Three Migrants Jump Into Sea In Italy Port Standoff

The Italian Flag.

 

Three migrants rescued from the Mediterranean and brought to a Sicilian port but then banned from disembarking jumped into the sea in desperation Monday, trapped in a standoff between charity ships and Italy’s new hard-right government.

The men were quickly pulled from the water near the Geo Barents ship, according to operator Doctors Without Borders (MSF), as it was docked in Catania with more than 200 people on board.

It is one of a handful of charity vessels that save migrants at risk of drowning during the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe, and which are now in the crosshairs of new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government.

Shortly after the men jumped — apparently one had been trying to save the other two — a dozen other migrants standing on the deck of the ship chanted “Help us”, an AFP journalist witnessed.

After days at sea, Geo Barents docked in Catania this weekend and Italian authorities allowed 357 people to disembark, including children, while refusing entry to 215 others.

Nearby, German-flagged rescue ship Humanity 1 disembarked 144 people, but still has 35 adult male migrants onboard who were similarly refused permission to go ashore.

A government decree issued Friday said Humanity 1 was only allowed into an Italian port for the time it took to help those in “emergency conditions”.

Italy’s two-week-old government, led by Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party and comprising Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League, has vowed to stop the tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on the country’s shores each year.

Most come in overcrowded, leaky boats and many die as they try to reach Europe. But Italy has long complained that the EU does not share the burden of managing the problem.

Salvini, who is currently on trial for blocking migrant boats when he was interior minister in 2019, said Monday the arrivals must be stopped.

“They are organised trips, increasingly dangerous, which finance weapons and drugs. They must be cut off,” the now deputy prime minister tweeted.

Even as tensions rose in Catania, however, more than 500 people were rescued by Italian authorities and disembarked in Sicily, the head of the Syracuse administration told AFP.

READ ALSONorth Korea Fires Four Short-Range Ballistic Missiles

Psychological stress 

One of the 215 left onboard Geo Barents was later evacuated by ambulance after suffering “acute abdominal pain”, MSF said on Monday, bringing the total to 214.

Antonio Nicita, a senator with the centre-left Democratic Party, said he had visited the ship and found “a lot of suffering”.

“Many people undressed in front of us to show their scabies infection,” he told AFP.

“Their situation, their level of psychological stress is very, very high,” added Riccardo Gatti, the chief of search and rescue at MSF.

“The ship has its limitations in terms of medical assistance: a ship is like an ambulance and people are still in the ambulance,” he said.

The charity SOS Humanity, which operates the Humanity 1 ship, said authorities decided after a “brief” medical exam that the 35 men left onboard its vessel were “healthy” and so need not disembark.

But it said no translator attended and there was no psychological evaluation, and has launched legal action against the Italian authorities for selecting those who have the right to land in Italy.

“If a port is secure, then it’s secure for everybody,” SOS Humanity lawyer Riccardo Campochiaro told AFP.

The ship’s captain, Joachim Ebeling, has defied the demand to leave the port, telling reporters on Monday: “I’m not going anywhere with these people onboard.”

International obligations 

UN agencies the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration all urged the disembarkation of the migrants “without delay”.

“Italy’s efforts in the disembarkation of some 400 people… are welcomed. However, a solution is urgently needed for all remaining survivors,” a joint statement said.

They referred also to two other migrant rescue ships, the Ocean Viking and Rise Above, which have been waiting off Sicily with around 230 and 90 migrants respectively.

Media reports late Monday said Rise Above had been assigned a port in southern Italy.

A group of civil society organisations, including ActionAid International, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Refugee Council, echoed the call for a rapid disembarkation.

Amnesty International has accused Italy of “violating its international obligations”, saying “the law of the sea is clear; a rescue ends when all those rescued are disembarked in a place of safety”.

