EU seeks curb for Libya migrant flows

EU seeks curb for Libya migrant flows
A child walks in the migrant and refugee camp of Liniere in Grande-Synthe. (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2017

EU seeks curb for Libya migrant flows

EU seeks curb for Libya migrant flows

BRUSSELS: After blocking the main migrant route from the Middle East, the EU will this week seek ways to check a feared spring surge from Libya and North Africa across the Mediterranean.
The European Union lacks a reliable partner in chaotic Libya, the launchpad for almost all migrant crossings over the central Mediterranean, while some African governments along the trail north have been reluctant to cooperate, EU sources and experts said.
The European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, is due to unveil new proposals to tackle the issue on Wednesday, before ministers address it at talks in Malta on Thursday and Friday.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat — whose country is using its six-month presidency of the EU to highlight a crisis that has badly affected the island — warned two weeks ago that the EU should meet soon with Libyan authorities to try to avert the risk of an “unprecedented” migrant flow in the spring.
Trafficking on the central Mediterranean route is picking up sharply with more than 180,000 migrants landing in Italy last year, compared with a previous annual record of 170,100 in 2014.
Muscat wants a Libya deal that copies aspects of a controversial EU aid-for-cooperation deal with Turkey that has sharply slowed the number of Syrian and other asylum seekers landing in Greece.
But that will be tough, as the UN-backed Libyan unity government is locked in a power struggle with a rival administration in eastern Libya as it seeks to end years of lawlessness following the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi.
Meanwhile the EU’s naval operation “Sophia,” launched in 2015 to crack down on smugglers on the high seas, has no green light to intervene in Libyan waters.
“The operation is only partly useful because we can’t really act against the smugglers,” a European diplomat said. “They abandon people on rickety boats before the international waters and then let them drift.”
Now, Malta has floated the idea of having the EU step up its months-old program to train and equip Libya’s coast guard to form a “line of protection” nearer the embarcation points, according to a proposal seen by AFP.
The Libyan coast guard would then return the migrants to shore where they would be taken into the EU in the right conditions under international law.
“The problem is that you have no reliable partner on the Libyan side,” Stefan Lehne, an analyst with the think tank Carnegie Europe, told AFP.
The lack of a reliable interlocutor will likely force the EU to focus to try to work with countries through which migrants travel north, EU sources said.
Most of the migrants coming from Africa are viewed by the EU as economic migrants who should be deported to their original countries, rather than refugees like those fleeing war in Syria.
The EU’s successful cooperation on returns with Niger, a transit country, and the International Organization for Migration has led to calls for Brussels to strike similar deals with Mali, Chad, Nigeria and Sudan.
The EU already has deals with Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Ethiopia to stop people leaving for Europe in the first place, sealed at a summit in Malta in 2015.
But despite European pressure, the African countries are balking at cooperation with Europe over returns.
Lehne said the EU approach fails to recognize the fact that “migration is a positive thing” for African countries which receive remittances from workers abroad and get “rid of people who could politically destabilize the country.”
Yves Pascouau, director of the European Policy Center, said the EU should propose “legal channels of migration” in return for cooperation but this is unlikely given rising populist opposition to migration in Europe.


India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive

India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive
Updated 21 min 59 sec ago

India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive

India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive
  • India is home to the world’s largest vaccine makers and has one of the biggest immunization programs
  • But there is no playbook for the enormity of the current challenge

