Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned the “hellish” migrant detention camps in Libya on the seventh anniversary of his trip to Lampedusa, where many of those fleeing the country for Europe by sea land.
“The war is indeed horrible, we know that, but you cannot imagine the hell that people are living there, in that detention camp. And those people came only with hope of crossing the sea,” he said during a mass at his residence at the Vatican.
In July 2013, the newly elected Pope Francis chose the tiny Mediterranean island for his first trip outside of Rome, where he denounced the “globalisation of indifference” towards migrants.
“I remember that day, seven years ago, in the very south of Europe, on that island…,” he said.
“A number of people told me their stories and all that they had gone through to get there.
“There were interpreters present. One person was telling me about terrible things in his language, and the interpreter seemed to translate well, but this person spoke so long and the translation was brief,” he said.
Francis later found out the translator had “given me the ‘distilled’ version.
“This is what is happening today with Libya: they are giving us a ‘distilled version’,” he said.
Francis regularly expresses solidarity with migrants who cross the Mediterranean and mourns those who lose their lives in the attempt.
He has repeatedly slammed the refusal of richer nations to welcome the refugees.
The new extension to the lockdown on the camps comes after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis unveiled a new tourism campaign, saying: “We are opening Greece’s windows and doors to the world gradually but with optimism.”
Greece has announced a “transition phase” between June 15 and 30, during which airports in Athens and Thessaloniki will again receive regular passenger flights.
Other regional and island airports are to open on July 1.
Greece plans to impose a quarantine of between seven and 14 days on travellers from only the hardest-hit areas as identified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
However, sample tests will also be carried out at entry points for epidemiological purposes.
A young African child has died off the coast of Spain after being rescued from a packed boat carrying 66 migrants, the maritime rescue services said on Friday.
Aged about six, the child died on Thursday while being transported by helicopter to the southern coastal city of Almeria, said a spokeswoman, who was unable to say whether it was a girl or a boy, nor specify the nationality.
Rescuers located the boat in the Alboran Sea between Morocco and Spain in waters just off Motril, a town 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Malaga, after being tipped off by the NGO Caminando Fronteras (“Walking Borders”).
Among those on board were 20 children and 14 women, one of whom was pregnant, the spokeswoman said.
They were rescued by a patrol vessel from the European Union’s border agency Frontex, which called in urgent assistance for the child who “had a weak pulse and whose temperature was below 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees Fahrenheit).”
The helicopter picked the child up with its mother and flew them to Almeria where they were met by an ambulance, by which point the child had died, she said.
The other rescued migrants disembarked at Malaga on Friday morning.
At least 1,041 men, women and children have died while trying to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean this year, with 315 of them dying as they sought to reach Spain, according to figures from the International Organization of Migrants (IOM).
Europe and North America have absorbed the largest share of the world’s 272 million migrants, a population that has grown by 23 percent over the past decade, according to a UN report published Tuesday.
The report found that there were 82 million migrants living in Europe and 59 million in North America in 2019, followed by northern Africa and western Asia with 49 million each.
There were 51 million more migrants in the world in 2019 than in 2010, a 23 percent increase, according to the report prepared by the population division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
It said migrants account for 3.5 percent of the world’s population today, compared with 2.8 percent in 2000.
The report said the estimates were based on official national statistics on the foreign-born or the foreign population obtained from population censuses, population registers or nationally representative surveys.
“These data are critical for understanding the important role of migrants and migration in the development of both countries of origin and destination,” said Liu Zhenmin, UN under-secretary-general for Economic and Social Affairs.
He said “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people” were important in fostering sustainable development.
The UN‘s country-by-country analysis shows that half the world’s 272 million migrants live in just 10 countries, with the United States in first place with 51 million.
Germany and Saudi Arabia were next with 13 million each, followed by Russia (12 million), Britain (10 million), United Arab Emirates (nine million), France, Canada, Australia (eight million each) and Italy (six million).
