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IMMIGRATION

Ship’s captain threatens to bring stranded migrants to Italy to end limbo

The captain of the Sea Watch 3 charity rescue vessel threatened on Tuesday to enter Italian waters illegally to bring 42 migrants to shore after 13 days in limbo at sea.

Ship's captain threatens to bring stranded migrants to Italy to end limbo
The Sea Watch 3 has been waiting off Italy for more than ten days. File photo: Federico Scoppa/AFP

“I will enter Italian waters and bring them to safety on Lampedusa,” Carola Rackete said in an interview with La Repubblica daily, in reference to the island off Italy's southern tip.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has banned the Dutch-flagged vessel from approaching under a “closed ports” policy, which has seen migrants repeatedly left in limbo at sea.

READ ALSO: More than 40 people left in limbo on rescue boat off Italy


Rescued people aboard the Sea Watch 3 in January 2019. Photo: Federico Scoppa/AFP

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg on Tuesday declined to intervene but called on Italy to “continue to provide all necessary assistance” to vulnerable migrants.

The German NGO Sea-Watch had asked the ECHR to impose “interim measures” on Italy, saying the court could ask Rome to take urgent steps to resolve the standoff in order to “prevent serious and irremediable violations of human rights”. 

Salvini said Tuesday the charity vessel could “stay there until Christmas and New Year” but would never be allowed in.

Of the 53 migrants initially rescued by the Sea Watch 3 off Libya on June 12th, Italy took in 11 vulnerable people.

READ ALSO: 

On Lampedusa, where Salvini's anti-immigration League won 45 percent in May's European elections, a priest has camped out in the street to demand those onboard — including three minors — be allowed to disembark.

Dozens of German cities have said they are ready to welcome them, and the Bishop of Turin, Cesare Noviglia, said Monday his diocese would be willing to take them in.

“We can't hold on any longer. It's like we're in a prison because we are deprived of everything. Help us, think of us,” one migrant from the Ivory Coast said in a video broadcast by Sea Watch.

In January, 32 migrants rescued by the vessel were stranded on board for 18 days before they were allowed to disembark in Malta thanks to a distribution deal made between several European countries. 

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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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