SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

Italy’s Salvini vows to turn away German migrant rescue ship

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Thursday that he had told Germany to deal with a ship run by a German charity carrying dozens of migrants picked up in the Mediterranean, while denouncing the work of NGOs in the region

Italy's Salvini vows to turn away German migrant rescue ship
A rescue boat of German non-governmental organisation (NGO) Sea-Eye is docked at the harbour of Malaga. Photo: AFP

“The ship is German property, with a German flag and a German crew… It's their problem, they must deal with it,” Salvini said on the sidelines of a meeting of G7 interior ministers in Paris.

He said he had personally written to the captain of the Alan Kurdi, operated by the Sea-Eye charity, warning him the ship would “not enter Italian territorial waters.”

The ship on Wednesday rescued 64 people, including women and children, from an inflatable raft after efforts to contact the Libyan coastguard failed.

It is headed for the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Salvini, a leader of the far-right League party, reiterated last month that he would close his country's ports to migrant rescue NGOs operating in the Mediterranean, in a bid to force Europe to take its share of asylum-seekers.

He said Thursday that his stance had been backed by his fellow G7 interior ministers.

“To my great satisfaction, I'm not the only one who has doubts about the NGOs in the Mediterranean,” he said.

“Ask my French, German and British colleagues.”

“Everyone at the table noted it: the NGOs are a problem and they help human traffickers,” he said.

But French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner indicated “disagreements, in particular on the docking of rescue boats in the closest port.”

He added, however, that he had “reaffirmed to the Italian minister France's solidarity with regards to welcoming refugees who might be on these boats.”

Europe has been wrestling with divisions over how to handle the problem since the migration crisis of 2015 when more than one million people arrived on its shores, many of them fleeing conflict in the Middle East.

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