MALTA, March 28 -- Malta deployed patrol boats and a helicopter to capture a migrant-packed Turkish tanker after it was hijacked by asylum seekers rescued by the crew near Libyan shores.
The hijacked ship was seized by the Maltese special operations unit on Thursday morning. It was escorted to Malta’s capital, Valletta where all the migrants are due to be handed over to the police. Several patrol boats and a helicopter participated in the operation to intercept and capture the vessel. The migrants hijacked the Palau-flagged Turkish tanker ‘El Hiblu 1’ around 5pm local time on Wednesday after its crew had rescued them off the coast of Libya. The ship was then making its way to the Libyan port of Tripoli, apparently aiming to drop the migrants off there, but suddenly turned around just six nautical miles (11 km) from the shore and headed north, towards Malta.
The Maltese authorities confirmed the hijacking and put the nation’s armed forces on standby to confront “the pirated ship.” There are believed to be 108 migrants on board, around 77 of which are adult men, the Times of Malta reported, citing government sources. Other reports suggested that the number of migrants may be as high as 120. It is unclear how many asylum seekers participated in the hijacking. Malta wasn’t the only Mediterranean nation to put its forces on alert. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that Rome was prepared to intercept the tanker if it sailed to the island of Lampedusa or the country’s mainland. He reiterated that nation’s ports remain closed to the ship just like they have been to NGO rescue vessels.
MILAN, January 26 -- Italy pressured the Netherlands on Friday to accept 47 migrants, including eight unaccompanied minors, who have spent seven days at sea aboard a humanitarian rescue ship that has been allowed to enter Italian territorial waters due to bad weather conditions.
The German aid group Sea-Watch tweeted that it has received no response to multiple requests for the Dutch-flagged Sea Watch-3 vessel carrying people rescued off Libya on Saturday to access a port. The boat was permitted to enter Italian waters Friday because of deteriorating weather conditions, and the Italian coast guard said it just off Syracuse, Sicily, flanked by coast guard and financial police boats. Italy and Malta, the closest EU nations, have both refused to allow entry to rescue vessels operated by humanitarian groups in what they say is a bid to discourage smuggler boats from departing Libya by diminishing the prospect of rescue.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told reporters in Rome that he sent a letter to the government in the Netherlands officially requesting that they organize landings for the migrants "aboard this vessel that waves a Dutch flag." Dutch Migration Minister Mark Harbers said that without the prospect of such a comprehensive solution to how to process migrants rescued at sea that the Netherlands "will not take part in ad-hoc measures." He added that the ship flying the Dutch flag doesn't oblige the Netherlands to take action. European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker's spokesman said that the commission is in touch with member states, and was watching the events closely. "Our position is clear: The safety of the people on board must be our first concern and priority. What is urgently needed in the Mediterranean are predictable arrangements to ensure disembarkations of rescued persons can take place safely," spokesman Margaritis Schinas said.
A similar impasse was resolved last month when Malta allowed two to disembark 49 migrants two NGO-operated vessels, including Sea-Watch 3, after the EU brokered a deal to distribute the migrants among eight EU nations. UNICEF's spokesman in Italy, Andrea Iacomini, lamented the frequency of such stand offs. "Is it possible that Europe enters into a sort of humanitarian paralysis every three days for dozens of human beings, including children, without coming up with a structural and shared solution," Iacomini said. "I hope that European governments find a speedy agreement for a humanitarian solution that offers a safe port to the eight unaccompanied minors on the Sea-Watch. A child is a child, not a hostage."
ROTTERDAM, January 19 -- Some 117 migrants who left Libya in a rubber dinghy two days ago are unaccounted for after three people were rescued from the vessel after it sank in the Mediterranean.
Three survivors of a rubber dinghy that sank in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya say up to 117 other migrants were aboard at the time of the capsizing, a UN migration official said Saturday. Flavio Di Giacomo of the International Organization for Migration told Italian state TV that "unfortunately about 120" migrants were reported by survivors to have been on the overloaded smugglers' dinghy when it was launched from Libyan shores on Thursday evening. "After a few hours, it began sinking and people began drowning," Di Giacomo said.
