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IMMIGRATION

African asylum seekers join avalanche relief effort

A group of asylum-seeking African migrants on Saturday joined volunteers helping the relief effort at an avalanche-hit hotel in earthquake-ravaged central Italy.

African asylum seekers join avalanche relief effort
The migrants from Senegal and Guinea have been trained in logistics. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Originally from Senegal and Guinea, the young migrants had previously done volunteer humanitarian work in Turin and offered to help after the region was hit by the double whammy of multiple earthquakes and the deadly avalanche which engulfed the Hotel Rigopiano on Wednesday.
   
“They asked if they could give a hand,” said a Red Cross spokesperson. “They've been volunteering with the Red Cross for the last two years and have specialized in logistics.
“We are setting up a tent for the rescue teams at the avalanche site, where rescuers can rest and recuperate. The boys will be working in the tent in shifts, giving a hand to the cook and helping out wherever needed. Two of the group are already up there.”
   
Among the group being briefed Saturday was baby-faced Barry Misbaou, 20, from Guinea.
   
“The situation is difficult, it's not easy for us because it's the first time we'll have done anything like this,” he told AFPTV. “We're finding it difficult because we're not used to the cold and we're foreigners, but this is life and we have to do what we can because it's good to help people, especially victims.
   
“We're here now to go and work at the hotel but we don't know what will happen.”
   
Most of the migrants seeking asylum in Italy arrive from North Africa after perilous overland journeys and even more dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean, which almost invariably end with their overcrowded boats having
to be rescued by the Italian coastguard.
   
They are barred from taking paid work at the beginning of Italy's asylum application procedure and jobs are thin on the ground afterwards. This situation has led many to seek opportunities to volunteer with some wanting to return the favour after benefiting from the support of humanitarian organisations.
   
Others say they want to give something back to Italy in the face of complaints from far-right politicians that they drain resources from native Italians, or simply to keep themselves busy while their status is resolved.

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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