SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

French migrant rescue ship Aquarius stranded again

The French operators of the migrant ship Aquarius on Monday called on Europe to find a safe haven for 141 people rescued in the Mediterranean, saying Italy and Malta had again refused to let it dock.

French migrant rescue ship Aquarius stranded again
Photo: AFP
The Aquarius, which was left stranded with 630 migrants aboard in June after being turned away by Rome and Valletta, resumed rescue operations off the Libyan coast last week.
   
On Friday, it picked up 141 people in two separate operations, half of them children, but it has again struggled to find a port to bring them ashore.
   
Sophie Beau, president of the vessel's operator SOS Mediterranee, said the ship, which is currently situated between Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa, had again received “official negative replies” from the two countries.
 
READ ALSO:

Photo: AFP  

“We're asking all European countries to find a solution. We're asking them to be responsible and find a safe port in the Mediterranean,” she said, accusing Italy and Malta of flouting international maritime law.
   
Tove Ernst, a spokesman for the European Commission, said it was in contact with “a number of member states that have approached us regarding the incident” to try to find a “swift resolution” to the standoff.
   
Since June, Italy's new far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has regularly turned away rescue ships operated by foreign NGOs such as the Aquarius, accusing them of playing into the hands of people smugglers.
   
On Saturday, he said the Aquarius would “never see an Italian port” again.
   
His hardline stance has sparked a row among EU members, underscoring their failure to come up with a common approach to the influx of people trying to escape conflict, persecution or poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
   
In June, Spain stepped in and welcomed the Aquarius.
   
France, which was within closer range but did not allow the boat access, took in 78 of the migrants after they landed.

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