail for the place where the vessel in distress was thought to be.   

“At two in the morning a search protocol was initiated until the Open Arms spotted the raft, which was half sunk,” he said.   

The NGO's two ships are now heading back to the Spanish port of Palma de Mallorca, where they are expected to arrive on Saturday morning.

READ ALSO: Spanish rescue ship heads home after dramatic rescue


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.