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Wednesday 19 September 2018

EU draws up migrant plans while 100 reported missing at sea

The leaders settled on a ‘new approach’ to manage those rescued at sea but disagree over who should take responsibility for them.

EU leaders met to agree a strategy on dealing with the processing of migrants into Europe (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
EU leaders met to agree a strategy on dealing with the processing of migrants into Europe (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

By Lorne Cook and Menna Zaki, Associated Press

European Union leaders have drawn up plans to screen migrants in North Africa for eligibility to enter Europe.

The leaders settled on a “new approach” to manage those rescued at sea but disagree over who should take responsibility for them.

The meeting took place in Brussels as Libya’s coast guard said about 100 people were missing and feared dead after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean.

Italy, Greece and Spain bear responsibility for accepting most of the migrants and have felt abandoned by their EU partners.

Italy, with a new anti-European government, has refused to take charge of people rescued at sea in recent weeks, sparking a diplomatic row with France and Malta.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner is demanding she take a tougher line on migrants, undermining her leadership.

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Angela Merkel is under pressure back at home (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

The new plan is to receive people from rescue ships in EU nations that agree to share responsibility for handing migration with the EU’s main point-of-entry countries like Spain, Italy and Greece. But they will also receive them in centres in North Africa and possibly the Balkans.

“A complete approach was adopted,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters after a night of haggling and delays to address demands from Italy that its views be incorporated in the final summit statement.

He said: “We are protecting better. We are co-operating more. And we are reaffirming our principles. All hastily made solutions, be they solely national ones or a betrayal of our values that consists in pushing people off to third countries, were clearly set aside.”

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Emmanuel Macron says EU leaders are co-operating (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Even new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, whose populist government has rocked the EU’s political landscape, said: “On the whole, we can say we are satisfied.

“Italy is no longer alone, as we requested,” he said.

But the Czech Republic and Austria have no intention of basing migrant centres on their territory.

“Why should there be centres? Centre should be outside of Europe. Ellis Island, yes? And the Australian model, very simple. We have to execute this,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.

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Giuseppe Conte says Italy is no longer alone (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

The “disembarkation platforms” are a logical extension of the EU’s migrant deal with Turkey. The government in Ankara was paid more than 3 billion euro in refugee aid to stop people leaving for the Greek islands.

The bottom line is that numbers have dropped by about 96%, compared with 2015 when well over 1 million people entered Europe, most of them fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.

Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia are touted as possible locations, even though details of the plans are sketchy. Morocco already has refused and none of those listed has volunteered to take part.

The EU’s executive Commission must now draft something more concrete in co-ordination with the UN’s refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration, which would prefer to operate in European migration centres only.

Libya is a major transit point to Europe for those fleeing poverty and violence in Africa and the Middle East. Traffickers have exploited Libya’s chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

In the latest reported capsizing in which about 100 people were missing, Libyan coast guard spokesman Ayoub Gassim said 16 were rescued from the water east of the capital, Tripoli, and the bodies of three children were recovered. He quoted a Yemeni survivor as saying the boat carried about 125 people.

The Astral’s crew said Italian officials had told it to let the Libyan coast guard respond to a distress call from the boat, only to hear reports shortly afterwards that the 100 migrants were missing and feared dead in the same area.

Gassim added that the Libyan coast guard had intercepted three other smuggling boats carrying about 345 people east of Tripoli.

Spanish maritime rescue services, meanwhile, brought ashore 90 people pulled from boats as they tried to cross the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco.

Press Association

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