Italy urges other EU ports to welcome migrants

Migrants stand on the deck of the Swedish Navy ship Bkv 002, as they wait to disembark in the Sicilian harbor of Catania, Italy, on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 02 July 2017
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Italy urges other EU ports to welcome migrants

ROME: Italy’s interior minister called Sunday on other European countries to open their ports to rescue ships ahead of talks with France and Germany on tackling the migrant emergency.
Marco Minniti, who meets his counterparts in Paris later Sunday to prepare for EU talks in Tallinn this week, said in an interview with Il Messaggero daily that “we are under enormous pressure.”
With arrivals in Italy up nearly 19 percent compared to the same period last year, Rome has threatened to close its ports to privately-funded aid boats or insist funding is cut off to EU countries which fail to help with the crisis.
“There are NGO ships, Sophia and Frontex boats, Italian coast guard vessels saving migrants in the Mediterranean,” he said in a reference to the aid boats as well as the vessels deployed under EU border security and anti-trafficker missions.
“They are sailing under the flags of various European countries. If the only ports refugees are taken to are Italian, something is not working. This is the heart of the question,” he said.
“I am a Europhile and I would be proud if even one vessel, instead of arriving in Italy, went to another European port. It would not resolve Italy’s problem but it would be an extraordinary signal” that Europe wanted to help Rome, he said.
Over 83,000 people rescued while attempting the perilous crossing from Libya have been brought to Italy so far this year, according to the UN, while more than 2,160 have died trying, the International Organization for Migration says.
Italy’s Red Cross has warned the situation in the country’s overcrowded reception centers is becoming critical.
Interior Minister Minniti was set to meet counterparts Gerard Collomb of France, Thomas de Maiziere of Germany and EU Commissioner for Refugees Dimitris Avramopoulos later in the day in the French capital.
The Italian minister said Rome would be pushing for a way to shift the asylum application process from Italy to Libya, and safely bring to Europe those who win the right to protection.
“We have to distinguish before they set off (across the Mediterranean) between those who have a right to humanitarian protection and those who don’t.
“And, on the basis of the decisions made by the UNHCR, we must ensure the former depart for Europe while economic migrants are voluntarily repatriated” to their countries of origin, he said.
Unsourced Italian media reports said Rome was likely to call for a European code of conduct to be drawn up for the privately-run aid boats, with the Corriere della Sera saying vessels that did not comply could be “seized.”
Critics have said the NGOs attract traffickers by sailing close to the Libyan coast. The NGOs insist they have no choice, because smugglers put the migrants out to sea in flimsy vessels that sink as they reach international waters.
Rome would like a regional maritime command center to oversee all rescue operations from Greece to Libya to Spain, which would spread the migrant arrivals between European countries, the Corriere della Sera said.
And Italy insists that the EU refugee relocation program — which is largely limited to people from Eritrea and Syria — should be expanded to include other nationalities, such as Nigerians, La Repubblica said.
Between September 2015 and April 2017, some 5,001 asylum-seekers — 14 percent of the 34,953 target — were relocated from Italy to 18 European countries, the UN’s refugee agency said.
“While some participating states have showed greater commitment toward relocation, the number of pledges made available continues to be inadequate and implementation remains slow and challenging,” it added.


Canadian woman missing in west Africa believed to be alive: PM

Updated 42 sec ago
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Canadian woman missing in west Africa believed to be alive: PM

  • Smaller groups are also active, with the overall number of fighters estimated to be in the hundreds, according to security sources
MONTREAL: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that a Canadian woman reported missing along with her Italian partner in Burkina Faso is believed to be alive.
“To the best of my knowledge, yes,” Trudeau said in response to a reporter’s question.
“With all that I know so far, I have not been told anything else other than that she is believed to be alive.”
The Canadian government said earlier it was leaving no stone unturned as it tries to determine what exactly happened to Edith Blais, 34, and her companion Luca Tacchetto, 30.
The pair were last seen on December 15 traveling by car in Burkina Faso between the town of Bobo-Dioulasso and the capital Ouagadougou, for a four- or five-day stay.
Kidnappings have increased in the impoverished Sahel state, which has been battling a rising wave of jihadist attacks over the last three years.
A Canadian travel warning had reported a risk of banditry and kidnapping in the area.
Late Wednesday, a Canadian geologist kidnapped at a remote gold mine in northeast Burkina Faso by suspected jihadists was found dead.
Blais and Tacchetto were working on a reforestation project with aid group Zion’Gaia.
Investigators on the ground have found no clues in their disappearance, but a senior Canadian official told AFP on condition of anonymity that they may have fallen victim to a kidnapping or a robbery gone awry.
“All options are being explored,” Canadian International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said after meeting Friday with Blais’ family in Quebec province.
“We are doing everything we can,” she said.
Burkino Faso is in the front line of a jihadist rebellion in the Sahel, a vast, dusty region on the southern rim of the Sahara.
Canada has 250 soldiers and eight army helicopters deployed in neighboring Mali as part of a UN peacekeeping mission.
After chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, an Islamist insurgency gained ground in northern Mali, while Boko Haram rose in northern Nigeria.
Jihadist raids began in northern Burkina Faso in 2015 before spreading to the east, near the border with Togo and Benin.
Most of the attacks have been attributed to Ansarul Islam and the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM).
Smaller groups are also active, with the overall number of fighters estimated to be in the hundreds, according to security sources.
The groups are believed to be responsible for more than 270 deaths since 2015.
Ouagadougou has been hit three times, including a coordinated attack last March that targeted the French embassy and devastated the country’s military headquarters.
Eight foreigners have been abducted in the last four years, according to an AFP tally.
Among them is 84-year-old Australian doctor Kenneth Elliott, who was kidnapped with his wife Jocelyn in April 2015 in Djibo, where the pair ran a clinic for the poor.
Jocelyn Elliott was released after a year. Her husband, whose whereabouts remain unknown, has been declared a citizen of Burkina Faso, under a decree issued last November.