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
0

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.


Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 37 min 18 sec ago
0

Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.