Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Mediterranean Migrant Crisis: Europe hit with news of more sinking boats

20 reported dead by caller from one of three vessels in Mediterranean Sea
The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2015

GENEVA - The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) yesterday said it had received a distress call from a sinking boat in the Mediterranean Sea carrying more than 300 people, with at least 20 reported dead.

The news came as European Union ministers were due to meet to urgently discuss Sunday's migrant tragedy, when about 700 people were feared killed after a boat capsized off Libya.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman yesterday said the group had received a call for help from one of three boats floating near one another in international waters.

"The caller said there are over 300 people on his boat and it is already sinking, (and) he has already reported fatalities, 20 at least," he wrote in an e-mail.

Although the IOM said Italian and Maltese navy boats were tied up searching for the victims of Sunday's disaster, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said later in the day that Italy and Malta were working to rescue two boats in distress.

He said one of the boats in distress has about 100 to 150 people on board, while the other has around 300. There was no mention of the third boat.

The latest news of migrant boats in distress follows a week in which two shipwrecks have left around 450 people dead, sparking calls for immediate action.

At a press conference with his Maltese counterpart Joseph Muscat yesterday, Mr Renzi said Italy was studying the possibility of mounting "targeted interventions" against Libya-based people smugglers behind a huge surge in the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

"The hypothesis of military intervention (to stabilise Libya) is not on the table... but what is possible are targeted interventions to destroy a criminal racket."

Mr Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters yesterday that she was appalled by Sunday's shipwreck disaster and wants Europe to find answers.

The victims had "started out - desperate, perhaps also hopeful - for Europe, and the fact that they now have found only death on the way - that is a tragedy", he said.

"A continent which feels committed to humanity must look for answers even when there are no easy answers," he quoted Dr Merkel as saying. He added that EU ministers must urgently ask what can be done and examine how "the complicated internal political situation in Libya leaves people smugglers a completely free path for their criminal business".

Dr Merkel had called Mr Renzi on Sunday and the two agreed that Europe "is to now act in this direction", he said.

Ahead of yesterday's EU meeting, EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini warned that the bloc had "no more excuses" not to act to halt the flood of migrants. "We need immediate action from the EU and the member states."

The former Italian foreign minister has been pushing the EU to be more pro-active on Libya.

But the issue of who handles these migrants is hugely sensitive, with Italy complaining that its EU partners are not doing enough.

Italy had scaled back its search-and-rescue mission, Mare Nostrum, after its European partners refused to help meet its operating costs of €9 million (S$13 million) a month, amid divisions over whether the mission was unintentionally encouraging migrants to try the crossing. Mare Nostrum was replaced by a much smaller EU-run operation called Triton.

The recent flood of migrants and the growing loss of life has put that decision back in focus, but some EU member states, especially those not directly affected, have been reluctant to do more.

Sunday's disaster could change that. If the worst fears about the tragedy are confirmed, it would take the death toll since the start of this year to more than 1,600.


Greek island faces flood of illegal migrants
The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2015

MYTILENE (Greece) - The Greek island of Lesbos is being flooded by a rising tide of people seeking to migrate illegally to Europe from the nearby Turkish coast, on just about anything that will float.

"The situation is no longer manageable," said International Organisation for Migration employee Zoi Livaditou, who each morning takes stock of new immigrants plucked from the Aegean Sea or arriving after risky night- time crossings. "We're averaging around 200 arrivals each day."

All of Greece's Aegean islands are affected by the influx, including Leros, Kos, Chios, Rhodes and Crete.

But with both Mytilene on Lesbos and a newly opened detention centre overflowing, local officials see little alternative to letting immigrants continue on to Athens.

"We started on foot from Iran," said a 25-year-old Iran- born Afghan, who recently arrived from the Turkish coast, which is visible from Lesbos.

"We walked nearly 20 hours towards Turkey without food or water," he said, adding that he left his mother and two brothers behind in the hopes of getting "a chance to be reborn" in Europe.

Said Mr Ismail Kadilah, 37, a Kurd who fled the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo: "It was very dangerous. The inflatable boat was packed with people, it was dark and there were lots of little children."

Mr Kadilah said his wife and three children were still in Turkey, waiting for him to "rent an apartment in Athens, thanks to someone we know from Syria who is already in Athens" - a phrase often used by immigrants who take squalid rooms from slum landlords in Greece's capital.

Neither Athens nor other Greek cities have many facilities to provide first aid or lodgings.

According to the state secretariat for immigration created by the new cash-strapped, hard-left government, Greece counts only 200 emergency quarters, 1,000 lodgings and 300 rooms for minors.

The new government blames the scarcity on previous Cabinets. To deal with the influx, government officials have asked the local authorities to use abandoned buildings as temporary quarters.

A total of 10,445 migrants arrived on Greek shores during the first quarter of this year, more than triple the 2,863 registered during the same period last year.


Europe should stop asylum-seeker boats: Abbott
The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2015

SYDNEY- Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (photo), whose government introduced tough measures to stop asylum-seeker boats, said the European Union (EU) should follow suit, describing it as the only way to end deaths at sea.

His comments yesterday came after a fishing vessel crammed with migrants capsized off Libya at the weekend with the loss of 800 lives, and as EU ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss ways to stem the flood of people trying to reach Europe.

Australia's conservative government introduced a military- led operation after coming into power in September 2013 to turn back boats carrying asylum-seekers before they reach the continent.

"We have got hundreds, maybe thousands, of people drowning in the attempts to get from Africa to Europe," Mr Abbott said.

The "only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats", he told reporters.

While the controversial policy has proved successful, with the nation going nearly 18 months with virtually no asylum-seeker boat arrivals and no reported deaths at sea, human rights advocates say it violates Australia's international obligations.

"We must resolve to stop this terrible problem and the only way you can stop the deaths is to stop the people-smuggling trade," Mr Abbott said.

"That's why it is so urgent that the countries of Europe adopt very strong policies that will end the people-smuggling trade across the Mediterranean."

The policy has been slammed by the United Nations and human rights advocates who say it violates the 1951 Refugee Convention. Australia is a signatory.

One of the architects of Australia's border policies, retired army major-general Jim Molan, said the crisis was due to Europe's "incompetent policy reaction".

Writing in The Australian newspaper yesterday, he said the tragedies were "worsened by Europe's refusal to learn from its own mistakes and from the efforts of others who have handled similar problems".


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