NEW DELHI: India started inoculating health workers Saturday in what is likely the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign, joining the ranks of wealthier nations where the effort is already well underway.
India is home to the world’s largest vaccine makers and has one of the biggest immunization programs. But there is no playbook for the enormity of the current challenge.
Indian authorities hope to give shots to 300 million people, roughly the population of the USand several times more than its existing program that targets 26 million infants. The recipients include 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers, to be followed by 270 million people who are either over 50 years old or have illnesses that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.
For workers who have pulled India’s battered health care system through the pandemic, the shots offered confidence that life can start returning to normal. Many burst with pride.
“I am excited that I am among the first to get the vaccine,” Gita Devi, a nurse, said as she lifted her left sleeve to receive the shot.
“I am happy to get an India-made vaccine and that we do not have to depend on others for it,” said Devi, who has treated patients throughout the pandemic in a hospital in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state in India’s heartland.
The first dose was administered to a sanitation worker at the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences in the capital, New Delhi, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi kickstarted the campaign with a nationally televised speech.
“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said. He implored citizens to keep their guard up and not to believe any “rumors about the safety of the vaccines.”
It was not clear whether Modi, 70, had received the vaccine himself like other world leaders to try to demonstrate the shot’s safety. His government has said politicians will not be considered priority groups in the first phase of the rollout.
Health officials haven’t specified what percentage of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people will be targeted by the campaign. But experts say it will almost certainly be the largest such drive globally.
The sheer scale has its obstacles and some early snags were identified. For instance, there were delays in uploading the details of health care workers receiving the shots to a digital platform that India is using to track vaccines, the Health Ministry said.
Shots were given to at least 165,714 people on Saturday, Dr. Manohar Agnani, a Health Ministry official, said at an evening briefing. The ministry had said that it was aiming to vaccinate 100 people in each of the 3,006 centers across the country.
News cameras captured the injections across hundreds of hospitals, underscoring the pent-up hopes that vaccination was the first step in getting past the pandemic that has devastated the lives of so many Indians and bruised the country’s economy.
India on Jan. 4 approved emergency use of two vaccines, one developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and another by Indian company Bharat Biotech. Cargo planes flew 16.5 million shots to different Indian cities last week.
But doubts over the effectiveness of the homegrown vaccine is creating hurdles for the ambitious plan.
Health experts worry that the regulatory shortcut taken to approve the Bharat Biotech vaccine without waiting for concrete data that would show its efficacy in preventing illness from the coronavirus could amplify vaccine hesitancy. At least one state health minister has opposed its use.
In New Delhi, doctors at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, one of the largest in the city, demanded they be administered the AstraZeneca vaccine instead of the one developed by Bharat Biotech. A doctors union at the hospital said many of its members were a “bit apprehensive about the lack of complete trial” for the homegrown vaccine.
“Right now, we don’t have the option to choose between the vaccines,” said Dr. Nirmalaya Mohapatra, vice president of the hospital’s Resident Doctors Association.
The Health Ministry has bristled at the criticism and says the vaccines are safe, but maintains that health workers will have no choice in deciding which vaccine they will get themselves.
According to Dr. S.P. Kalantri, the director of a rural hospital in Maharashtra, India’s worst-hit state, such an approach was worrying because he said the regulatory approval was hasty and not backed by science.
“In a hurry to be populist, the government (is) taking decisions that might not be in the best interest of the common man,” Kalantri said.
Against the backdrop of the rising global COVID-19 death toll — it topped 2 million on Friday — the clock is ticking to vaccinate as many people as possible. But the campaign has been uneven.
In wealthy countries including the United States, Britain, Israel, Canada and Germany, millions of citizens have already been given some measure of protection by vaccines developed with revolutionary speed and quickly authorized for use.
But elsewhere, immunization drives have barely gotten off the ground. Many experts are predicting another year of loss and hardship in places like Iran, India, Mexico and Brazil, which together account for about a quarter of the world’s COVID-19 deaths.
India is second to the US with more than 10.5 million confirmed cases, and ranks third in the number of deaths, behind the US and Brazil, with over 152,000.
More than 35 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered around the world, according to the University of Oxford.
While the majority of the COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been snapped up by wealthy countries, COVAX, a UN-backed project to supply shots to developing parts of the world, has found itself short of vaccines, money and logistical help.
As a result, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, warned this week that it is highly unlikely that herd immunity — which would require at least 70% of the globe to be vaccinated — will be achieved this year.
“Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world,” she said.