In terms of countries of origin, India was first with 18 million nationals living in other countries, followed by Mexico (12 million), China (11 million), Russia (10 million) and Syria (eight million), according to the report.
The body of an Iraqi migrant who tried to swim across the Channel from France to Britain has been found off Belgium’s coast, Belgian authorities said Monday.
The 48-year-old was discovered on Friday near the seaside resort of Zeebrugge, wearing a makeshift life jacket made of empty plastic bottles and carrying a small bag with his identity papers, the prosecutor’s office in Bruges said.
“It’s the first time we’ve found the body of a migrant,” Carl Decaluwe, the governor of western Flanders province where Zeebrugge is located, told AFP Monday.
Officials believe the man drowned while trying to swim from a beach in northern France to Britain. Currents are thought to have transported his body to Belgian waters.
He was found drifting near a wind farm some 30 kilometres (18 miles) off Zeebrugge, the Belgian news agency Belga reported.
He had attempted the swim after failing to obtain asylum in Germany, according to the agency.
Eight days before the Iraqi’s body was found, a Belgian sailor had spotted a man wearing a belt made of empty plastic bottles crying for help in waters off the French coast of Dunkirk.
The sailor had informed French maritime authorities of the August 18 incident, saying he had tried to save the man, but he was swept away by a current.
Migrants are taking ever greater risks to reach Britain from France, which has taken an uncompromising approach towards so-called economic migrants who come to Europe in search of a better life in contrast with those fleeing war or persecution.
Since January, some 1,450 migrants have been rescued either by British or French coastguards, more than double the number who attempted to cross the busy shipping channel in the whole of 2018, according to official French figures released Monday.
The bodies of three migrants believed to have frozen to death were found in three separate Turkish border villages, state media reported on Tuesday.
The first body of an Afghan migrant was discovered close to the border with Greece in Serem village in the northwestern province of Edirne, state news agency Anadolu said.
The two other migrants were found in nearby villages — Akcadam and Adasarhanli — days after they had died but their nationalities were not given.
Turkish officials believe the three migrants froze to death, Anadolu said, but their bodies have been sent to Istanbul for further examination.
Authorities caught an Afghan man, named as Jamaluddin Malangi by Anadolu, who told reporters in Edirne that Greek police sent him back to Turkey on a boat via River Evros between Greece and Turkey.
The area is a major crossing point for refugees and migrants trying to enter the European Union.
Malangi, who claimed he knew one of the migrants found dead, said that they sought help after crossing into Greece by knocking on doors.
“We wanted help and during this, someone must have called the police and the Greek police officers came and caught us. First they took us to the police station then they took us near to the river where there were two boats,” Malangi said, quoted by Anadolu.
“We were sent back after being put on them (the boats)” to Turkey, he added.
It was not clear whether the migrants found dead were all part of the same group who entered Greece with Malangi or had separately tried to enter the EU member state.
According to Greek authorities, over 14,000 irregular entries have been recorded across the Turkish border so far this year, compared to some 5,500 in 2017.
But the number of migrants coming to Europe has fallen since the 2015 peak when over a million people landed in Greece from Turkey, the majority via boats.
The decline followed a deal agreed between the EU and Turkey in 2016 to stop the flow of migrants with Ankara agreeing to take migrants landing on Greek islands in exchange for incentives, including billions of euros to support refugees in Turkey.
Mexico’s new Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday for what he called a “friendly” meeting amid tensions over the migrant crisis at the border.
The talks came one day after Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office as Mexico’s new president.
“Friendly conversation as a first approach towards a long-standing understanding between Mexico and the USA,” Ebrard said on Twitter.
“I thank him for his attitude and respect towards the new administration of President Lopez Obrador.”
Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO for short, is a leftist who was sworn in on Saturday, five months after a landslide election win.
On Sunday, Pompeo and Ebrard discussed a “shared commitment to address our common challenges and opportunities for the future,” according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
The two countries are grappling with how to handle the thousands of Central American migrants who are camped at the common border — in the short and long terms.
