SHARE
COPY LINK
MIGRANT CRISIS

SHIPWRECK

Italy starts to recover 800 bodies from shipwreck

The Italian navy on Monday said it had begun efforts to recover the bodies of some 800 migrants killed in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean in April, as authorities rescued another 4,400 people making the dangerous sea journey to Europe.

Italy starts to recover 800 bodies from shipwreck
Migrant arrivals in Italy so far this year have hit more than 69,000. Photo: Alfonso Di Vincenzo/AFP

The April 18th tragedy was the deadliest sinking in the sea between Europe and Africa in decades and sparked international calls for reinforced efforts to deal with the growing migrant crisis.

“The navy… has begun the recovery of bodies outside the trawler that sank on April 18th… from a depth of around 380 metres (1,246 feet),” the navy said on Twitter.

Only 28 people survived the shipwreck at the time, out of an estimated 800 on board when the vessel set sail from Libya.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last month announced that he wanted the wreck to be brought to the surface and victims' bodies returned to their families for burial, saying the country could not “bury its conscience at a depth of 387 metres”.

Also on Monday, Italian authorities said they were dealing with the arrival of another 4,400 migrants after a series of boats were rescued in the space of 48 hours from waters off Libya.

The rescues lifted to more than 69,000 – a record for the first half of the year – the number of migrants to have landed in Italy so far this year, according to figures compiled by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The latest operations involved Italian ships, British, Irish and Spanish navy vessels and a boat operated by Malta-based humanitarian organisation MOAS, the Italian coastguard said.

80,000 migrants

The surge in migrant arrivals since the start of 2015 has left Italy's reception facilities, currently housing around 80,000 asylum-seekers and others seeking leave to remain in the country, under severe strain.

The situation is likely to get worse over the summer when the numbers of boats dispatched by people smugglers usually peaks. Of last year's arrivals, some 100,000 arrived between June and September.

The sharp increase in migrant arrivals has left Italy's centre-left government under constant attack from the country's vocal far-right and some regions are threatening to refuse to house any more migrants.

The crisis has also put Italy at loggerheads with its European Union partners over contested proposals to spread some asylum-seekers across the bloc and moves by neighbouring countries to tighten their border controls to restrict the numbers of migrants travelling out of Italy on their way to northern Europe.

Italy regards these moves as breaching the principles of solidarity and of free movement of people within Europe. On the other side of the debate there is a perception that Italy is not sufficiently rigorous about registering new arrivals at its ports and sending economic migrants back to their countries of origin as a deterrent to others thinking of making the trip.

According to aid groups, just over half of the migrants arriving in Italy have a legitimate claim to asylum, mostly as a result of having fled conflict in Syria or repression in Eritrea.

The civil war in Syria is also seen as being behind a surge in asylum-seekers arriving in Greece, where over 80,000 migrants have arrived this year, three quarters of them on boats which mostly leave from Turkey.

This year has also seen a sharp increase in the numbers of migrants dying during the crossings with over 1,800 fatalities reported en route to Italy and at least 27 off Greece, according to the IOM.

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