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IMMIGRATION

Banksy-funded Mediterranean rescue boat calls for urgent help

A refugee rescue vessel funded by British street artist Banksy called for urgent help late on Friday after lending assistance to a boat in the Mediterranean that was carrying at least one dead migrant.

Banksy-funded Mediterranean rescue boat calls for urgent help
German-flagged Louise Michel said it needed help after encountering a boat with one dead migrant and several wounded. Photo: Thomas Lohnes / AFP / Chris Grodotski
The German-flagged Louise Michel said it was “reaching a State of Emergency” after encountering the boat 130 people as they attempted to cross the expanse dividing Europe and Africa.
   
“There is already one dead person on the boat. We need immediate assistance,” the crew of the 31-metre (101 feet) Louise Michel wrote on Twitter, saying other migrants had fuel burns and had been at sea for days.
   
Named after the 19th-century French anarchist Louise Michel, the vessel's crew of 10 had earlier rescued another 89 people from a rubber boat in distress on Thursday.
   
The boat was around 90 kilometres southeast of the Italian island of Lampedusa early on Saturday, according to the global ship tracking website Marine Traffic.
 
   
Thousands of people are thought to have died making the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean to flee conflict, repression and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
   
Banksy's decision to fund the high-speed boat follows a body of work by the artist that has levelled scathing judgements on Europe's halting response to the migrant crisis.
 
'I can't keep the money'
 
Painted in hot pink and white, the Louise Michel features a Banksy artwork depicting a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy. The motor yacht, formerly owned by French customs, is smaller but considerably faster than other charity rescue vessels — enabling it to outrun Libyan coastguard boats, according to The Guardian newspaper.
   
It has 10 crew members “made up of European activists with long experience in search and rescue operations” and is captained by German human rights activist Pia Klemp, who has also captained other such rescue vessels, the paper reported.
   
Banksy's involvement in the rescue mission goes back to September 2019 when he sent Klemp an email.
   
“Hello Pia, I've read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass,” Banksy wrote. “I am an artist from the UK and I've made some work about the migrant crisis, obviously I can't keep the money. Could you use it to buy a new boat
or something? Please let me know. Well done. Banksy.”
   
Klemp, who initially thought it was a joke, told the paper she believed she was chosen because of her political stance, The Guardian said.
   
“I don't see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight,” she told the paper.
   
The crew with diverse backgrounds “all identify as anti-racist and anti-fascist activists advocating for radical political change,” The Guardian said.
 
 
'Incognito'
 
A spokesman for Burriana's port confirmed that the Louise Michel docked there on June 23 and left on August 18.
   
“During this time, they have been repairing and preparing the boat but they did it by themselves, they did not use the port services”, he told AFP.
   
About Banksy, “if he has been here, he came incognito,” the official said.
   
The Louise Michel left Burriana on August 18 “under the strictest secrecy”, The Guardian reported.
   
Early this month, humanitarian organisations said they would resume migrant rescues in the Mediterranean Sea where none have operated since the Ocean Viking docked in Italy in early July.
   
Before the Ocean Viking's last mission, rescue operations in the Mediterranean had been suspended for months due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
   
More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year from north Africa with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Member comments

  1. I thought it was good news to hear that someone with a lot of money and influence chose to spend some of it it on something to help people.
    I am a legal immigrant and my ancestors were illegal, refugees, immigrants, stealing other peoples jobsetc etc….
    yawn….

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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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