Italy says migrant mothers, kids refuse to leave German rescue ship

Two migrant mothers and their two children on board the German rescue ship Sea-Eye have refused to leave without their fathers, Italian officials and the NGO said on Friday.

Italy says migrant mothers, kids refuse to leave German rescue ship
Italy’s Interior Minister and deputy PM Matteo Salvini. Photo: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
“The women and children refuse to leave the ship. We can only wish them a good trip towards Berlin,” Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the German-flagged ship rescued 64 people from an inflatable raft after efforts to contact the Libyan coastguard failed. It headed for the Italian island of Lampedusa and on Friday an agreement was reached under which two children aboard, aged one and six, would be allowed to land with their two mothers and a pregnant woman. The fathers were not allowed to accompany them, however.
“To separate mothers and children from their fathers without a proper reason is active family separation and emotional torture,” a Sea-Eye statement said.
In Berlin, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP the country was “ready to do its part” and welcome some of the 64 migrants within the framework of a European burden-sharing deal.
According to Sea-Eye, 47 German cities have offered to host the migrants, and it said that reserves of fresh water and food will soon run out owing to the large number of people on board.
Salvini, a leader of the far-right League party, reiterated last month that he would close Italian ports to migrant rescue NGOs operating in the Mediterranean, to force Europe to take its share of asylum seekers.
He said Thursday that his stance had been backed by fellow G7 interior ministers.
“The NGOs are a problem and they help human traffickers,” Salvini charged.


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.