Migrants flee Libya as weather warms and Libyan patrols loom

Illegal African migrants arrive at Mitiga International Airport before voluntary return to their countries, east of Tripoli, Libya, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2017
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Migrants flee Libya as weather warms and Libyan patrols loom

ROME: Warm weather and calm seas usually spur smugglers to send migrants across the Mediterranean come spring. But aid groups say another timetable might be behind a weekend spike: The start of beefed-up Libyan coast guard patrols designed to prevent migrants from reaching Europe.
Over Easter weekend, rescue ships plucked some 8,360 people from 55 different rubber dinghies and wooden boats off Libya’s coast, Italy’s coast guard said. Thirteen bodies were also recovered.
While such numbers are not unheard of for this time of year, they come as Italy is preparing to deliver patrol boats to Libya as part of a new EU-blessed migration deal.
Italy and Libya inked a deal in February calling for Italy to train Libyan coast guard officers and to provide them with a dozen ships to patrol the country’s lawless coasts. EU leaders hailed the accord as a new commitment to save lives and stem the flow of illegal migration to Europe, where the refugee influx has become a heated political issue.
Aid groups have criticized the accord as hypocritical and cruel, arguing that migrants who already have endured grave human rights abuses in Libya will face renewed violence, torture, sexual assault and other abuse if they are returned by the Libyan coast guard.
International Organization of Migration spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo said improved weather conditions certainly are fueling renewed flows in recent weeks. He said smugglers are also telling their customers, “‘You have to hurry up and leave the country right now because otherwise in a couple of months you will be rescued by the Libyan coast guard and you will be sent back,’ which is the last things that migrants would like to do.”
The UN refugee agency also cited the pending arrival of Italian patrol boats as a possible cause for the weekend’s high numbers, although spokeswoman Barbara Molinario said it was too early in the season to identify trends.
“For now it’s premature, even if 8,300 in 55 operations is a high number,” Molinario said.
Overall, Some 35,700 people have been rescued in the central Mediterranean route in 2017, up from 24,974 in 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said. Molinario noted that the numbers are constantly in flux and a week or two of poor weather could cause fewer people to make the dangerous journey.


Interfaith dialogue ‘vital to curb extremism,’ says Islamic researcher

Ahmed Qassim Al-Ghamdi
Updated 28 min 18 sec ago
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Interfaith dialogue ‘vital to curb extremism,’ says Islamic researcher

  • Dialogue is the only choice for contemporary societies to coexist in a peaceful world: Al-Ghamdi
  • We hope this cooperation will promote the culture of moderation and correct misconceptions about Islam, said the researcher

JEDDAH: Interfaith dialogue is essential to combat terrorism, curb extremism and promote peace, a leading Islamic researcher has told Arab News.

Open discussion between followers of different religions would also correct many common misconceptions about Islam, said Sheikh Ahmed Qassim Al-Ghamdi, former president of the Makkah branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

“Dialogue is the only choice for contemporary societies to coexist in a peaceful world,” Al-Ghamdi said. “It establishes a legitimate relationship between members of different societies. It also ignites their understanding and openness toward each other.”

Such discussions did not conflict with the values of Islam, he said. On the contrary, they encouraged greater mutual understanding. “They are, in fact, in compliance with the Qur’anic approach to protecting human communities, which have been created from the same soul, against racism, sectarian strife, hostility and dissonance.

“We hope this cooperation will promote the culture of moderation and correct misconceptions about Islam.”

It was normal for people to have different views and beliefs, Al-Ghamdi said, but rather than create conflict, this was an opportunity to exchange experiences and share benefits. 

A good example was the recent agreement between the Vatican and the Muslim World League on achieving common objectives. Al-Ghamdi said. “It will cut off the way to extremism and terrorism, encourage members of different religions to work on common humanitarian, religious and social interests, and reinforce positive relations between followers of different religions.”

Saudi Arabia was a unique and distinguished model in the fight against terrorism and extremism, Al-Ghamdi said. The Kingdom continued to combat the evil of terrorism in all forms, locally, regionally and internationally, and it called upon the international community to cooperate to eradicate terrorism.