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IMMIGRATION

Spanish fishing vessel ‘left in the lurch’ after rescuing 12 migrants

A Spanish fishing vessel has been stranded in the Mediterranean for days because no country has agreed to accept the 12 migrants on board which it rescued last week, the boat's captain said Tuesday.

Spanish fishing vessel 'left in the lurch' after rescuing 12 migrants
The fishing vessel docked in Alicante. File photo: Shipspotting.com

“We have been left in the lurch at sea, we can't go anywhere,” Captain Pascual Dura of the “Nuestra Madre Loreto” told AFP by telephone.   

Since Thursday the 13 crew members of the fishing vessel have hosted 12 migrants from Niger, Somalia, Sudan, Senegal and Egypt who they rescued from a rubber dinghy that had set sail from Libya to Europe.

Italy and Malta have refused to allow the boat to dock and unload the migrants while Spain's maritime rescue service only offered to return the migrants to Libya, Dura said.

“If we go to Libya, we run the risk of a mutiny… when they hear the word Libya they get very nervous and hysterical, it is hard to calm them down,” he added.

“We don't want to return them to Libya. After they managed to get here, we don't want to return them to the place they are fleeing from.”   

Abuse of migrants is widespread in Libya, following the chaos which has reigned since the 2011 ousting of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.   

Many migrants, intercepted or rescued at sea, find themselves held in detention centres in the country in dire conditions.   

Dura said the ship only had enough provisions and fuel for “six or seven” more days and a storm was approaching.   

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell confirmed that Italy and Malta refused to allow the fishing vessel to dock but added the situation “is not an emergency”.

The fact that the Spanish fishing vessel was operating in Libyan waters “complicates the situation”.

The regional government of Valencia, where the fishing vessel is based, offered to accept the migrants.

In June the Valencia government also offered to accept 630 migrants from the Aquarius charity-run rescue ship after Italy and Malta refused to harbour the vessel. 

Spain then allowed the Aquarius to dock and the migrants were distributed among several European Union nations.   

More than 106,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea since the start of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration, and at least 2,119 others have died in the process.

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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