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

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.

Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

Updated 21 May 2019

Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

  • Madrasas to be absorbed by Ministry of Education in wake of Easter Sunday attacks
  • More than 100 arrests have been made following the rioting. A curfew has been lifted and life is returning to normal

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday refused permission for a planned $10 million (SR37.5 million) Shariah university in one of the country’s main cities.

And in the wake of the deadly Easter Sunday terror attacks on hotels and churches, the premier also announced that all madrasas would be brought under the umbrella of Sri Lanka’s Education Ministry.

The latest moves by the Sri Lankan government follow widespread unrest on the island, with anti-Muslim riots having caused damage running into millions of dollars.

Wickremesinghe’s orders came after a fact-finding report into the university compiled by MP Ashu Marasinghe. He recommended that the institution, being constructed at Batticaloa, in the Eastern Province, should be privately operated and titled Batticaloa Technology University. The new education complex is located close to the township of Kattankudy where suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday suicide bombings, Zahran Hashim, lived and preached his messages of hate and violence.

The Sri Lankan government analyst’s department said on Tuesday that DNA tests proved Hashim died in the attack at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.

President’s Counsel, Ali Sabry, a prominent lawyer and political analyst, told Arab News on Tuesday that the premier’s announcement was welcome.

“We don’t need a Shariah university at this juncture when there is a lot of suspicions on various Islamic topics that need to be clarified by Islamic theologians following the suicide attacks by Muslim extremists,” Sabry said. He stressed that the country’s main focus should be on strengthening ways to ensure peaceful coexistence among all communities.

The Sri Lankan University Grants Commission had a set of guidelines to license new universities, and Wickremesinghe’s latest recommendations would also be included among the requirements for a new university, Sabry added.

The prime minister’s ruling on madrasas (Islamic seminaries) would provide more transparency on the activities of the institutions, he said. “Their curriculum and their co-curricular activities should maintain a common standard and these madrasas should prepare the students to make them fit into society instead of just learning Arabic and Islam only.”

M.R.M. Malik, director of the Muslim Affairs Ministry in Colombo, told Arab News that currently all madrasas function under his ministry. “There are 317 madrasas throughout the island with an estimated 25,000 students. In addition to the local teachers, there are 38 Arabic teachers and 85 foreign students,” he said.

Most of the teachers are from Egypt, Pakistan and India, while many of the overseas students studying at the madrasas are from Libya, Pakistan, Jordan and India.

Sri Lanka Muslim Council President N.M. Ameen told Arab News that the local community had never wanted a Shariah university. However, he said the proposed curriculum for the madrasas should be constructed in consultation with Islamic scholars and the Muslim community.

Meanwhile, Western Province Gov. Azath Salley, revealed that damage caused by anti-Muslim riots had reached nearly Rs900 million (SR19.2 million). The governor was speaking to Arab News following a visit to some of the worst-affected villages on the island.

“Speaking to the families of the vandalized properties, it’s clear that an organized gang had attacked these earmarked properties owned by Muslims,” said Salley. “One child, whose father was killed in his presence, is still in a state of utter shock and dismay.” He added that turpentine oil had been poured on the face of the dead carpenter by his killers and set on fire.

The governor urged the authorities to bring the attackers to justice. He added that the government would provide compensation to victims of wrecked properties.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasakera said that more than 100 arrests had been made following the rioting, and that a curfew had been lifted and life was returning to normal.