AFP

Pope Evokes Malta’s Welcome Of St Paul In Migrant Appeal

Pope Francis celebrates the New Year's day mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on January 1, 2022. Tiziana FABI / AFP
File photo: Pope Francis celebrates the New Year’s day mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on January 1, 2022. Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Pope Francis visited the grotto Sunday where St. Paul lived after washing up on Malta, recalling the welcome the Apostle received and urging better treatment of modern day arrivals on the Mediterranean island.

On the final day of his weekend trip to Malta, the 85-year-old pontiff will also hold open-air mass before visiting a migrant centre that will soon host refugees from the Ukraine war.

According to Christian tradition, Paul was shipwrecked on Malta in 60 AD while en route to Rome, and performed several miracles in his three months there.

Following in the footsteps of former popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Francis visited the holy grotto in Rabat, lighting a candle and saying a prayer.

He recalled how Paul and his fellow travellers were welcomed, even though “no one knew their names, their place of birth or their social status”.

He called on God to “help us to recognise from afar those in need, struggling amidst the waves of the sea, dashed against the reefs of unknown shores” and grant that “our compassion be more than empty words”.

The pope, who last summer underwent colon surgery and cancelled an event in February due to acute knee pain, appeared to have trouble walking during the visit, where he also met the sick and disabled at the connected Basilica of St. Paul.

– Safe harbour –

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has overshadowed the pope’s first trip to Catholic-majority Malta, a voyage delayed two years by coronavirus.

Addressing politicians and diplomats on Saturday, he warned that “some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts” in a thinly veiled accusation against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Asked by a reporter about a possible trip to Kyiv, he said a visit to Ukraine’s capital was “on the table”.

The war has caused the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, which feeds into a key theme of Francis’ nine-year papacy — the need to welcome those fleeing war, poverty or the effects of climate change.

Malta is on the frontline of the route from North Africa into Europe and thousands of people who risked the crossing in overcrowded boats have ended up here.

But charity groups have accused Malta of turning a blind eye to desperate people in its waters, and the pope on Saturday reminded the archipelago of its status as a “safe harbour”, while adding that other countries must also step in.

“The growing migration emergency — here we can think of the refugees from war-torn Ukraine — calls for a broad-based and shared response,” he said.

– ‘Very tired’ –

After visiting the grotto, the pope headed to Floriana, near the capital Valletta, where he was set to conduct mass for a 10,000-strong crowd of followers.

Awaiting him among the crowd was 67-year-old Anna Balzan from the nearby city of Qormi and her extended family. Over her shoulders was draped a Vatican flag she purchased during John Paul II’s visit in 1990.

“I’ve seen Benedict and John Paul when they came to Malta,” she said, expressing concern for the current pope’s health.

“I saw him as very tired yesterday… I think he is suffering.”

Later Sunday, Francis will return to the theme of migrants by visiting the John XXIII Peace Lab, a centre inspired by the pope of that name, which is preparing for the arrival of Ukrainian refugees.

Run for the past five decades by a Franciscan friar, now 91, it already hosts around 55 young men from different parts of Africa who arrived on Malta without any legal papers.

AFP

Turkey Says Migrant Toll At Greek Border Up To 19

This aerial view taken on January 25, 2022 shows cars stranded on the highway after heavy snowfall at the Basaksehir district in Istanbul. – Istanbul is experiencing heavy snowfalls, with roads blocked, flights and intercity transportation canceled and thousands of vehicles stranded on majors roads. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

 

The frozen bodies of seven more migrants have been discovered close to the Greek border, Turkish officials said on Thursday, bringing the death toll in the diplomatically-charged incident to 19.

Turkey accuses border guards in neighbour Greece of allowing the migrants to die in the winter cold after stripping them of their clothes and then forcing them back across the border.

Greece has denied Turkey’s version of events, although a top EU official expressed alarm and said the claims needed to be investigated further.

