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IMMIGRATION

Six migrant smugglers sentenced to jail in Italy first

Six human traffickers have been sentenced by a Palermo court in connection with a migrant boat wreck off Lampedusa in October 2013, in which more than 300 people died.

Six migrant smugglers sentenced to jail in Italy first
Ex-EU President Jose Manuel Barroso (3rd R), Italy's ex-PM Enrico Letta (R) and ex-EU Home Affairs Commissionner Cecilia Malmström (L) stand by victims' coffins in Oct 2013. Photo: Robeto Solomone/AFP

In the first ruling of its kind in Italy, the six Eritreans were given prison terms ranging from two years and four months to six years and three months, Il Tempo reported.

The ruling was made in a fast-track trial, meaning it can not be appealed.

The trial stemmed from an investigation, called ‘Glauco 1’, which was launched after the boat tragedy.

The heaviest sentence was handed down to 27-year-old Samuel Weldemicael, who was given six years and four months, followed by 25-year-old Mohammed Salih, who got six years.

The court also sentenced 31-year-old Nuredin Atta Wehabrebi to five years; Tesfahiweit Woldu, 26, to four years; Yared Afwerke, 25, to two years and eight months, and Atywos Melles, 48, to two years and four months.

The six were convicted of racketeering and abetting illegal immigration. Three other defendants, believed to have been the leaders of the human trafficking ring, are still at large.

The overcrowded boat is thought to have capsized after one of the smugglers lit a fire on board to alert the Italian coast guard to their whereabouts, sparking panic among the hundreds of passengers.

Italy vowed to crack down on human traffickers in the wake of the tragedy, with investigators building their case around survivor testimonies and 30,000 wiretaps, which included conversations among the smugglers about the deaths of their passengers.

In one intercepted conversation, they blamed the migrants for the tragedy, “because they wanted to leave in great numbers”.

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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