Maltese navy rescues 216 migrants off Mediterranean - GulfToday

Maltese navy rescues 216 migrants off Mediterranean

Malta-Rescue

An immigration officer talks to migrants after they disembarked from a Malta patrol boat in Marsamxett Harbour on Saturday. Reuters

The Maltese navy said on Saturday it had rescued 216 more migrants, including pregnant women and minors, from two small craft in the Mediterranean.

Malta, which was holding a vote for the European Union parliament Saturday, has appealed to the EU for help in dealing with the flow of migrants, which much larger neighbour Italy has begun to turn away.

A navy statement said the migrants were on board two boats, and the first group was rescued after it “sent out a distress call that their boat was taking in water.”

They were being ferried to Malta, which lies near Libya, “when another distress call from another migrant vessel came in.

“So the patrol boat turned around and proceeded to rescue the second group too,” the statement said, before adding that “pregnant women and unaccompanied minors are among those rescued”.

All were expected to reach Malta around midday.

The island of 450,000 people is a common destination for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa, and a hardline stance from Italy has increased pressure on it.

More than 500 migrants have reached Malta this year, while 1,425 have made it to Italy, which has a population 130 times larger. International Organisation for Migration (IOM) figures show 24,687 migrants have reached Europe so far this year, well below the record of around one million in 2015, and also likely to fall below the 2018 figure of 144,000.

Among EU member states, Spain took in the most migrants last year, at around 65,000.

In a separate development related to migrants a French boss of a second-hand boat firm was sentenced to prison on Friday for selling dozens of vessels to desperate migrants who used them to cross the English Channel.

Emmanuel Desreux, 45, was given 18 months behind bars and another 18 months suspended sentence for selling what investigators said was 39 inflatable boats with motors to migrants to navigate across the busy waterway from France to Britain.

A taxi driver accomplice who organised the transport of the boats and some of the migrants to beaches, Jean-Claude Demeyer, 54, was also sentenced by the court in Boulogne-sur-mer to one year in prison, with another year suspended.

Police launched their investigation over the crossings when they arrested four Iranians and two taxi drivers in January on a beach near Calais in January.

Information from those arrested led them to Desreux and his firm, Fluvialys, located in the town of Deulemont on the border with Belgium.

He was charged with abetting illegal migration across the Channel between October 2018 and March 2019.

That period corresponded with a noticeable spike in Channel crossings by Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi and African migrants trying to reach England, which prompted stepped-up patrols by British and French police.

The migrants had turned to the clandestine sea route after being frustrated in attempts to clamber aboard trucks and other vehicles crossing from France to Britain via the Channel Tunnel or on ferries.

Authorities in the northern Pas-de-Calais region said nearly 500 migrants on more than 60 boats managed to reach England’s shores between October and March. Some of the vessels were stolen fishing boats, while others were purchased by the migrants.

Police found 14,000 euros (equivalent to nearly $16,000) in cash in Desreux’s car when he was arrested. Neither of the convicted men expressed any remorse for the risks the migrants ran by crossing one of the busiest shipping corridors in the world, one beset by strong currents and often foul weather.

“Everything depends on the weather,” Desreux said in court.

“When it was bad weather, I told them (the migrants) to call back later.”

Meanwhile, Libya’s navy confirmed on Friday that it rescued three boats carrying a total of 290 Europe-bound migrants off the country’s Mediterranean coast, a day after a German aid group released video showing a sinking raft packed with dozens of migrants, with some people scattered in the sea.

Libyan coast guards first reported finding a sinking rubber boat whose bottom had collapsed on Thursday, leaving most migrants in the water and hanging onto what was left of the boat and plastic barrels. A statement posted Friday on the navy press center’s official Facebook page says that boat carried 87 migrants, including six women and a child.

Agencies