“After search and rescue operations in the region, the number of migrants who were pushed back and froze to death has unfortunately risen to 19,” the governor’s office of Edirne on the border with Greece said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Germany To Offer 4th COVID-19 Jab To Vulnerable People

The bodies of 12 migrants first discovered on Wednesday have been taken to a forensic medicine institution in Istanbul for identification, the private DHA news agency reported.

Turkish officials say they have no information yet about the migrants’ nationalities.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu on Wednesday posted blurred pictures of partially naked bodies lying by the roadside, saying they had been “stripped (of) their clothes and shoes” by Greek border guards.

Human rights groups believe that such actions, reported by migrants in different parts of the world, are designed to discourage fleeing people from trying to enter a particular country, and to look for a different route.

– ‘Utter nonsense’ –

Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi did not dispute the deaths but dismissed Turkey’s version of events as “false propaganda”.

“These migrants never made it to the border. Any suggestion they did, or indeed were pushed back into Turkey is utter nonsense,” Mitarachi said.

But the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson expressed alarm at Turkey’s claim.

“I’m a bit shocked,” she told AFP by telephone while attending a meeting of the 27-nation bloc’s interior ministers in France.

“We have the Greek minister here, I will raise it with him and ask for clarification on this. This needs to be investigated of course.”

The incident threatens to escalate simmering tensions between the rival members of the NATO defence alliance.

“It’s not the first time that we are seeing this type of behaviour from Greece,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.

Turkey regularly accuses Greek officials of illegally pushing back migrants into its territory, but Athens denies the claims.

Greece in turn claims Turkey is turning a blind eye to people trying to reach Europe via its border in violation of a 2016 deal between Ankara and the EU.

The agreement, which has been extended, sees the bloc provide billions of euros in aid to Ankara in exchange for Turkey agreeing to host millions of Syrian and other refugees.

Belgian Court Jails Trafficker Over Migrant Lorry Deaths

A file photo of a court gavel.
A file photo of a court gavel.

 

A Belgian court sentenced a Vietnamese man to 15 years in prison on Wednesday after convicting him of being the ringleader in the trafficking of 39 migrants found dead in a lorry.

Vo Van Hong, 45, was found guilty of leading a cross-Channel people-trafficking operation that has been linked to a truck found full of corpses on an English industrial estate in October 2019.

At least 15 of the 39 dead had passed through the Belgian-based trafficking network, which operated two safe houses in the Anderlecht district of Brussels for migrants heading to Britain.

The 2019 discovery on the Grays industrial park east of London was one of the worst involving migrants in recent years.

The victims — 31 men and eight women aged between 15 and 44, all Vietnamese — died from suffocation and hyperthermia in the confined space of the container, which arrived on a ferry from Zeebrugge.

Several suspects have already been convicted and incarcerated in Britain and Vietnam in connection with the case. In France, 26 more have been charged and face trial.

– ‘Well-organised’ –

In Belgium, Vo was one of 23 suspects — both Belgians and Vietnamese — put on trial after a May 2020 police operation in which several addresses, most in the Brussels region, were raided and Vietnamese suspected of links to the gang were rounded up.

Of the 23, a total of 18 — including Vo — were convicted and five were acquitted.

Vo was handed the stiffest sentence, followed by his main lieutenant, who received 10 years, and one driver who received seven years.

The other 15 who were convicted received sentences ranging from one year to four years and two months, most of them with suspensions applied.

Most of the defendants were convicted as members of the people-smuggling ring while others were charged as accomplices, used as safe-house guards, grocery shoppers for the migrants or drivers.

Prosecutors said the “very well-organised” gang was specialised in clandestinely transporting people into Europe then Britain for a fee of 24,000 euros ($27,000) per person.

Vo was convicted of running a criminal organisation in Belgium involved in smuggling a total of 115 identified people to Britain between September 2018 and the date of his arrest in May 2020.

He denied acting as ringleader and claimed he was a “victim” of the smuggling ring.

He was handed a 15-year sentence, the statutory maximum, and a fine of 920,000 euros ($1 million).

