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.


Duterte skips summit meetings but is in ‘top shape’

Updated 14 November 2018
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Duterte skips summit meetings but is in ‘top shape’

  • An official named four scheduled events that Duterte had not attended on Wednesday, during which the president “took power naps” to catch up on sleep
  • Duterte’s health has been a constant source of speculation since he disappeared from public view for a week last year

SINGAPORE: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte skipped several meetings at an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore on Wednesday, prompting the 73-year-old’s office to issue a statement scotching speculation that it was due to ill health.
“We assure the nation that his aforementioned absence has nothing to do with his physical health and wellbeing which have been the subject of speculation,” spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
“The president’s constantly punishing work schedule is proof that he is in top physical shape.”
Panelo named four scheduled events that Duterte had not attended on Wednesday, during which the president “took power naps” to catch up on sleep, and said he would also skip a gala dinner with the leaders of nine Southeast Asian nations, US Vice President Mike Pence and several others.
Duterte’s health has been a constant source of speculation since he disappeared from public view for a week last year, and he has said openly that he is tired and would like to step down before the end of his term ends in 2022.
Last month Duterte’s office revealed that he had undergone a colonoscopy and he told reporters that a biopsy had shown he did not have cancer.
The constitution provides for the public to be told of the state of health of an incumbent president, if serious.
If a sitting president dies, is permanently disabled or removed through impeachment, the vice president succeeds to serve the remaining years in a six-year, single term.
Vice President Leni Robredo, a leader of the opposition, was elected separately in 2016. Speculation about Duterte’s health last month prompted concern that the Philippines could be headed for uncertainty given the highly polarized political climate.
Duterte has cited Robredo’s “incompetence” as a reason for his inability to quit as president.
Duterte has a record of skipping summit sessions, though he did not miss any as host when the Philippines held the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last year.
Panelo said it was “amusing that some quarters are making a big fuss” of Duterte’s absences, noting that he had attended ASEAN meetings with leaders from China, Japan and Russia.
“Last night, the president worked late and had only less than three hours of sleep,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the first event scheduled today was at 8:30a.m.”
Duterte is known for having an unorthodox working schedule that typically starts mid-afternoon and includes cabinet meetings that can go on beyond midnight.