President Donald Trump is pressuring Lopez Obrador to accept a deal to keep asylum-seeking migrants in Mexico while their claims are processed in the United States.
Last week, Ebrard said he would like to see a sort of “Marshall Plan” to foster development in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, akin to what the United States did to help rebuild Europe after World War II.
Ebrard said such a plan would help shrink the number of migrants fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries and heading to the United States.
A new shelter in Tijuana for migrants
On Sunday, officials in the Mexican border city of Tijuana shut down a makeshift shelter in a sports complex housing migrants, citing unsanitary conditions, and moved them to a different facility.
Of the original 6,000 migrants who had massed in the city, only about 2,000 went to the new center, a city official told AFP.
Cold temperatures and driving rain made conditions in the open-air shelter too difficult.
Another 500 remained near the original site, fearing the move was a precursor to being deported and were sleeping in the streets, the official said.
The whereabouts of the rest were not known.
The migrants, most of them from gang-plagued Honduras, had traveled for weeks hoping to reach the United States.
A week ago, US authorities fired tear gas and rubber bullets at about 500 migrants including women and children who had tried to breach the US-Mexico border.
The confrontation prompted hundreds of migrants to either head home or seek to remain in Mexico.
Hundreds of Central American migrants staged a boisterous demonstration on the US Mexico border on Thursday, screaming for President Donald Trump to let them in as US soldiers and riot police put on a menacing show of force.
The increased tension over the presence of a thousands-strong migrant caravan came as Trump marked Thanksgiving Day by threatening to close the border if he thinks Mexico has lost control of it.
Vehicle and pedestrian traffic at the busy San Ysidro crossing came to a halt for 40 minutes as dozens of US police wearing helmets and holding rifles formed a line facing the Mexican side of the frontier. Separately, riot police rehearsed deployment movements. US Customs and Border Protection called all of this a “large-scale readiness exercise.”
American soldiers in khaki-colored uniforms set off rockets that exploded with a pungent-smelling white smoke. Helicopters hovered overhead.
Trump has already deployed nearly 6,000 troops along the border and on Thursday he threatened to go even further.
“If we find that it gets to a level where we are going to lose control or where people are going to start getting hurt, we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we can get it under control,” Trump told reporters, before firing a warning to Mexico.
“The whole border. I mean the whole border,” he said, adding that “Mexico will not be able to sell their cars into the United States.”
At almost the same time as the police and troop exercise, at another nearby border crossing called El Chaparral, Central American migrants from the caravan emptying into Tijuana defied the president with a loud rally.
“Open the gates, Trump! We are not looking for war, but work,” shouted Alberto Ruiz, a 22-year-old Honduran.
After a trek of more than a month from Honduras, nearly 5,000 migrants have been living in a makeshift shelter fashioned from an open-air sports arena. It rained Wednesday night, drenching their mattresses and other belongings.
“Let’s go to the border! There we can pressure Trump. We are only wasting time and strength at the shelter,” Carlos Rodriguez, also Honduran, yelled into a bullhorn.
‘A special day’
“Today is a special day. It is Thanksgiving in the United States. They are not going to lynch us,” he said as a crowd applauded and screamed in support.
As the chill of the night set in, dozens of migrants lugged their wet belongings from the shelter and set up a new camp right in the middle of a street near the El Chaparral crossing.
Authorities in Tijuana have set up a job fair in an attempt to recruit skilled workers from among the migrants for the benefit of local companies, while Mexico’s migration agency has offered them temporary residency papers.
Some have taken advantage of the offers but others are simply determined to reach the US.
Since setting out more than a month ago, mostly from Honduras, thousands of migrants — including many women and children — have covered about 4,400 kilometers (2,700 miles), either walking or hitchhiking, before the first groups began reaching Tijuana at the end of last week.
But there have been tensions since they started arriving at the border town, with some locals fearing crime and violence.
The migrants are mostly fleeing poverty and unrest in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where gang violence has fuelled some of the highest murder rates in the world.