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

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.


Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

Updated 28 min 13 sec ago

Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’ll likely release the long-awaited White House Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.
He said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.
“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”
He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” Trump said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz to visit during at a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing an international forum Thursday on the Holocaust. He said that at Netanyahu’s request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz, a former army chief.
The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.
“We have had no better friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves.”
The Palestinians rejected Trump’s peace efforts after he recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there in May 2018. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war and annexed, to be their capital.
“If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That would force Israel to resume responsibility for providing basic services to millions of Palestinians.
“We warn Israel and the US administration from crossing the red lines,” Abu Rdeneh said.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV, citing Israeli officials, said the plan is expected to be extremely favorable toward Israel and offer it control over large parts of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which was also captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the international community supports the Palestinian position.
Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish settlements across the West Bank, which would all but extinguish any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has tried to make that the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection following unprecedented back-to-back elections last year that left him in a virtual tie with Gantz, with neither able to cobble together a ruling coalition.
The deadlock was deepened by Netanyahu’s indictment last year on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running corruption investigations. Netanyahu has asked Israel’s parliament to grant him immunity.
Next week’s meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made Netanyahu’s indictment the focus of his campaign to oust the prime minister. And his Blue and White party is leading an effort in parliament to block Netanyahu’s immunity request before the election. At the same time, they will be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate.
The US was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged.
Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel supporters as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the Palestinians in the West Bank.
A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when the plan is published.
“He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed meetings.
While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face opposition from Netanyahu’s hard-line partners.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist Yamina party, called Trump a “true friend” of Israel and said the country likely stands before a “historic opportunity.” But he said his party would not allow the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to be established.