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Rescued migrants reach Sicily after Italy and UK squabble for three dayst | Coastweek

TRIPOLI Libya (Xinhua) -- Rescued illegal migrants [left] are taken to the Tripoli navy base in the capital of Tripoli, Libya. Rescued illegal migrants arrive [right] at the Tripoli navy base. The Libyan coast guard on Sunday rescued 316 illegal migrants of different African nationalities in three separate operations off the country’s western coast. XINHUA PHOTOS - HAMZA TURKIA

Rescued migrants safely reach Sicily after
Italy and Britain squabble for three days

By Stefania Fumo ROME Italy (Xinhua) -- As European state leaders gathered at a two-day State of the Union event that kicked off in Florence on Thursday under the slogan Solidarity in Europe, a group of 105 rescued migrants landed in Sicily after a three-day odyssey at sea that included a diplomatic tug-of-war between Italy and the UK.

Migration is a hot-button issue with voters in the EU and in Italy, where anti-immigrant and populist forces made huge gains in the last national election in March.

As state leaders prepared to debate issues such as asylum-seeker integration and security versus solidarity, 63 men, eight women and 34 minors from nine different countries—including Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, and Sudan—disembarked in the port city of Catania after a harrowing journey from Libya, where many were held captive, tortured, and robbed, according to SOS Mediterranee search-and-rescue NGO.

They were rescued Sunday from a sinking rubber dinghy off the coast of Libya by Spanish NGO ProActiva Open Arms, whose vessel, the Astral, flies a UK flag. However the 30-meter Astral is too small to hold over 100 people.

Accordingly, the Marine Rescue Coordination Center (UKMRCC) in London contacted SOS Mediterranee, which in partnership with NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) runs a 77-meter rescue ship, the Aquarius, which also flies a UK flag and has capacity of up to 750 people.

The Aquarius agreed to take the rescuees on board, but a protracted negotiation between Italy and the UK ensued as the two bickered over who should authorize the transfer from one vessel to the other and who should indicate the closest safe harbor.

Since both vessels fly UK flags, Italy held it was Britain’s job to authorize the transfer, and then indicate a British port—for example, Gibraltar—to receive them. Meanwhile the “health and sanitary conditions on board the Astral continued to deteriorate,” SOS Mediterranee said.

Finally on Monday night, the Rome MRCC broke the stall, authorizing the transfer. Late on Tuesday, as weather conditions were getting worse, Italy authorized the Aquarius to bring the rescuees to the Sicilian port of Catania, where the they arrived on Thursday morning.

The incident sparked condemnation from the EU, with ANSA Italian news agency citing a European Commission spokesperson as calling the situation “deplorable”.

MP Giorgio Silli from Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party objected that “foreign vessels rescue migrants at sea and unload them in Italy: nothing has changed.”

“We can’t let our guard down,” he added, according to ANSA. “A new route has opened between Algeria and Sardinia: of the people who arrived, three have been arrested because Italy had already deported them.”

Silli was referring to Italy’s anti-terrorism policy, which includes deporting Islamic extremists and jihadi sympathizers before they get a chance to carry out an attack.

Italy has borne the brunt of the international migrant crisis because its southernmost islands lie close to North Africa. A total of 9,789 migrants reached Italy across the Mediterranean as of May 10 this year, 84.51 percent lower compared to the same period in 2017, according to the Interior Ministry.

Although the arrivals have dropped drastically, public opinion in Italy has been inflamed by recent high-profile cases involving rapes and murders committed by rescued migrants who were given residency permits or protected status.


Italy dismantles migrant-trafficking terror financing network

ROME  Italy (Xinhua) -- Italian anti-terrorism units have arrested 14 Syrian and Moroccan nationals who financed an Islamist extremist group in war-torn Syria by laundering money from illegal immigration, prosecutors said in a statement Thursday.

The network funneled over 2 million euros (2.40 million U.S. dollars) from Italy and other European countries to the al Qaeda-affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria through the so-called “hawala” informal remittance system.

The system leaves no paper trail and is hard to trace because it takes place outside the banking and money transfer sectors, finance police said in a statement.

