Macron hails progress on Europe migrant deadlock - GulfToday

Macron hails progress on Europe migrant deadlock


Emmanuel Macron welcomes Filippo Grandi at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Associated Press

French President Emmanuel Macron said European countries had made progress on plans to redistribute refugees rescued in the Mediterranean, efforts criticised by Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

 The issue of what to do with the thousands of refugees still attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea has sparked a sharp response in some countries, with Italy saying it is bearing the brunt of the problem while its EU partners do little to help.

 Monday’s tentative agreement, which aims to work towards a more efficient system of redistributing rescued people, was reached at a meeting on migration in the Mediterranean held in Paris under French chairmanship.

 Macron said 14 states had approved the plan, while eight said they would actively take part.

 They include France, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland, Macron’s office said, without naming the other six.

 Salvini, who has closed ports to NGO rescue boats, said the agreement underscored a demand that Italy “continue to be the refugee camp of Europe”.

 After snubbing the meeting, he said that Italy “does not take orders and is not a partner: if Macron wants to discuss migrants, come to Rome”.

 Charities earlier criticised what they called Europe’s “campaign of criminalisation” towards the rescue boats.

 “Every effort is made to scare and to prevent ships from doing their job,” Frederic Penard, head of operations at SOS Mediterranee, told a press conference in Paris.

 Last month, Italian authorities arrested the German captain of the Sea-Watch 3 charity boat, Carola Rackete, after she hit an Italian speedboat while docking without permission in the southern port of Lampedusa.

 In a joint statement, the UNHCR and IOM heads said: “The crucial role played by NGOs must be acknowledged. They should not be criminalised nor stigmatised for saving lives at sea.”

 At present, NGO boats must try to find a country ready to admit them each time they rescue migrants and refugees, leading to time-consuming negotiations between EU members states.

 Salvini, who once accused the NGOs of running a “taxi service” for migrants, has demanded that other European countries open up their ports to the boats.

Humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee said on Sunday it has relaunched rescue efforts off Libya seven months after it abandoned operations using its ship Aquarius and despite a refusal by European ports to accept the migrants.

The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking will “conduct search and rescue activities in the central Mediterranean” for SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials MSF), the group said in a statement.

“As people are still fleeing Libya on one of the most perilous sea crossings in the world, and with almost no available rescue assets present in the central Mediterranean, it has been an imperative for both SOS Mediterranee and MSF to return at sea following the ending of their operations with the Aquarius in December 2018.”

After nearly three years of operations in which it rescued some 30,000 migrants, the Aquarius was forced to cease operations because of what the group said was obstruction by some European countries.

The International Organization for Migration says at least 426 people have died trying to cross the central Mediterranean this year.

SOS Mediterranee said the migrants were attempting “to escape the escalating conflict in Libya and the deplorable conditions of Libyan detention centres”.

The new operation comes a month after the arrest in Italy of Carola Rackete, the German captain of the Sea-Watch 3, for docking without permission to land rescued migrants.

Rackete was held for several days after the Sea-Watch 3 hit an Italian police speedboat while entering the port of Lampedusa island despite being banned from entering Italian waters.

She argued that she was compelled to avert a human tragedy and bring ashore 40 migrants who had been rescued in the Mediterranean on June 12.

“For a year now we have been witnessing a deterioration in the European Union’s response in the evolving human tragedy in the central Mediterranean,” said the head of operations at SOS Mediterranee, Frederic Penard.


Related articles