Libya rescues over 200 Europe-bound migrants off coast

The navy released a statement online on Friday saying its coast guard came to the aid of two rubber boats. (FILE/AP)
Updated 10 May 2019
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Libya rescues over 200 Europe-bound migrants off coast

  • Libya became a major conduit for African migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe after the uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Qaddafi in 2011

CAIRO, ROME, RABAT: Libya’s navy says it has rescued 213 Europe-bound African and Arab migrants off the Mediterranean coast.

The navy released a statement online on Friday saying its coast guard came to the aid of two rubber boats that had sailed separately on May 8. One of the two boats was carrying 88 men, 12 women and seven children. The second boat carried the remaining 106.

The statement says the migrants — nationals of several Arab and African countries — were handed over to Libya’s police after having received humanitarian and medical aid.

Libya became a major conduit for African migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe after the uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Libyan authorities have stepped up efforts to stem the flow of migrants, with European assistance.

A day earlier, 66 migrants were rescued in international waters off Libya on Thursday during two separate operations carried out by the Italian navy and a charity ship, raising the likelihood of a new stand-off over which port will take them in.

The first group of 36 migrants was picked up by the navy’s Cigala Fulgosi patrol ship around 75 nautical miles off the Libyan coast as part of Italy’s “Mare Sicuro” (“Safe Seas”) operation.

Those on board, including two women and eight minors, were in “mortal danger” as their makeshift craft had taken on water, adding that they had been rescued “in line with Italian and international law.”

Crackdown

Moroccan authorities have succeeded in slowing the rate of illegal migration into Spain in recent months after a crackdown on smuggling networks, Morocco’s migration and border control chief said on Friday, unveiling new figures to Reuters.

So far 7,202 people have successfully reached Spain from Morocco this year, around 2,000 more than in the same period last year. But more than half of this year’s crossings took place in January, with numbers declining sharply over the following three months.

Border control chief Khalid Zerouali told Reuters this showed that government efforts were having an effect.

He said the authorities had prevented 25,000 illegal crossings so far this year, up 30 percent compared to the same period last year. So far this year there have been no attempts to storm border fences of the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

“The measures taken by Morocco led to stemming the migration flow to Spain,” Zerouali said.

The route between Morocco and Spain has become one of the main illegal entry routes into Europe for migrants as pressure has been applied to close other routes from Turkey to Greece and Libya to Italy.

Last year some 57,000 people arrived illegally in Spain. Morocco said it stopped 89,000 migrants last year.

The vast majority of illegal Mediterranean crossings are attempted during the summer months which have yet to begin, so the much smaller figures for the first few months of the year are difficult to compare.

Zerouali denied reports that an agreement has been signed with Spain for Morocco to readmit migrants rescued at sea.

Morocco dismantled 50 migrant trafficking networks operating at the local and international levels so far this year, up 63 percent compared with a year earlier, he said. Authorities had also helped combat traffickers by imposing controls on the import and sale of navigation equipment, he added.

The EU has promised €140 million ($157 million) in border management aid to help Morocco curb migration flows. Some €30 million was disbursed earlier this year.

Zerouali said half of that aid would come in the form of budget support and half in donated equipment.

In the evening, Italian charity rescue ship Mare Jonio said it saved 30 people, including five minors and a pregnant woman, about 40 nautical miles off the Libyan coast.

“We asked the Italian MRCC (Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center) for a safe port,” the left-wing collective Mediterranea, which charters the Mare Jonio, tweeted.

Hard-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, currently campaigning for EU elections, warned he would not allow the migrants to be disembarked in Italy.

“A military ship which will have to assume its responsibility through its selected ministry is one thing, but a private vessel or one belonging to a social center, like the Mare Jonio, is another,” a spokesman for Salvini said.

“For them, the ports will remain closed.”

Italy’s populist government has taken an increasingly hard line on migration, and Salvini, head of the anti-immigrant League party, last month signed a new directive banning charity vessels from rescuing migrants off Libya.

Charity ships have drawn fire from Rome by attempting on occasion to stop migrants being taken back to crisis-hit Libya, which human rights organizations say is not safe for repatriations.

After Italian concerns that recent violence in Libya will spark an exodus of people determined to seek safety in Europe, Salvini has warned Italian ports are closed to those attempting perilous Mediterranean crossings.

Last August, dozens of migrants aboard the Italian coast guard vessel Diciotti were stranded in a Sicilian port before Salvini allowed them to disembark saying several bishops had agreed to take them in.

An accord was reached with the Catholic Church to have Ireland and Albania take some of the migrants.

Salvini faced a judicial investigation into his role in the initial stand-off, but the Italian senate blocked a criminal case against him.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration meanwhile urged “international solidarity” to be shown to the 36 migrants, adding that returning the group to Libya in its current volatile state would violate international law.


Saudi crown prince, Pompeo send a message to Iran: End hostility or pay the price

Updated 52 min 45 sec ago
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Saudi crown prince, Pompeo send a message to Iran: End hostility or pay the price

  • The US secretary of state said the US was discussing a possible international response
  • MBS hoped the Iranian regime “would opt to become a normal state and cease its hostile policy”

JEDDAH: The US will take all actions necessary — “diplomatic and otherwise” — to deter Iran from disrupting Gulf energy supplies, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Sunday.

Pompeo spoke hours after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the Kingdom would “not hesitate in dealing with any threat against our people, sovereignty and vital interests.”

The twin warnings to the regime in Tehran followed last week’s attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely assumed to have been carried out by Iran.

“We don’t want war. We’ve done what we can to deter it,” Pompeo said in a TV interview. “But the Iranians should understand very clearly that we will continue to take actions that deter Iran from engaging in this kind of behavior.

“What you should assume is we are going to guarantee freedom of navigation throughout the Strait of Hormuz. This is an international challenge, important to the entire globe. The US is going to make sure that we take all the actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, that achieve that outcome.”

Pompeo said the US was discussing a possible international response, and he had made a number of calls to foreign officials about the tanker attacks.

He said China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia relied heavily on freedom of navigation through the strait. “I’m confident that when they see the risk, the risk to their own economies and their own people, and outrageous behavior of Iran, they will join us in this.”

The Saudi crown prince, in an interview with the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, said the Kingdom had “supported the re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran out of our belief that the international community needed to take a decisive stance against Iran.”

He hoped the Iranian regime “would opt to become a normal state and cease its hostile policy.”

Crown Prince Mohammed said the Kingdom’s hand was always extended for peace, but the Iranian regime had disrespected the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his visit to Tehran by attacking the two oil tankers in the Gulf, one of which was Japanese.

“It also employed its militias to carry out a shameful attack against Abha International Airport. This is clear evidence of the Iranian regime’s policy and intentions to target the security and stability of the region.”

The crown prince said the attacks “underscore the importance of our demand before the international community to take a decisive stance against an expansionist regime that has supported terrorism and spread death and destruction over the past decades, not only in the region, but the whole world.”

Prince Mohammed’s interview was “a message to Tehran, and beyond Tehran, to the international community,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“He sent out the message that we do not want a war in the region. He was offering peace, as is our nature, and that is what we are doing now. But if it is going to affect our vital interests, our vital resources and our people, we will defend ourselves and take action to handle any threat.  

“We are facing aggressive, barbaric and terrorist threats from Iran, and we must take rapid and decisive action against that. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is sending a message to the world that there must be a solution.”