“The investigation uncovered ... a criminal structure of Islamic origin based in (the northern Italian area of) Brianza and which actively promoted illegal immigration into Europe, incessantly raising and transferring funds through unconventional channels such as hawala,” the statement said.

National Anti-Mafia and Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor Federico Cafiero de Raho told a televised press conference that the money “came largely from illegal immigration”.

“Previous claims that there is no connection between migration and terrorism have been contradicted,” De Raho said.

“We don’t have evidence that this network brought foreign fighters into Italy as migrants, but it is true that part of the funds this network managed came from clandestine immigration and they were used to support terrorism.”

In one operation, Italian investigators “dismantled a transnational criminal organization made up of 10 Syrians” that laundered money in Hungary, Italy, Sweden, and Turkey. Two of those suspects have been charged with terrorist financing.

In a parallel operation, police arrested four Syrian and Moroccan “militants ... accused of being part of a support cell” for Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. They are accused of terrorist criminal association, terrorist financing, and illegal financial intermediation.

The arrests took place in two separate dawn operations, and 20 homes were searched in the Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Sardinia, and Veneto regions.

“The arrested subjects sent money...mainly to Turkey and Syria using an ancient, difficult to trace system (hawala). Investigators uncovered solid evidence...thanks to intelligence activities and international cooperation,” state police tweeted.

Investigators used wiretaps and undercover officers to dismantle the network, the finance guard said.

In a statement, Interior Minister Marco Minniti praised today’s operation, which he said “uncovered and neutralized potentially hostile structures”.


Boat with 45 refugees missing off Crete island: Greek Coast Guard

By Maria Spiliopoulou ATHENS Greece (Xinhua) -- A rescue operation was underway on Monday to locate a boat with 45 refugees and migrants on board which was missing off the south coasts of Crete island, Greek national news agency AMNA reported.

According to initial information from the Greek Coast Guard, one of the passengers made a telephone call to the European emergency number 112 to alert the authorities that the wooden boat was in a difficult situation.


Libyan coast guard rescues 406 migrants off western coast

TRIPOLI Libya (Xinhua) -- Libyan coast guard on Monday rescued 406 illegal migrants of African and Asian nationalities off the country’s western coast, navy spokesman said.

“Two coast guard patrols rescued 406 migrants on three rickety rubber boats 25 miles off Garrabulli coast (some 55 km east the capital Tripoli),” navy spokesman, Ayob Qassem, told Xinhua.

Qassem also said the rescued migrants include 70 women and 22 children, and all of the migrants were taken to Tripoli’s anti-illegal immigration department.

Illegal immigration flows from Libya towards European shores increase during improved weather conditions, particularly off the country’s western coast.

Thousands of illegal migrants choose to cross the Mediterranean towards European shores from Libya due to the state of chaos in the country following the 2011 uprising.

According to official figures of the Libyan anti-illegal immigration department, the migrants rescued off the Libyan coast during the first quarter of this year are more than 4,000.


Bosnia and Herzegovina faces sharp increase of migrants’ influx

SARAJEVO Bosnia (Xinhua) -- Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is faced with the increased influx of migrants whose number exceeded 3,500 since the beginning of this year, three times more than the total number of registered migrants in 2017, official data revealed on Thursday.

At a meeting held in BiH’s capital Sarajevo, director of Service for Foreigners’ Affairs Slobodan Ujic informed BiH Ombudsman for Human Rights, Jasminka Dzumhur, of the increase of influx of migrants, according to a statement from BiH Service for Foreigners’ Affairs.

Ujic said the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs takes biometric data and registers migrants to deal with the situation.

For her part, Dzumhur pointed to the need for cooperation among the institutions in order to protect migrants’ human rights and BiH residents.

At a session held on Thursday afternoon, members of BiH Presidency urged BiH Council of Ministers to urgently hold a meeting and propose measures to deal with the sharp increase of migrants.  Enditem


Slovenia police alert growing number of migrants

LJUBLJANA Slovenia (Xinhua) -- Slovenian police are considering introducing additional measures to cope with significant increase of illegal migrants crossing the Slovenian-Croatian border recently, the national media STA reported.

