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IMMIGRATION

Bodies of seven migrants on capsized boat found off Italy

Rescue authorities found the bodies of seven migrants, including five women, after their boat capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa, coastguard officials said on Sunday.

Bodies of seven migrants on capsized boat found off Italy
Survivors leave the Ocean Viking rescue vessel in Messina on Sunday. Photo: SOS Meditarranee
A patrol boat recovered the bodies of three of the women and customs workers found two more washed ashore after a vessel with some 150 people aboard went down Saturday, the coastguard said. Another two bodies were found Saturday on the beach at Cala Galera on the south side of the island.
   
Survivors had said late on Saturday that around 20 people were missing after coast guards reported rescuing nearly 150 migrants when their vessel overturned around 1.5 miles (1.8 kilometres) off the coast.
   
The coastguard said rescue operations had been complicated by rough seas “but also owing to the large number of people who fell into the water simultaneously”.
 
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Italian media reported one Eritrean man and a Libyan man as saying they had lost their wives.
   
The public prosecutor in the Sicilian port of Agrigento announced an investigation had been opened into the incident.
   
The SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres NGOs said meanwhile Sunday that 213 migrants rescued in recent days in the Sicilian port of Messina by humanitarian vessel Ocean Viking had disembarked Spanish NGO Open Arms, which Thursday rescued 73 migrants in a separate operation, meanwhile urged European governments to authorise  “immediately” the migrants' disembarkation in a safe port, citing a “critical” situation.
   
“We continue to demand that people's rights, established under international conventions and maritime law, be respected,” tweeted Open Arms' chef de mission Riccardo Gatti.
 
 
Ocean Viking made similar demands as both NGOs warned there was an urgent need for a coordinated urgent response to deal with the “humanitarian catastrophe” in the region.
 

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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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