Among the missing are 10 women and two children, including a two-month-old baby, he said. Survivors indicated their fellow migrants came from West African countries, including Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Gambia. Also among the missing are Sudanese migrants, Di Giacomo said. The three survivors were plucked to safety by an Italian navy helicopter on Friday afternoon, the navy said. The sinking dinghy, when spotted by a navy patrol plane, had about 20 persons aboard, the navy said. The plane's crew launched two life rafts near the dinghy, which inflated, and a navy destroyer some 100 nautical (200 kilometres) away dispatched a helicopter to the scene, the navy said.
PARIS, December 23 -- Three days from Christmas, fewer French “yellow vests” turned out for a sixth Saturday of protests, targeting border points as a fatal road accident brought the death toll to 10 since the movement began last month.
A total of 38,600 people took part in protests across the country, well down from the 66,000 by the same time the previous Saturday, the interior ministry said. There were 220 people detained nationwide, 81 of whom were taken into police custody, it added. The number of demonstrators has been trending downwards since 282,000 people turned out for the first Saturday protest against planned fuel tax hikes on November 17.
The movement, characterized by the high-visibility yellow vests worn by the protesters, then morphed into a widespread demonstration against Macron’s policies and style of governing. Health minister Agnes Buzyn told Le Journal du Dimanche (The Sunday Newspaper) Macron’s government was “in step with the demands of the yellow vests” as she called for “a more constructive dialogue.”
Prime minister Edouard Philippe told the same newspaper his relationship with Macron has only “intensified” during the crisis, rather than become strained, as has been reported. “We talk a lot. We tell each other things,” he said.
COPENHAGEN, December 20 -- The Danish government will begin holding foreign criminals on a remote island, located approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Copenhagen.
The controversial plan was included in the 2019 budget proposal, which the legislature approved on Thursday. Under the measure, some 100 migrant criminals would be sent to Lindholm Island. People with criminal records and those who were denied asylum, but cannot be deported due to risk of torture or execution in their home countries, would be included. Denmark has taken a tough stance on immigration in recent years. The center-right government, which governs with the anti-immigration People's Party, has made notable changes to reduce the flow of migrants. These include the reduction of benefits for asylum-seekers, shortening temporary residence permits, stepping up deportations of rejected asylum-seekers and granted power to authorities to seize valuables from migrants, to help finance the costs of their stay. Thursday's budget proposal also includes a cap on family reunification.
"Now we tell people from day one that they should not remain in Denmark for the rest of their lives. They only get temporary shelter until they can return home," said Peter Skaarup, parliamentary group leader of the Danish People's Party, when the measure was introduced to the budget law earlier this month.
Island decontamination required
Lindholm Island has been used as a laboratory and crematory by scientists researching swine flu, rabies and other contagious diseases. The government said it would decontaminate the uninhabited island by late 2019 and open the detention facilities in 2021.
"They are unwanted in Denmark and they must feel that," said Integration Minister Inger Stojberg in a Facebook post, shortly after the proposal was announced in early December.
The foreign criminals will be allowed to leave the island during the day, but will have to report their whereabouts to authorities and return at night.
Martin Henriksen of the anti-immigration Danish People's Party said that the decision was somewhat inspired by Australia, which currently holds asylum-seekers in detention centers on neighboring Pacific island nations. But the mayor of Vordingborg municipality, Mikael Smed, where the island is located, was not enthusiastic about the measure."People think this is not the solution to the real problems," Smed said prior to Thursday's parliamentary vote.
UN condemns the move
UN human rights Chief Michelle Bachelet had expressed concerned about the island measure. "I have serious concerns with this plan and we will monitor it and discuss it ... with the government," Bachelet told journalists in Geneva earlier this month. "We've seen the negative impact of such policies of isolation, and (they) should not replicate these policies. Because depriving them of their liberty, isolating them, and stigmatizing them will only increase their vulnerability," Bachelet added.
Human rights activists have likewise denounced the decision, calling it degrading and inhumane.
BERLIN, December 19 -- Germany is working on a new immigration law that would make it easier for skilled workers from outside the EU to come and work in the country.
