Infection fear doesn’t stop migrants heading for Europe

Refugees, with asylum status, protest in Athens against Greece’s decision to evict them by May’s end from the accommodation provided through EU programs. (AFP)
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Updated 29 May 2020

Infection fear doesn’t stop migrants heading for Europe

  • Tunisian authorities halt boats bound for Italy as France tightens its borders

ROME: The Tunisian Coast Guard thwarted several attempts by traffickers to take migrant groups to the coast of Italy in the past few days as the weather improves. 

Fear of infection has not deterred the migrants — Italy still considers its ports as “not safe” from the COVID-19 pandemic although the number of new cases in the country has drastically fallen in the past week.

Tunisian National Guard spokesman Houssem Eddine Jebabli said that 49 people were stopped in the Sfax and Nabeul governorates as they were about to board boats and dinghies to reach Sicily.

Tunisian Coast Guard units in El Amra, in the Sfax governorate, intercepted a boat which had been stolen a few days earlier from local fishermen. Fourteen people aged between 20 and 29 were on board, all from Tunis and Sfax. Five of them were wanted by the police for petty crimes. The officers also seized significant sums of money in foreign currency, which they believed had been paid by the migrants to traffickers to take them to Italy.

The Tunisian prosecutor confirmed the arrest of eight people, and said others had also been charged but not detained. In Sidi Youssef, in the Kerkennah Islands, the coast guards arrested eight people aged between of 20 and 32 from Sfax and Gabes and charged them with preparing an illegal trafficking operation. The suspects, who were found with 16,000 Tunisian dinars (SR20,000) in their possession, were all charged by the public prosecutor, and three were detained.

In the Nabeul governorate, coast guard units intercepted a boat off the coast of Korba with 21 people aboard, mostly from Nigeria, heading toward Italy.

“The migrants said they spent all their money to pay for the trip from North Africa to Europe. Now they are desperate. We are sure they will try to reach Italy again as soon as they can find a way,” a spokesman for the Intersos charity told Arab News.

Despite the Tunisian authorities’ efforts, migrants from Tunisia continue to make the journey. 

Italian police said that 71 Tunisians disembarked on the island of Lampedusa on Wednesday. They were intercepted by an Italian Finance Police patrol boat on a dinghy 10 miles off the coast and were taken to the migrant reception center on the island.

The Catholic charity Caritas Intemelia in Ventimiglia, in northwestern Italy, reported that the passage of migrants, mainly Afghans, had resumed at the border with France. The charity, which has reopened its socio-legal assistance office in the town, said the French authorities have been “extremely strict” in patrolling the border, sending migrants back to Italy, including mothers with children. It believed migrants want to go to France as they feel safer from COVID-19 in that country.

Maurizio Marmo, the director of Caritas Intemelia, said: “In the light of the new Italian decree on foreigners who have the necessary requirements, we will examine individual situations, evaluating the possibility for legalization.”

The charity is also awaiting information about developments at the Parco Roja migrant center, which has been under quarantine for weeks after one person tested positive for COVID-19.

“In the past two months we have recorded very few crossings between Italy and France,” Marmo said. “At the moment our center is full and the kitchen is still closed due to the health emergency, but we continue to distribute food packages to those in transit.

“We understand that a Moroccan mother and a Senegalese mother were sent back by French police guards. Children younger than 10 years old were traveling with them. They were assisted by volunteers from other humanitarian organizations.”

The socio-legal service for migrants in Ventimiglia is a collaboration with the Waldensian Migrant Service and the nonprofit organization WeWorld.


Malaysia to reinstate pilots once Pakistani licenses OK’d

Updated 07 July 2020

Malaysia to reinstate pilots once Pakistani licenses OK’d

  • 30 percent of pilots grounded including 107 in foreign airlines

KUALA LUMPUR: The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) will reinstate Pakistani pilots as soon as Pakistani authorities verify their permits, an official told Arab News on Monday, after their temporary suspension due to a fake license scandal. 

Pakistan grounded almost 30 percent of its pilots last week after the country’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that they might have falsified their qualifications. 

Pakistan has 860 pilots, 107 of whom work for foreign airlines.

“The CAAM has sent two letters requesting verification from PCAA (Pakistani Civil Aviation Authority) as well as to inform them on the temporary suspension of Pakistani license holders in Malaysia,” Nurilya Anis Rahim, a public relations officer at CAAM, said in an email. 

Rahim added that the pilots’ licenses had been put on hold until further information from the PCAA.

“We are currently still waiting for a response from PCAA. Once an official confirmation has been made, we will reinstate these pilots with immediate effect.”

Captain Chester Voo, CAAM CEO, announced that it would temporarily suspend 20 Pakistani pilots employed with “local operators” such as flying schools, flying clubs and training organizations.

Rahim said that the decision was taken to ensure the safety and security of Malaysia’s civil aviation industry. 

“It is to ensure that all employed pilots in this country hold a valid license and abide by Malaysia’s Civil Aviation Regulation.”

The UK, EU and Vietnam have banned Pakistani pilots and barred Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) operations as well.

One analyst said that Malaysia’s stand was part of its “zero-compromises” approach.

“Malaysia has always taken a conservative stance which includes a zero-compromise on the integrity of certification and qualification of pilots,” Rizal Kamaruzzaman, a Malaysian aviation expert and executive director of Tindakan Strategi, told Arab News.

He added that the joint verification approach was an excellent opportunity for regulators in Pakistan and Malaysia to “clean” the register and weed out all pilots with dubious qualifications. 

“The move by the CAAM will also alert the rest of the airlines and general aviation aircraft to review the technical crew manifest flying into Malaysia and will definitely have a ripple effect on the aviation sector.”

He urged aviation regulators from other countries to learn a lesson from Pakistan.

“The trust and mutual recognition among regulators are a sacred pact to ensure safety for aircraft, pilots, crews, engineers and the main client that are the passengers are not compromised anywhere around the world,” he said.

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