Mass arrivals of migrants into Spain’s Ceuta, Greece’s Lesbos island

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A migrant forces his way into the Spanish territory of Ceuta. Over 150 migrants made their way into Ceuta after storming a barbed-wire border fence with Morocco. (AFP)
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African migrants after crossing the border from Morocco to Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta. (Reuters)
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Migrants are arrested after they force their way into the Spanish territory of Ceuta. Over 150 migrants made their way into Ceuta after storming a barbed-wire border fence with Morocco. (AFP)
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Migrants are arrested after they force their way into the Spanish territory of Ceuta. Over 150 migrants made their way into Ceuta after storming a barbed-wire border fence with Morocco (AFP)
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Spanish Civil Guard officers use a boom lift while African migrants sit on top of a border fence as they attempt to cross into Spanish territories, between Morocco and Spain’s north African enclave of Ceuta. (Reuters)
Updated 30 August 2019

Mass arrivals of migrants into Spain’s Ceuta, Greece’s Lesbos island

  • In Spain’s north African enclave of Ceuta early on Friday, taking advantage of misty weather, 155 migrants stormed the barbed wire border that separates it from Morocco
  • In Greece, meanwhile, around 540 migrants arrived Thursday evening on the island of Lesbos on board 13 boats from nearby Turkey, including 240 children

MADRID: More than 150 migrants forced their way into Spain’s overseas territory of Ceuta on Friday, hours after 540 people alighted in Greece as pressure on southern European states continues despite an overall drop in arrivals.
The mass arrivals come after several charity ships that rescued migrants off the coast of Libya were denied access to Italian ports by outgoing hard-line interior minister Matteo Salvini.
On Friday, another such vessel belonging to charity Mediterranea Saving Humans warned of an impending health emergency on board as it was stuck at sea after being banned from entering Italian waters.
According to the latest data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 46,500 people had crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year to August 28 and another 909 died in the attempt.
This marks a drop from the same period last year when over 68,000 people crossed and 1,562 died.
But southern European nations still bear the brunt of these arrivals.
On Thursday, Spain’s acting deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said Europe should step in more.
“The countries that don’t have maritime borders also need to assume shared responsibility,” she told lawmakers.
In Spain’s north African enclave of Ceuta early on Friday, taking advantage of misty weather, 155 migrants stormed the barbed wire border that separates it from Morocco. Some of them clambered over while others broke through a door in the fence.
“They are all from sub-Saharan Africa, the majority from Guinea,” a spokesman for the central government’s office in Ceuta told AFP.
Ceuta and Melilla, another Spanish enclave, represent the European Union’s only lander borders with Africa.
All in all, though, the number of migrants arriving in both cities this year has dropped to just over 18 percent to 3,427 compared with 2018, according to the latest interior ministry figures.
This is the first time in a year that migrants have managed to storm the barbed wire fence in Ceuta as a group, the spokesman said.
Once on Spanish territory, they are usually taken to a migrant reception center where they can ask for asylum.
But Madrid has been known to send migrants back to Morocco.
In August last year, Spain sent back 116 migrants who had forced their way into Ceuta in a mass expulsion condemned by human rights activists.
It is as yet unclear what will happen in this case.
In Greece, meanwhile, around 540 migrants arrived Thursday evening on the island of Lesbos on board 13 boats from nearby Turkey, including 240 children.
They were transferred to the cramped Moria migrant camp where there are “nearly 11,000 people for a capacity of just 3,000,” medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF) said.
A Greek diplomatic source, who refused to be named, said Athens had informed the European Union about this “unprecedented rise” in the number of migrants.
Greece has overtaken Spain this year to become the main entry point for migrants seeking to get to Europe.
At least 23,200 people have arrived by sea so far this year, according to the IOM.
Over near Italy, Mediterranea Saving Humans said it had 34 migrants on board its ship after 64 vulnerable people it had rescued, including women and children, were disembarked on Thursday.
It said it had sent a “new urgent request” for a safe port after being refused access to Italian waters.
This comes at a period of political limbo in Italy, as the premier designate rushes to form a new left-leaning coalition which could alter Salvini’s hard-line stance on immigrants.
Earlier this month, Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms faced a similar predicament when Italy refused its ship permission to dock.
The dozens of migrants on board remained stuck at sea for days until an Italian prosecutor ordered they disembark on the island of Lampedusa.
Spain agreed to take in 15 of those migrants as part of a deal with France, Germany, Portugal and Luxembourg to share out the new arrivals.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 51 min 57 sec ago

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.