Melita Mocnik, head of the border police at the Ljubljana General Police Administration, told a press conference on Wednesday held at Rosalnice near Metlika, border city with Croatia, that the pressure on the Slovenian southern border was “quite big”.

Between 50,000 and 60,000 people are moving towards Slovenia from Greece, and the number of illegal crossings of the border is expected to rise in the warm summer months, she noted.

She said the police may decide to call in the reserves like during last year’s tourist season. If the situation escalates, Mocnik said this would be “very probable”.

The Slovenian police are in constant contact with the Croatian counterparts on the national and regional levels and will enroll over a hundred fresh police officers to join the work on the border, the STA reported, citing the senior officer.

Mocnik also noted that Slovenia would not exclude the possibility of seeking international assistance, in case the pressure on Slovenia’s southern border rises significantly.

As to the recent trends in illegal migration, she said, compared to the first wave of mass migrations, when mostly Syrians had entered the country, now the police were dealing mostly with people from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Pakistan.

According to police record, in the first four months of the year, the number of persons caught crossing the land border illegally in the Koper area rose by from 162 to 526 year on year, while the Novo Mesto Police Department recorded 509 illegal migrants so far this year, which compares to 62 in the same period last year.


Libyan coast guard rescues 316 illegal migrants off western coast

TRIPOLI Libya (Xinhua) -- The Libyan coast guard on Sunday rescued 316 illegal migrants of different African nationalities in three separate operations off the country’s western coast.

“The coast guard patrol rescued 114 migrants on a rickety rubber boat 13 miles (20.9 km) from the city of Zawiya,” the Navy spokesman Ayob Qassem told Xinhua.

Zawiya lies some 45 km east of the capital Tripoli.

“In the second operation, 97 migrants were rescued on a board that almost drowned,” said Qassem, adding that the operation took place 35 miles off the coast of Janzur town, some 15 km west of Tripoli.

All the rescued migrants were taken to the Tripoli navy base and then transferred to a migrant shelter in the east of the capital, Qassem noted.

The third operation managed to rescue 105 migrants off the coast of the city of Zuwara, some 120 km west of Tripoli, according to Basem Al-Ghrabli, head of the anti-illegal immigration department of the nearby Sabratha city.

Al-Ghrabli revealed that two Libyans wanted for crimes of murder and armed robbery were on the boat bound for Italy.

Libya is a preferred point of departure for illegal immigrants hoping to cross the Mediterranean toward European shores, because of insecurity and chaos in the country following the 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Muammar Gaddafi.


Libya reveals plan to confront illegal immigration

TRIPOLI Libya (Xinhua) -- The Libya interior ministry on Wednesday revealed a plan to restrain illegal immigration.

“The Ministry is implementing an integrated plan involving all security services to confront illegal migration through sea and land, in order to reduce the immigrants flows,” Mohamed Al-Marhani, illegal immigration’s under secretary of interior ministry told Xinhua.

The announcement was made during a football event between local football veterans and a group of immigrants from different African nationalities, which was organized by the Libyan anti-illegal immigration department in the capital Tripoli.

“Our plan is based primarily on activating desert patrols, especially in the south and south-west of the country, from which most immigrants infiltrated illegally through borders with neighboring countries,” he said.

“The plan also activates passport investigations,” which to play a considerable role in checking the official documents of migrants, Al-Marhani added.

Al-Marhani said that there is also a plan for the coast guard to carry out rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

“We call on all neighboring countries, from which large numbers of immigrants come or cross through, to firmly stand with Libya on the security level to stop the flows of immigrants,” the under secretary said.

 “Libya pays a high price as a result of the terrifying numbers of immigrants that enter the country on a daily basis.”

Illegal immigration flows from Libya towards European shores increase “particularly in the summer” due to the improved weather conditions, said Al-Marhani.

Thousands of illegal migrants choose to cross the Mediterranean towards European shores from Libya due to the state of chaos in the country following the 2011 uprising.

According to official figures from the Libyan anti-illegal immigration department, more than 4,000 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast during the first quarter of the year.


Violence flares at Greek island of Lesbos in protest over migrants

European migrant crisis or the continuing European refugee crisis



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