Migrant rescue boat in limbo off Italy as medical cases evacuated

Italian authroties saved the migrants off the Open Arms charity. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2019

Migrant rescue boat in limbo off Italy as medical cases evacuated

  • The cases were suffering from “medical complications which require specialized care”
  • Italian interior minister wanted to ban NGO rescue boats from entering Italian waters

ROME: Italy has evacuated a handful of medical cases from a Spanish migrant rescue ship off the coast of Lampedusa, as the boat remained in limbo on Friday despite a European deal to take in 134 people remaining onboard.
Three migrants who suffered “medical complications which require specialized care” and an escort were brought to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa late on Thursday, Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms said on Twitter.
This is the umpteenth standoff between a charity vessel rescuing migrants making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, but this time set against the background of a political crisis in Rome.
Thursday saw sparring between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Salvini, who last week pulled his party’s support from the ruling coalition in the hope of toppling the 14-month-old government.
Salvini’s anti-immigrant League party has been squabbling with coalition partner the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) over a host of issues.
“France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg have told me that they are ready to welcome the migrants,” Conte said in an open letter to Salvini, who has sought to bar all NGO rescue vessels from entering Italian waters.
In a distinct change of tone since the coalition disintegrated last week, Conte slammed what he called Salvini’s “obsessive focus” on an immigration policy reduced to the phrase “closed ports.”
Salvini has taken a hard-line against migrants rescued at sea being brought to Italy, which he says bears an unfair burden as the first port of call for refugees from several countries.
Responding to Conte, Salvini wrote on Facebook: “It is clear that without (my) resolve, the European Union would never have lifted a finger, leaving Italy and the Italians on their own like (previous governments) did for years.”
The UN refugee agency welcomed the news of a deal to distribute the migrants but regretted it took so long.
“People cannot be left at sea for days on end. Predictable, regional and fair approach urgently needed so no rescued person is again left at sea for so long,” the UNHCR tweeted.
After Salvini pulled the plug on his coalition with M5S last week, he had hoped for a no-confidence vote but his gambit failed.
The fate of the migrants aboard the Open Arms vessel, operated by Spanish charity Proactiva, found itself at the center of Italy’s political crisis.
Earlier this month, Salvini signed a decree banning the Open Arms from Italian waters, saying it was to protect public order.
But Proactiva appealed to an administrative court which on Wednesday suspended the decree.
Salvini then signed a new one blocking the ship, but in a demonstration of his diminished power, Italy’s defense minister blocked it on Thursday.
Elisabetta Trenta, an M5S party member with the authority to sign off on Salvini’s decree, announced that she has decided not to do so after “listening to my conscience.”
It is estimated Salvini enjoys up to 38 percent support among the electorate, thanks largely to his hard-line against immigrants.
Spokeswoman Vanessa Mock said the European Commission welcomed the willingness of member states to help relocate the migrants.
The Commission is ready to help “once a solution has been found for the disembarkation of the persons rescued at sea. The situation where persons are stranded at sea for days and weeks on end is untenable.”
The mainly African migrants aboard Open Arms had been plucked from boats in the Mediterranean this month with weather conditions encouraging more departures from Libya.
Both Italy and Malta have refused the boat permission to dock and disembark its passengers.
Five migrants disembarked at Lampedusa on Thursday “for psychological reasons,” the NGO said.
Another rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), is also looking for a port to dock with more than 350 migrants on board.


Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

Afghan security personnel in front of a prison gate after an attack by Daesh that had freed hundreds in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 04 August 2020

Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

  • The attack, reportedly by Daesh, took place hours before end of cease-fire

KABUL: Militants affiliated with the Daesh group stormed a prison in eastern Afghanistan in a daylong siege that left at least 39 people dead, including the assailants, and freed nearly 400 of their fighters before security forces restored order, a government official said Monday.

The attack on the main prison in Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, where several hundred Daesh fighters have been detained, began on Sunday afternoon with a car bomb detonated at the entrance to the jail.

The attack came hours before the end of a three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who immediately denied any involvement in the assault. Several Western media outlets reported that the Daesh had claimed responsibility.

The Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, told Arab News that there was still gunfire on Monday morning, and that more than 20 civilians and personnel and three attackers have died in the fighting.

Two local security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that nearly half of the prison’s 1,500 inmates managed to flee.

They said 20 assailants made their way into the prison and a number of explosions were heard from inside the jail.Residents said one group of attackers was firing on the jail from a nearby building and they reported heavy and sustained exchanges of small fire.

According to Khogyani, most of the escapees have been caught. He gave no further details about the attack.

The assault comes amid official claims that Daesh leaders have been arrested or killed in recent months, notably in Nangarhar, which used to be the group’s bastion.

“This is a major embarrassment for the government, which every now and then claims to have wiped out or paralyzed the Daesh. The government needs to answer why such a high security lapse has happened,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal said.

The Eid Al-Adha ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government forces was a part of efforts to begin long-awaited peace talks following a US-Taliban agreement signed in Qatar in late February.

In accordance with the deal, the Taliban is releasing 1,000 Afghan troops in exchange for 5,000 militants held by President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

The process is near completion, but Kabul is refusing to free 400 remaining Taliban inmates, saying they have been behind “heinous crimes.”

After Eid prayers on Sunday, Ghani announced he would summon a traditional grand assembly, Loya Jirga, to help him decide whether the rest of Taliban prisoners should be freed.

The assembly is scheduled to start on Aug. 7. Loya Jirga has deep roots in Afghan history and tradition and is usually summoned during times of crisis or emergency.

The Taliban have voiced their opposition to the convocation of the jirga. Their Qatar-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told TOLO News that Kabul’s decision would only complicate the peace process.

Afghan politicians are divided on the jirga announcement. Hamidullah Tokhi, a member of parliament from southern Zabul province, said: “The nation and parliament have deep doubts about Ghani’s goal for summoning the jirga to decide over the fate of 400 Taliban.

“All of the 4,500 Taliban already freed were involved in some sort of bloody attacks. Why did the government not ask for the jirga on the overall release of the Taliban?”

“Summoning the jirga now is a treason to this country and a clear blocking of the peace process,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, who served in the previous government as an adviser, said Ghani hopes that the victory of Democrats in the upcoming US elections, would sideline Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan who struck the Qatar deal with the Taliban, allowing Kabul to be in charge of the peace process.
“We should have one Loya Jirga to discuss substantive matters on peace with the Taliban and the type of future regime,” Farhadi said, adding that the Taliban, too, should participate in the assembly. “This meeting would be like a half-baked national dialogue (if it is) conducted by only one side of the conflict.”