Prosecutors said the gang used an Irish trucking company that regularly imported Vietnamese biscuits to get the migrants across the Channel.

Vietnamese gang members took charge of the arriving migrants once they got to Britain.

Many of the dead migrants in the truck came from a poor region in the centre of Vietnam.

Families there rack up thousands of dollars in debt to have a single family member smuggled into Britain in the hope of securing a better life.

Pope On Cyprus Visit Urges European Unity Amid Migrant Influx

Pope Francis arrives at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Old Nicosia on his first stop following his arrival in Cyprus on December 2, 2021. – The pontiff, 84, is the second Catholic pontiff to set foot on the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which has a Greek Orthodox majority, after Benedict XVI visited in 2010.  (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

 

Pope Francis on Thursday urged unity as Europe faces an influx of refugees and migrants, speaking on the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, a major destination for people fleeing war and poverty.

“We need to welcome and integrate one another and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us,” said the pontiff, 84, at the start of a five-day trip that takes him to Greece from Saturday.

The pope was set to underscore his message by taking 50 migrants now in Cyprus to Italy, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said, although the Vatican has yet to confirm the initiative.

Francis — on his 35th international trip since becoming pope in 2013 — is the second Catholic pontiff to visit Cyprus after Benedict XVI went in 2010.

Speaking in a Maronite church in Nicosia, the pope said “the presence of many of our migrant brothers and sisters” had made Cyprus “a true point of encounter between different ethnicities and cultures”.

The island’s experience served as a reminder to Europe that “we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity,” he said.

Later, in a meeting with Anastasiades, he cautioned against nationalist “walls of fear” in Europe and stressed the continent “needs reconciliation and unity”.

Cyprus, a country of one million people, is home to about 25,000 Catholics, including Maronites whose ancestors arrived from Syria and Lebanon and overseas workers from the Philippines, South Asia and African countries.

“We’re such a small minority so it’s great to feel that you belong to a greater family, the Catholic family,” said Eliana Maltezou, 38, holding her one-year-old son and waving a Cypriot flag.

– ‘Vulnerable and marginalised’ –

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded and occupied its northern third in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek junta in power at the time.

Only Ankara recognises the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and tensions simmer between the two sides.

The division saw about 200,000 people, including many Maronites from the north, displaced from their homes.

Monica Despoti, 55, whose Maronite village Asomatos is in the north, said the pope’s visit meant “we’re very, very happy and we also have a hope that with his help we can go back to our motherland”.

The majority-Greek speaking south accuses the north of sending migrants across the UN-patrolled Green Line and also says it receives the highest number of first-time asylum seekers of any EU member country.

The pope, who has long called for better protection for migrants, in remarks ahead of the trip described the Mediterranean Sea as a “huge cemetery” for migrants who drowned.

At the church, the pope listened as Nyein Nyein Loo, of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, spoke about the Christian community’s charitable work for migrants.

“Much of our work consists in defending the basic human rights of those in need and of migrant workers,” she said, detailing that many face “harsh and unfair treatment, including unpaid wages, excessively long working hours, verbal and physical abuse and other forms of discrimination”.

Before his departure from Rome, Francis met refugees from Syria, Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan who had come via the Greek island of Lesbos and now live in Italy.

On the plane, a journalist gave him framed fabric pieces of migrant tents from the French port of Calais with the message: “To all the exiled people who died on the Franco-British border.”

“It’s terrible,” the pope replied, visibly moved.

– ‘Terrible laceration’ –

According to Cypriot authorities, negotiations are underway with the Vatican to organise the transfer to Rome of several migrant families now in Cyprus.

That would repeat a gesture Francis made on Lesbos in 2016 when he returned to the Vatican with three Syrian Muslim families who had fled bombing in their homeland.

On Thursday evening, Francis visited Anastasiades for talks focused on the island’s painful division.

Francis said “the greatest wound suffered by this land has been the terrible laceration it has endured in recent decades. I think of the deep suffering of all those people unable to return to their homes and their places of worship.

