Wave of Iranian asylum seekers puts UK on alert

A baby is taken to the vessel of the Spanish Proactiva Open Arms, after being rescued in the Central Mediterranean Sea, 72 km from Al-Khums, Libya. (AP)
Updated 03 January 2019
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Wave of Iranian asylum seekers puts UK on alert

LONDON, PARIS: A British navy ship was preparing on Thursday to patrol the Channel in response to a wave of mostly Iranian asylum seekers risking the crossing from France in dinghies.

An Iranian and a British national have been arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal migration across the Channel, the world’s busiest shipping lane.

Attempts to get to Britain aboard small craft have surged in the last three months, with numbers spiking over the Christmas holidays.

The offshore patrol vessel HMS Mersey — currently in the Channel port of Portsmouth — was “available and ready” to be deployed, a Ministry of Defense source told the domestic Press Association news agency.

A Defense Ministry spokesman told AFP: “Our armed forces stand ready to provide additional capacity and expertise to assist the Home Office with the response to migrant crossings.

“Royal Navy ships continue to conduct patrols to protect the integrity of UK territorial waters.”

Some 539 people crossed the Strait of Dover — the Channel’s narrowest part at 33 km wide — in 2018. Eighty percent made the journey in the last three months, said Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the interior minister.

Almost all those who have made it to Britain have requested asylum, Javid said Wednesday, but he questioned whether someone who had left the safety of France could be a “genuine asylum seeker.”

He immediately faced a barrage of criticism from opposition MPs.

Javid said any migrants picked up in British waters would be taken to a UK port.

Meanwhile a 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man were arrested in Manchester, northwest England, on Wednesday “on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the UK,” a National Crime Agency spokeswoman said.

The investigation is ongoing.

Britain is redeploying two Border Force cutters from the Mediterranean in response to the situation.

The Sunday Times newspaper, reporting from a migrant camp on the French coast, said a growing number of well-educated Iranians were attempting the Channel crossing. It cited Ali, 34, a car salesman from Tehran, as saying his journey from the Iranian capital to Britain would end up costing £15,000 ($18,900), with payments in stages to a Kurd-dominated people-smuggling gang.

Migrant report

The number of migrants who died or went missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean fell by more than a quarter in 2018 over the previous year, to 2,262, the UN refugee agency said Thursday.

The number of migrants who arrived in Europe after surviving the sea crossing also dropped by roughly the same proportion last year to 113,482 after 172,301 in 2017, according to the UNHCR’s full-year figures.

A total of 3,139 were reported dead or missing in 2017.

“The Mediterranean has been for years the most deadly sea crossing in the world for refugees and migrants,” UNHCR spokeswoman Celine Schmitt told AFP in Paris.

The data also confirmed that Spain had become the main gateway into Europe for migrants and refugees who travel from north Africa, with 55,756 people registered as arriving there by sea in 2018.

Italy, under its hard-line anti-immigration government, cut the number of arrivals dramatically last year to 23,371 — around a fifth of the number who arrived in 2017 when 119,369 crossed from Libya.

All of the figures are far down from their peak in 2015 when an estimated 1 million people crossed the Mediterranean to Europe, mostly from Turkey into Greece.

The effects of that influx continue to reverberate around the continent, sparking debate about immigration policies and fueling far-right parties in countries that have welcomed large numbers of refugees, such as Italy, Germany and Sweden.

Rescue boats carrying migrants also sparked repeated flareups among European countries in 2018 after Italy’s populist government closed its ports to charity-run ships which pick up stranded migrants.

The EU has been working with north African countries, particularly conflict-wracked Libya, by offering aid money and help with border patrols in a bid to stem the flow of people.

The EU has also financed border protection and development projects in other impoverished African states that are a source of migrants or serve as transit routes.

The largest group of migrants who arrived in Europe in 2018 came from the west African state of Guinea (13,068) followed by Morocco (12,745) and Mali (10,327).

Syrians were the fourth biggest group (9,839), followed by Afghans (7,621) and Iraqis (7,333).


Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

Updated 2 min 5 sec ago
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Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

  • Three resign to join independent group in parliament
  • Blow to PM May in efforts to clinch deal on exit from EU

LONDON: Three lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservatives quit over the government’s “disastrous handling of Brexit” on Wednesday, in a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to unite her party around plans to leave the European Union.
The lawmakers, who support a second EU referendum and have long said May’s Brexit strategy is being led by Conservative euroskeptics, said they would join a new independent group in parliament set up by seven former opposition Labour politicians.
The resignations put May in an even weaker position in parliament, where her Brexit deal was crushed by lawmakers last month when both euroskeptics and EU supporters voted against an agreement they say offers the worst of all worlds.
While the three were almost certain to vote against any deal, the hardening of their positions undermines May’s negotiating position in Brussels, where she heads later to try to secure an opening for further work on revising the agreement.
With only 37 days until Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years, divisions over Brexit are redrawing the political landscape. The resignations threaten a decades-old two-party system.
“The final straw for us has been this government’s disastrous handling of Brexit,” the three lawmakers, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, said in a letter to May.
Soubry later told a news conference that the Conservative Party had been taken over by right-wing, pro-Brexit lawmakers.
“The truth is, the battle is over and the other side has won. The right-wing, the hard-line anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every (Conservative) leader for the last 40 years are now running the ... party from top to toe,” she said.
May said she was saddened by the decision and that Britain’s membership of the EU “has been a source of disagreement both in our party and in our country for a long time.”
“But by ... implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country,” she said, referring to the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted by a margin of 52-48 percent in favor of leaving the EU.
Asked what May would say to others considering resigning, her spokesman said: “She would, as she always has, ask for the support of her colleagues in delivering (Brexit).”

INDEPENDENT GROUP
The three sat in parliament on Wednesday with a new grouping which broke away from the Labour Party earlier this week over increasing frustration with their leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit strategy and a row over anti-Semitism.
Another former Labour lawmaker joined their ranks late on Tuesday, and several politicians from both the main opposition party and Conservatives said they expected more to follow from both sides of parliament.
What unites most of the group of 11 is a desire to see a second referendum on any deal May comes back with, now that the terms of Brexit are known in detail — something the prime minister has ruled out.
For May’s Brexit plan, the resignations are yet another knock to more than two years of talks to leave the EU, which have been punctuated by defeats in parliament, rows over policy and a confidence vote, which she ultimately won.
Britain’s 2016 EU referendum has split not only British towns and villages but also parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to keep their parties united.
May has faced a difficult balancing act. Euroskeptic members of her party want a clean break with the bloc, pro-EU lawmakers argue for the closest possible ties, while many in the middle are increasing frustrated over the lack of movement.
Those who have resigned have long accused May of leaning too far toward Brexit supporters, sticking to red lines which they, and many in Labour, say have made a comprehensive deal all but impossible to negotiate.
But May will head to Brussels hoping that her team will get the green light to start more technical negotiations on how to satisfy the concerns of mostly Brexit supporters over the so-called Northern Irish backstop arrangement.
The “backstop,” an insurance policy to avoid a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if London and Brussels fail to agree a deal on future ties, is the main point of contention in talks with Brussels.
British officials are hoping they can secure the kind of legal assurances that the backstop cannot trap Britain in the EU’s sphere to persuade lawmakers to back a revised deal.
But May’s argument she can command a majority in parliament if the EU hands her such assurances is getting weaker. A government defeat last week showed the euroskeptics’ muscle.
One pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, Andrew Bridgen, said: “I would find it very difficult to accept a legal document from the same (party) lawyer whose definitive advice four weeks ago was that we could be trapped in the backstop in perpetuity.”