But what about those who have already come to Germany as asylum-seekers but have been denied refugee status? Last week, the German cabinet agreed the key points for a “skilled workers immigration law” from third countries. But what are its aims and what will change? The German government is giving hope to migrants that they may be allowed to work in Germany.
How far does the new “skilled workers immigration law” go?
The new “skilled workers immigration law”, by definition, aims to maintain Germany as an economic centre and to secure its social systems. In addition to applying to graduates, the law should now also apply to people with professional qualifications – and not only in professions where there is a shortage of workers. Immigrants with professional training, who can make a living for themselves in Germany will be allowed to come and look for a job for six months. In occupations where there is an acute shortage of skilled labour, such as in IT or care services, if a job has been accepted there does not even need to be proof of qualifications. At the same time, the German government undertakes to better inform potential applicants abroad and to guide them through the jungle of German administration.
What do the current rules look like and what’s new?
The immigration law essentially reiterates opportunities that already exist. It has already been possible for many years for non-EU citizens with a university degree to come to Germany to find work. In its 2015 Annual Report, the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) noted that “Germany has moved from being a ‘latecomer’ or a ‘straggler’ to a ‘pioneer’ in the field of labour market policy and, as a result, has little to learn, at least at a legal-institutional level.”
At the time, the OECD already ranked Germany as being one of the most liberal countries for immigration in the world. However, the experts warned in 2015 that the implementation of liberal rules “in practice is often too cumbersome and bureaucratic”. The fact that this often confounds the legislators’ good intentions was discovered by Green MP Filiz Polat when she was on a trip through the Western Balkans in the spring. In the Western Balkans, German embassy staff deal with a large number of visa applications from a very young population, particularly in Kosovo.
Nevertheless, there are extensive checks as to whether the visa applicants’ specified jobs are fictitious or exploitative – a task which actually concerns the German employment agencies. This places an enormous burden on the visa departments and makes obtaining a German work visa an almost hopeless undertaking. Accordingly, it will be important that the new law does not run aground in practice.
BRUSSELS, December 18 -- Belgian Prime minister Charles Michel lost his majority after a clash with the right-wing N-VA party over the UN Migration Pact.
A dispute in Belgium's center-right government about the UN Migration Pact ended with the Flemish nationalists of N-VA leaving the ruling coalition. Prime Minister Charles Michel was left with a minority cabinet, but still went to Marrakesh to ratify the UN pact with the support of the Parliament. According to the opposition, he should face a vote of confidence in the Parliament, and if this happens he will probably lose. Constitutional experts are divided about the situation. Michel is trying to save his government and avoid a national election five months earlier than scheduled.
But considering how antagonistic the N-VA has become towards its former coalition partners, every scenario is possible.
BERLIN, December 16 -- For months proponents of the UN Migration Pact told us that the pact was non-binding.
The response to the many citizens of nation states worldwide having signed country specific petitions was that it was non-binding so there was nothing to worry about, it was going to be good. The immensely opposed and disastrous document declares unlimited migration to be treated as a human right, thereby deprecating the term ‘illegal migrants’, and criminalises any criticism of migration as hate speech.
The points that raised alarm for most was that it seeks to eliminate all forms of dissent. Media organisations for example, should they criticise anything to do with migration would lose access to state funding. People would be labelled as racists or guilty of hate speech which will now be criminalised. This pact will literally erase our borders. The question I’ve been asking is if the countries that refused to sign, are they still bound to it being members of the UN. Most people were of the mind that it would only affect the signatories. Now we know. In a frank exchange with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Hebner of the AfD drew out an admission that it is, in fact, legally binding. As well, that it will be adopted as rule for all UN Member states once enacted.
Mr. Hebner asks: “You can see for yourself clearly that during the conference, the spokesperson for Morocco emphasised that the agreement was legally binding. He said clearly, in a literal sense, that there is a corresponding legal bond for all nations taking part as well as an obligation of implementation. You and your delegation did not raise a single word of objection to that statement but idly accepted it. I would like to emphasise that the parliamentary motion was not presented at the conference. “
Ms. Merkel’s response not only confirmed what we at Voice of Europe have been suspecting all along, the claim it is indeed binding, but that once voted and accepted it will be valid for all:
“So then, during the UN General Assembly next week, the pact will once again be up for debate and a decision will be made on whether to accept it. At this time, a member state can demand a vote. When two-thirds of the represented countries agree then it is valid for all. That’s how majority decision-making works.”