“The way of peace, which reconciles conflicts and regenerates the beauty of fraternity, has a single word as its signpost. That word is dialogue.”

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, meanwhile, accused the south of seeking to use the trip to score “political goals against Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.

It was a “source of sorrow for us that Pope Francis will visit Greek Cyprus only,” he said.

“There are two peoples in Cyprus. Not only Christian Greeks but also Muslim Turks live in Cyprus. This is one of the basic realities of Cyprus.”

After Deadly Shooting, Migrants In Libya Just Want To Leave

Migrants board a bus after being recaptured by Libyan security forces following an escape attempt from a detention facility in the capital Tripoli, on October 8, 2021. Guards shot dead six migrants at an overcrowded Tripoli detention facility, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
Hussam AHMED / AFP

 

After escaping, with hundreds of others, from an overcrowded Libyan detention centre where guards shot dead six migrants, Sudanese refugee Halima Mokhtar Bshara says she just wants to leave the country.

“They attacked us, humiliated us, many of us were wounded,” said the 27-year-old from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.

“We’re at the end of our tether.”

The Al-Mabani facility in the capital Tripoli was at triple its capacity following police raids against migrants last week, when guards shot six people dead on Friday.

The shooting was “related to overcrowding and the terrible, very tense situation,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

Some 2,000 migrants and refugees escaped in the chaos, including Bshara and her three children.

On Saturday, the Libyan interior ministry denied any “excessive use of force” against escaping migrants.

It said that as “hundreds” of people being held at the detention centre escaped, “a stampede” occurred during which “an illegal migrant died and others were wounded, including several police officers”.

A “security operation” following the escape “was handled professionally and without excessive use of force”, a statement added.

READ ALSO: 17 Migrants Found Dead On Libya Beach – Coast Guard

 ‘Nowhere To Go’ 

African migrants gather at a makeshift shelter in the capital Tripoli’s suburb of Ain Zara, on October 9, 2021.  Mahmud TURKIA / AFP

 

Bshara was among hundreds taking part in a sit-in in front of the office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Tripoli on Saturday.

Dozens of destitute migrants and refugees, including young children, have been sleeping rough in front of the building for days, in the hope of receiving assistance.

“We’re extremely tired. But we have nowhere to go, we are even being chased off the pavement,” Bshara told AFP tearfully.

“For our security, we ask to be evacuated,” one banner at the site said.

“Libya is not a safe country for refugees,” read another.

In chaos since its 2011 revolution, Libya has long been a favoured departure point for migrants — many from sub-Saharan Africa — fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries and hoping to reach Europe.

Hundreds die each year trying to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing in rickety, overcrowded boats, while NGOs say those waiting to leave are often subject to violence and abuse.

Corruption And Violence

African migrants stage a demonstration outside the headquarters of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the Siraj area of the Libyan capital Tripoli, calling for their repatriation, on October 9, 2021. Mahmud TURKIA / AFP

 

Late last week, Libyan authorities raided multiple houses and makeshift shelters in a poor suburb of Tripoli, in what it said was an anti-drug operation.

The UN said the raids, mostly targeting irregular migrants, left at least one person dead, 15 wounded and saw more than 5,000 detained.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) decried “violent mass arrests”.

“There were 39 of us living in the same building” before the raids, Bshara said.

At first, she said she and her family evaded authorities by hiding in a well, but they were eventually found and placed in the Al-Mabani detention centre.

There were so many people there that it was impossible to sleep, said Ismail Derrab, another of those who escaped the facility on Friday.

“We have nothing. We would like to get out of this country,” said the young Sudanese man.

Official migrant detention centres in Libya are riddled with corruption and violence, including sexual assault, according to the United Nations and human rights groups.

The UNHCR had said before Friday’s shooting deaths that it was “increasingly alarmed about the humanitarian situation for asylum seekers and refugees in Libya”.

