450 migrants stranded at sea as Italy, Malta dig heels in

Migrants intercepted aboard a dinghies off the coast in the Strait of Gibraltar, are seen after arriving on a rescue boat at the port of Tarifa, southern Spain July 13, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 14 July 2018
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450 migrants stranded at sea as Italy, Malta dig heels in

  • The Italian coast guard vessel Diciotti arrived in the port of Trapani, in western Sicily, on Thursday, but the migrants were kept aboard
  • Salvini insists that the Libyan coast guard deal with migrants in waters off the largely lawless North African country

ROME: Another 450 migrants on board two Frontex vessels were stranded at sea on Saturday as Italy and Malta locked horns over whose responsibility it was to offer them safe harbor.
The migrants had initially set sail from Libya in a single wooden vessel which was identified early Friday while passing through waters under Malta’s jurisdiction.
But Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has authority over the country’s ports, on Friday refused to let them dock in his latest show of intransigence over migrants stranded at sea.
And on Saturday, as those on board were transferred to two vessels belonging to the EU border agency Frontex, he insisted they be instructed to “head south, to Libya or Malta.”
“We need an act of justice, of respect and of courage to fight against these human traffickers and generate a European intervention,” he said in talks with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, his remarks carried by Italian news agencies.
Cited by the Italian media, cabinet sources said Conte was going to push for them to be immediately transferred to other European countries, otherwise they would not be allowed to land.
In an exchange of messages, emails and phone calls on Friday, Rome had tried to push Valetta to take responsibility for those on board the wooden boat.
But Malta said the ship was much closer to the Italian island of Lampedusa, and on Saturday, insisted it had respected “all of its obligations under international conventions” concerning those rescued at sea.
On Saturday morning, as the two Frontex vessels approached the wooden boat, several migrants threw themselves overboard, prompting immediate efforts to rescue them from the water, Italian sources said.
Eight women and children were taken to Lampedusa for medical treatment.
The new standoff kicked in just hours after 67 migrants were allowed to disembark from an Italian coast guard ship in Sicily late on Thursday.
Salvini, who took office when Italy’s new populist government came to power on June 1, wants to block any further migrant arrivals by boat and has banned charity rescue ships from docking in Italian ports, accusing them of aiding human traffickers.
Last month, the French rescue ship Aquarius and the German boat Lifeline, who between them were carrying hundreds of migrants, were forced to divert to Spain and Malta respectively after Italy turned them away.
Italy, Greece and Spain have been on the front line of the migrant crisis, with Europe deeply divided over how to share the burden of the massive influx of people seeking to create a new life in Europe.


US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

Updated 30 sec ago
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US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

  • The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre
LOS ANGELES: Two US women detained by a border patrol agent in the state of Montana after he heard them speaking Spanish in a grocery store have sued the country’s border protection agency.
Video of the incident — which took place last May in the small town of Havre — showed Agent Paul O’Neal tell Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez that he had asked to see their identification as it was unusual to hear Spanish speakers in the state, which borders Canada.
“It has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominately English speaking,” he said.
“It’s not illegal, it’s just very unheard of up here,” he told the women.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre.
Suda and Hernandez say in the lawsuit that O’Neal detained them for 40 minutes.
California native Hernandez and Suda, who was born in Texas, said they were standing in line to buy milk and eggs when the agent — who was standing behind them — commented on Hernandez’s accent, and asked the women where they were born.
“I asked, ‘Are you serious’?” Suda said, according to the lawsuit. “Agent O’Neal responded that he was ‘dead serious’.”
The two women say they were then asked to show identification and questioned outside the store, before eventually being released.
“The incident itself is part of a broader pattern that we’ve seen of abusive tactics by border patrol which has gotten worse since the Trump administration, which has left border patrol officers feeling emboldened to take actions like this,” Cody Wofsy, an attorney with the ACLU, told AFP.
“This has been devastating for (Suda and Hernandez),” he added.
“Havre is a small town, they felt ostracized and humiliated and made to feel unwelcome in their own town and in their own country.”
He noted the United States has no official language, with Spanish by far the most common language spoken after English.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman declined to comment on the case.
“As a matter of policy, US Customs and Border Protection does not comment on pending litigation,” he told AFP in a statement. “However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”