MARRAKESH, December 10 -- A United Nations conference adopted a migration pact in front of leaders and representatives from around 150 countries in Morocco on Monday, despite a string of withdrawals driven by anti-immigrant populism.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration -- finalised at the UN in July after 18 months of talks -- was formally approved in Marrakesh at the start of a two-day conference. Billed as the first international document on managing migration, it lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration and discourage illegal border crossings, as the number of people on the move globally has surged to more than 250 million.
Describing it as a "roadmap to prevent suffering and chaos", UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres sought to dispel what he called a number of myths around the pact, including claims that it will allow the UN to impose migration policies on member states. The pact "is not legally binding", he said. "It is a framework for international co-operation... that specifically reaffirms the principle of state sovereignty.
"We must not succumb to fear and false narratives", he added, addressing an audience that included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela and Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras.
'Based on goodwill'
The United States on Friday had hit out at the pact, labelling it "an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of states". The US was the first government to disavow the negotiations late last year, and since then Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia have pulled out of the process.
Rows over the accord have erupted in several European Union nations, hobbling Belgium's coalition government and pushing Slovakia's foreign minister to tender his resignation. From the United States to Europe and beyond, right-wing and populist leaders have taken increasingly draconian measures to shut out migrants in recent years.
BRUSSELS, December 9 -- Prime minister Charles Michel takes a plane for Marrakesh today, determined to communicate Belgium’s support for the United Nations’ migration pact, despite the fact that he leaves behind the collapse of his majority government over that very issue.
Michel (pictured) and his supporters are adamant that the N-VA – the largest party in the government coalition – has forced the issue by offering the ultimatum to Michel: travel to Marrakesh and you government without us. The N-VA, on the other hand, insist that Michel has forced them out of the government by his intransigence. “If prime minister Michel leaves for Marrakesh, he is de facto sacking us from the government,” N-VA president Bart De Wever told a press conference on Saturday evening. “Then he is pushing us out of the government.”
The distinction is crucial to N-VA: as past events have shown, parties who bring about the premature fall of a government in Belgium pay for it at the ballot box, the last example being Open VLD as led by Alexander De Croo. N-VA is currently, according to the latest poll, the largest party in Flanders, but any loss of public support would still be a loss. But it is now a battle of words. The demise of this majority has been on the cards since N-VA made its position clear on the UN pact. With a list of 30 objections that essentially boil down to an opposition to unregulated mass migration, the party set a collision course with every other party in parliament other than the Vlaams Belang.
When Michel received assurances that he could count on the support on this issue of even opposition parties CD&V and the Ecolo-Groen alliance, it was clear that N-VA would not be able to stop the Pact from being signed. Once that was established, they could no longer serve in the government – particularly as they were supplying the country’s minister in charge of migration. The matter dragged on and on, however. A meeting of key ministers was postponed when N-VA released an online campaign expressing opposition to the Pact in inflammatory terms that were welcomed by Vlaams Belang – who immediately picked up the baton when N-VA scrapped the campaign. Michel took the question to the parliament’s foreign affairs committee and then to the plenary session of members, receiving majority support both times. Friday’s ministerial meeting did not broach the subject, which was picked up again on Saturday evening, when Michel forced the issue – he would be getting on a plane to Marrakesh on Sunday, and let the chips fall where they may.
The question now is how Michel can go on governing with a minority coalition, in order to avoid a snap election just months before regular parliamentary elections are due. He may be able to rely on N-VA support on some matters, and opposition support on others, but each matter that is raised between now and May will have to be dealt with on an ad hoc basis.
The posts held until now by N-VA politicians, including the job of secretary of state for asylum and migration, face no shortage of place-fillers. Among those being mentioned are Pieter De Crem, who will leave parliament at the elections, but whose experience ensures he is a safe pair of hands for home affairs in the place of Jan Jambon. Migration could go to the ever-popular Maggie De Block, who held the job before, while secretary of state for agriculture and social integration, Denis Ducarme, could step into the shoes of defence minister Sander Loones, who only got the job in November.