It temporarily suspended its activities at its Tripoli office this week, citing mounting tensions.

“We renew our appeal to the Libyan authorities to allow the resumption of humanitarian flights out of the country, which have been suspended for almost a year,” it said in the earlier statement.

Waffagh Driss, another Sudanese migrant, said that Libyan authorities had targeted migrants “according to the colour of their skin”.

“The situation in Tripoli for black people is terrible,” the 31-year-old said.

“We are exposed to every kind of danger. Our life is at risk.”

“I am asking to leave Libya because it is not a safe country.”

AFP

Migrant Found Hiding In Toxic Waste In Spain

An handout image released by the Spanish Guardia Civil on February 22, 2021 shows a member of the Spanish Guardia Civil discovering an aspiring migrant hidden in a container full of broken glass for recycling at the port in Spain’s Melilla enclave on Morocco’s northern coast, on February 19, 2021.  (Photo by Handout / Spanish Guardia Civil / AFP)

 

Police found a would-be migrant hidden in a sack of toxic waste at the port in Spain’s Melilla enclave on Morocco’s northern coast, police said Monday.

The discovery was made on Friday when a person was found unconscious in a sealed plastic bag containing flue ash, a by-product of burning coal which is classed as toxic under European waste laws.

The officer who made the discovery first noticed a shape like a human leg and immediately called an ambulance after initially thinking he had come across a dead body.

 

An handout image released by the Spanish Guardia Civil on February 22, 2021 shows a member of the Spanish Guardia Civil discovering an aspiring migrant hidden in a container full of broken glass for recycling at the port in Spain’s Melilla enclave on Morocco’s northern coast, on February 19, 2021. (Photo by Handout / Spanish Guardia Civil / AFP)

 

But after being removed from the sack, the person regained consciousness and was saved.

Police discovered a total of 41 migrants at the port trying to illegally board boats to the Spanish mainland on Friday, hidden in lorries and other vehicles.

READ ALSO: WHO Slams Rich Countries For Hogging COVID-19 Vaccines

A number were hidden in containers full of broken glass for recycling and had suffered “multiple cuts”, police said.

Last year, more than 41,000 migrants entered Spain illegally by land and sea, about 30 percent more than in 2019.

An handout image released by the Spanish Guardia Civil on February 22, 2021 shows a member of the Spanish Guardia Civil discovering an aspiring migrant hidden in a sack of toxic waste at the port in Spain’s Melilla enclave on Morocco’s northern coast, on February 19, 2021. (Photo by Handout / Spanish Guardia Civil / AFP)

More than half of them landed on the Canary Islands after a perilous sea crossing which last year saw the number of arrivals soar eightfold.

Migrant arrivals increased as people looked for alternative routes to reach Europe due to increased patrolling of the Mediterranean Sea.

Over the same period, around 1,500 migrants reached Melilla, one of two Spanish enclaves on the northern coast Morocco which represent the land borders the European Union has with Africa.

Both are popular destinations for migrants seeking to enter Europe illegally, with migrants regularly trying to scale the border fence or reach them by swimming along the coast.

27 Dead In Mauritania Migrant Boat Disaster – UN

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on September 5, 2018, Palestinian school children raise the victory gesture over a UN flag during a protest at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, financed by US aid, in the Arroub refugee camp near Hebron in the occupied West Bank. HAZEM BADER / AFP.

 

Twenty-seven people died after the engines on their migrant vessel failed, leaving them stranded off the coast of Mauritania, the United Nations said on Friday.

The UN’s refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a joint statement that they were “deeply saddened at the tragic death of 27 people”.

A boat en route towards Spain’s Canary Islands ran into engine trouble between the northern Mauritanian city of Nouadhibou and the city of Dakhla in Western Sahara, according to the statement.

“Those on board were left stranded at sea and began suffering from extreme dehydration,” it added.

The incident occurred “some days ago,” the UN said, although the exact date remains unclear.

