European countries reach deal to share Aquarius migrants

French aid group SOS Mediterranee managing director Sophie Beau speaks during a joint press conference by SOS Mediterranee and international medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) over the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, chartered by the two groups, on August 14, 2018, in Paris European countries faced pressure on August to resolve a fresh standoff with the operators of the migrant rescue ship Aquarius which is stranded for the second time in the Mediterranean carrying 141 people. (AFP)
Updated 14 August 2018
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European countries reach deal to share Aquarius migrants

  • Spain offered to take 60 people and Germany said it would take “up to 50”
  • France said it would accept 60 from the Aquarius as well as a second rescue boat that arrived earlier in Malta

ROME: Five European countries on Tuesday offered to take in the 141 migrants marooned on board the Aquarius rescue vessel after it was given permission to dock in Malta, resolving a new standoff over the charity ship.
Spain offered to take 60 people and Germany said it would take “up to 50.”
France said it would accept 60 from the Aquarius as well as a second rescue boat that arrived earlier in Malta, and Portugal offered to welcome 30 people. Luxembourg was also part of the deal.
The agreement is the fifth of its kind between Western European governments since June when Italy began turning away migrant rescue ships.
EU sources said the five host countries would send immigration officials to Malta to vet their asylum claims and identify possible economic migrants, who would be returned to their countries of origin.
The boat was initially refused entry by Italy and Malta after rescuing the migrants in two separate missions off the Libyan coast on Friday.
The Aquarius first hit the headlines in June after being stranded with 630 migrants on board, causing a major diplomatic row.
Spain’s new Socialist government helped resolve the first standoff by allowing the boat to dock in Valencia and said it was again at the forefront of the solution to the latest one on Tuesday.
“Spain has coordinated a pioneering agreement with six countries to share the hosting of the people on the Aquarius... Spain will take 60 people,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wrote on Twitter.
But Malta and France said the deal to allow the ship disembark its passengers, many of them unaccompanied teens from violence-wracked Somalia and repressive Eritrea, was their initiative.
“Malta will be making a concession allowing the vessel to enter its ports, despite having no legal obligation to do so,” said a Maltese government statement posted on Twitter.
Thanking Malta for its gesture, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter: “There is no alternative to cooperation.”
But EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned that Europe could not rely on “ad-hoc arrangements.”
Calling in a statement for “sustainable solutions,” he said: “It is not the responsibility of one or a few member states only, but of the European Union as a whole.”
After elections in March that brought a populist, anti-immigrant government to power in Italy, far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini began turning away rescue ships operated by foreign NGOs.
For years, Italy had pleaded with its EU partners for help with a massive influx of arrivals that has seen 700,000 people land in the country since 2013, most of whom had made the short but treacherous sea crossing from Libya.
On Saturday, Salvini said the Aquarius would “never see an Italian port” again, accusing it of encouraging smugglers and migrants to take to the water in the knowledge that they will be rescued.
The Italian coast guard continues to rescue migrants, however.
Malta’s government initially defended its decision to turn the Aquarius away, saying it was “neither the coordinating nor the competent authority for such a rescue” and had “no legal obligation” to provide a place of safety.
The government of the British territory of Gibraltar also announced late Monday that the ship would no longer be allowed to operate under its maritime flag.
The increasingly hostile stance reflects hardening public opinion in Europe toward migrants — despite arrivals dipping sharply since 2015, when over a million people fleeing war or poverty crossed the Mediterranean.
The Aquarius has become a symbol of the unwillingness of many European countries to accept more newcomers, with Italy siding with conservative governments in eastern Europe intent on keeping out migrants.
At a summit in late June EU leaders agreed to consider setting up migrant processing centers outside the bloc, most likely in North Africa, in a bid to discourage them from boarding smuggler boats.
They also agreed to look at setting up “controlled centers” on European soil to sort refugees in need of protection from economic migrants — but no country has offered to host any such centers.
The proposals are due for discussion at an EU migration summit in Austria in September.


Duterte skips summit meetings but is in ‘top shape’

Updated 36 min 28 sec ago
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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.