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IMMIGRATION

Spain rescues nearly 500 migrants at sea in a single day

Spanish rescue services said Tuesday they had plucked nearly 500 migrants from the Mediterranean in a single day who were trying to reach the country's coast.

Spain rescues nearly 500 migrants at sea in a single day
Photo: Salvamento Marítimo

The Spanish Maritime Safety Agency said on Twitter that it had picked up a total of 484 people in 30 makeshift vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar and Alboran Sea, which separate Spain from Morocco.

According to a count by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), some 18,653 migrants reached Spanish shores between the beginning of the year and July 18th.

They are mainly from sub-Saharan Africa — notably Guinea, Mali and Mauritania — as well as Morocco.

At least 294 migrants have died in their attempts to reach Spain this year, out of a total of 1,489 who died in the Mediterranean, according to IOM.   

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Photo: AFP

In June Spain agreed to take in 630 migrants who arrived aboard three vessels, including the French NGO rescue ship Aquarius.   

The Aquarius rescued the migrants off Libya's coast on June 9 but Italy's new populist government and Malta both refused to let it dock, triggering an international outcry before Spain stepped in to help.

Then on July 4th, a ship belonging to Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms docked in Barcelona with 60 migrants rescued off the Libyan coast on board after Italy refused to take them in.

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

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

But the plan remains fraught with rows over how to divide responsibility for migrants and ease the stress on coastal countries such as Italy and Greece.   

Italy, which had earlier vowed to turn away rescue boats, agreed Monday to continue accepting migrants picked up at sea, at least until the bloc finds a solution for sharing responsibility.

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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