Mauritanian coastguards rescued a lone survivor, a Guinean man, near Nouadhibou on Thursday.

He initially said that he had been travelling with about 40 other people — all of whom leapt into the sea when help failed to arrive.

He later clarified that there had been 28 people on board, according to the UN refugee agency’s Africa spokesman, Charlie Yaxley.

Migrants have increasingly opted to risk the perilous route from West Africa to the Canary Islands in recent years, as authorities have clamped down on crossings from Libya to Europe.

The Atlantic route is especially dangerous as shoddy migrant vessels have to ply the ocean in order to reach the Spanish islands.

At least 170 people are known to have died trying to reach the Canary Islands in 2019, according to the IOM, compared to 43 the previous year.

“These deaths are preventable, and they are avoidable,” Vincent Cochetel, the UN refugee agency’s special envoy for the central Mediterranean, said in the statement.

“We must take action to target the smugglers and traffickers who offer false promises to migrants and refugees of safe passage to Europe.”

AFP

Pope Condemns ‘Hell’ Of Migrant Detention Camps In Libya

This photo taken and released on April 13, 2020, by the Vatican Media shows Pope Francis delivering his message during a private Angelus prayer live broadcast from the library of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on Easter Monday, during the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP.

 

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.

AFP

Greece Extends Migrant Camp Lockdown

A woman wearing a protective face mask stands out of the Attikon University Hospital in Athens on February 27, 2020. - The Greek health ministry said a boy whose 38-year-old mother is already hospitalised with the virus after returning from a trip to northern Italy where there are several cases of the virus had also tested positive in Thessaloniki. The boy's school in Thessaloniki will be shut for two weeks and his entire class will stay at home, the school's principal told state TV ERT. (Photo by Angelos CHRISTOFILOPOULOS / AFP)
A woman wearing a protective face mask stands out of the Attikon University Hospital in Athens on February 27, 2020. – The Greek health ministry said a boy whose 38-year-old mother is already hospitalised with the virus after returning from a trip to northern Italy where there are several cases of the virus had also tested positive in Thessaloniki. Angelos CHRISTOFILOPOULOS / AFP.

 

Greece has extended for another two weeks a coronavirus lockdown on its overcrowded migrant camps as the country gears up to revive its tourism-dependent economy.

“For residents of the reception and identification centres across the country, measures against the propagation of the COVID-19 virus are extended” until June 21, the official Government Gazette said.

Greece appears to have fared better than most of its European partners in the coronavirus pandemic, with 180 deaths and 2,980 cases.

It was quick to introduce strict confinement measures on migrant camps on March 21 and imposed a more general lockdown on March 23.

More than 33,000 asylum seekers live in the five camps on the Aegean islands, with a total capacity of 5,400 people, and some 70,000 in other facilities on the mainland.

While no known deaths have been recorded in the camps so far due to COVID-19 and only a few dozen infections, the measures have since been extended a number of times.

Rights groups have expressed concern that migrants’ rights could be eroded by the anti-virus restrictions.

Massive virus screening in the camps only started in early May.

READ ALSO: Britain To Reopen Places Of Worship On June 15

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.

AFP

Six-Year-Old Migrant Dies Trying To Reach Spain

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).

AFP

Migrant Road Crash Kills Six In Turkey

 

Six people died in Turkey after a military vehicle carrying migrants for deportation overturned near the Syrian border, officials said Tuesday.

Another 27 people including two soldiers were injured in the crash in Reyhanli district, southern Turkey, the local governor’s office said in a statement.

It said the “illegal” migrants were due to be deported but did not not give their nationalities.

In recent months, Turkish authorities have cracked down on unregistered migrants, arresting thousands.

Some Syrians have reported being returned to Syria against their wishes. The government says it has only deported people who have voluntarily chosen to return.

Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and up to 300,000 Iraqis, as well as an increasing number of Afghans.

It remains a transit country used by people fleeing war and poverty to try to reach Europe.