Denmark, Tunisia tussle over rescued migrants as IOM rescue 80 people in Sahara desert

An IOM community mobilizer from Dirkou, Niger, who was part of a joint Search and Rescue mission with Niger's authorities into the remote reaches of the Sahara desert north of Agadez, helps some of the 83 abandoned migrants to board vehicles taking them to safety on September 3, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 September 2020

Denmark, Tunisia tussle over rescued migrants as IOM rescue 80 people in Sahara desert

  • Denmark “stands ready to assist the Tunisian government,” acting Danish immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek said Monday
  • Drivers abandoned four trucks carrying the migrants from Nigeria, Togo, Mali and Ghana with no food or water in the Sahara

COPENHAGEN: Denmark on Monday said Tunisia was responsible for taking in 27 migrants who were rescued in the Mediterranean by a Danish-flagged tanker that has not been able to find a European port to accept them, a claim that Tunisia is rejecting.
The dispute over who should take in the migrants on the Maersk Etienne is the latest development in Europe’s endless struggle to cope with the tens of thousands taking to the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers’ boats each year to find a safer, better life.
More than a month ago, the Maersk Etienne rescued the migrants, including a pregnant woman and a child, from a flimsy fishing boat just before it sank in the central Mediterranean. Its owners, Maersk Tankers, now say food and fresh water are running low on the ship.
Despite weeks of talks between Maltese authorities and the company, the 186-meter-long (610-foot) vessel remains stuck in international waters 27 kilometers (17 miles) off Malta with no solution in sight.
Denmark “stands ready to assist the Tunisian government,” acting Danish immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek said Monday, adding that Denmark is talking with other EU nations about finding a way to safely disembark the 27 migrants.
Malta, which had asked the tanker to rescue the migrants on Aug. 4, often balks at taking in rescued migrants.
A Tunisian foreign ministry spokesperson said the migrants were not Tunisia’s responsibility, since they left from the Libyan city of Zuwara, capsized off Malta and were rescued by a Danish ship. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The official said the Maersk Etienne had entered into negotiations with Malta but not with Tunisia.
The Maltese government has insisted it only asked the tanker to fulfill its maritime obligations to rescue the migrants, noting that the rescue occurred in Tunisia’s search-and-rescue area.
“The Danish-flagged vessel was never instructed to proceed to Malta by the Maltese authorities,” it said.
Meanwhile, more than 80 African migrants have been rescued from the Sahara desert after they were robbed and left to die by people they had paid to smuggle them to Libya, the UN migration agency said on Tuesday, citing survivors.
Drivers abandoned four trucks carrying the migrants from Nigeria, Togo, Mali and Ghana with no food or water about 230 km (143 miles) north of the Sahara crossroad town of Niger’s Dirkou after spotting military vehicles.
Three days later, an IOM UN rescue team found the group, which included children, by chance on Sept. 3. Many were dehydrated, injured and in need of immediate medical assistance.
Spokesman Paul Dillon told Reuters it was not unusual for smugglers, who tend to take payment upfront from people desperate to reach Europe, to abandon their passengers if they fear they will be intercepted.
“Sometimes smugglers return without their passengers. It’s not a rare event,” he said. “They know the consequences of leaving people stranded in the desert. It’s very troubling this disregard for human life.”
Since 2016, IOM has helped rescue over 20,000 migrants from the Sahara desert — one of the most perilous parts of the journey for West Africans risking their lives to seek jobs in Europe.
The rescue teams have helped 321 people so far this year, excluding the latest group.
But sometimes they just find remains.
“Past SAR operations have recovered bodies buried in the sand,” Dillon said, referring to joint operations with Niger authorities. “It’s a vast space and there are many, many routes north and we don’t have resources for patrols,” he added.
(With Reuters and AP)


Migrants hoping to reach EU stranded in Bosnian woods as cold sets in

Updated 30 September 2020

Migrants hoping to reach EU stranded in Bosnian woods as cold sets in

  • As the EU attempts to overhaul its defunct migration policies, thousands of people fleeing Asia, the Middle East and Africa are stranded on the fringe of the wealthy bloc
  • In ethnically-divided Bosnia, the Serb and Croat-dominated regions refuse to accept migrants, and so they concentrate in the Bosniak-dominated Sarajevo and Krajina

VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia: Hundreds of migrants hoping to reach the European Union are sheltering in forests and ruined former factory buildings near Bosnia’s border with Croatia, with the cold setting in and conditions becoming more miserable.
On a cold Wednesday morning, migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco and Algiers shivered in their makeshift tent camp high in the woods above the town of Velika Kladusa, built of cardboard and tree branches and covered with nylon sheets.
Some set up fires to warm up and cook modest meals. Others washed themselves and their clothes in a freezing forest stream, and brushed their teeth with ashes.
As the EU attempts to overhaul its defunct migration policies, thousands of people fleeing Asia, the Middle East and Africa are stranded on the fringe of the wealthy bloc, trying and often failing to enter and continue their journey.
Migrants and refugees mostly bypassed impoverished Bosnia during their mass movements across the Balkans in 2015-2016, but in recent years the country has become a key transit route after EU countries closed their borders to new arrivals.
“[There are] many problems here,” said Mahmood Abal from Bangladesh. “No rooms, no water, no medical facilities, no sanitation.”
He is one of about 500 men who were turned away from the Bosnian towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa. Authorities are refusing to host large groups of migrants any longer and are preparing to close down some reception centers.
Sympathetic at first to the plight of the migrants, similar to their own during the war in the 1990s when they were forced to flee, Bosnians in the Krajina border region have become anxious, demanding that other regions share the burden.
But in ethnically-divided Bosnia, the Serb and Croat-dominated regions refuse to accept migrants, and so they concentrate in the Bosniak-dominated Sarajevo and Krajina.
Most migrants are smuggled to Bosnia in rubber boats over the Drina River, the natural border with Serbia, said Azur Sljivic, a Bosnian border police officer.
“Many of them drown because the Drina River is unpredictable, full of whirlpools,” Sljivic told Reuters while patrolling along the border in the eastern town of Zvornik.
Yet they do not give up.
On Tuesday night, about 50 migrants left their Bosnian forest tents to try cross the Croatian border.
“Italy, see you soon!,” one of them shouted cheerfully.