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IMMIGRATION

Born on a boat: new baby among 87 rescued off Spain’s Canary Islands

A baby born on a rickety boat bound for the Canary Islands was one of 87 migrants picked up by rescuers overnight, Spanish rescuers said on Friday.

Born on a boat: new baby among 87 rescued off Spain's Canary Islands
The sort of boat often used to make the dangerous crossing. File photo: AFP

The migrants, all of them from sub-Saharan Africa, were travelling on three boats which were picked up just south of the island of Gran Canaria, a spokeswoman for the Salvamento Maritimo rescue service said.

“A new-born baby was rescued and it seems that the mother gave birth in the boat just beforehand,” she told AFP, without specifying the sex of the infant but saying both mother and baby were “doing well”.

There were 54 people in the first two boats which were picked up on Thursday evening about 60 nautical miles south of Gran Canaria, and rescuers came across another vessel carrying 33 people as they were just off the
island, she said.   

Among those rescued were 30 women, six babies and four other children, while the rest were men, with all taken to the southern port of Arguinerin, she said.

In early January, another baby born aboard a makeshift boat carrying 43 migrants did not survive the journey and was declared dead on arrival on the island of Lanzarote.

In January, the number of migrants reaching the Canaries soared to 708 — 18 times the level of a year ago when it stood at 40, government figures showed, raising fears of a resurgence of migrant traffic to the Atlantic islands, a route taken by tens of thousands of people a decade ago.   

As Morocco has waged a crackdown on illegal immigration, there has been an increasing number of people trying to reach the Spanish islands by boat from Mauritania, whose coastline lies 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) to the south.

As well as the Canaries route, other migrants have sought to sail to mainland Spain from Algeria's northern coast.

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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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