SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

Spanish Armada sets sail to save migrants stuck off Italy

Spain was Tuesday set to deploy a naval patrol boat to Italy's Lampedusa island to take migrants off a charity rescue vessel that has been stuck at sea for days as Italy refuses it access.

Spanish Armada sets sail to save migrants stuck off Italy
Spanish naval ship, Audaz, will set sail for Lampedusa on Tuesday. Photo: Spanish Navy / Ministerio Defensa

“The Audaz, which will leave this afternoon at five pm (1500 GMT), will sail for three days to Lampedusa,” the government said in a statement.

The navy would look after the migrants from the Open Arms vessel, the statement added.

The announcement came after 15 migrants jumped into the water in desperation — some without life jackets — after days on board within tantalising swimming distance of Lampedusa, against the backdrop of a major  political crisis in Italy.

They were “rescued and evacuated to Lampedusa,” said a spokeswoman for the NGO Proactiva Open Arms that owns the ship, on which the long wait has led to fights and suicide threats as tempers fray.

The charity warned the situation was “out of control,” with some of the migrants stuck for 19 days after being rescued at sea off the coast of Libya, many suffering from post-traumatic stress.

The Spanish patrol boat will escort the Open Arms charity ship back to the port of Palma in the Balearic Islands, the government said.   

“After analysing various options, the Spanish government… considers this is the most suitable.” 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted: “With this measure Spain will solve, this week, the humanitarian emergency.”   

The vessel has been anchored since Thursday off Lampedusa, seeking permission to dock.   

There were initially 147 mainly African migrants on the ship but as the days passed, some were evacuated for medical care and all minors were allowed to disembark.

Over 80 are left on board.   

Six European Union countries — France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg — have offered to take them all in.   

But Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has refused to allow migrant rescue vessels to dock as part of his hardline policies.   

“Being firm is the only way to stop Italy from becoming Europe's refugee camp again,” he tweeted.

Compounding his refusal is a major political crisis in Italy.   

Salvini has pulled his party out of Italy's ruling coalition, hoping to topple the 14-month-old government and trigger early elections, which polls suggest his anti-immigrant League party and its right-wing allies could win.   

On Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced he would resign.

Spain slams Italy 

Faced with Italy's protracted refusal to allow the migrants to disembark, Spain at the weekend offered up its southern port of Algeciras, which the NGO said could “not be achieved” due to the distance and tensions on board.

Madrid then offered up Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, nearer but still around 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from Lampedusa.

The charity described this offer as “totally incomprehensible” and continued to demand the ship be allowed to dock in Lampedusa.   

Spain's Defence Minister Margarita Robles has slammed Italy — and particularly Salvini — for the situation.   

“What Salvini is doing in relationship with the Open Arms is a disgrace to humanity as a whole,” she said Monday.

Salvini “has shown he doesn't care about human lives”, she added Tuesday.

By Marianne Barriaux / AFP

READ MORE: 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

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