Thursday 21 November 2019

EU agrees on new migrants emergency plan as death toll hits 950

A man rescues an migrant from the Aegean sea, in the eastern island of Rhodes. Greek authorities said that at least three people have died, including a child, after a wooden boat carrying tens of migrants ran aground off the island of Rhodes. Photo: AP
A man rescues an migrant from the Aegean sea, in the eastern island of Rhodes. Greek authorities said that at least three people have died, including a child, after a wooden boat carrying tens of migrants ran aground off the island of Rhodes. Photo: AP
A man on a boat holds the body of a child as he approach at the dock in the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes, Greece
A child is carried by a rescue worker (R) as he arrives with migrants on the boat at the Sicilian harbor of Pozzallo.
Federica Mogherini

Dean Gray

The EU has confirmed that 950 people drowned in the worst migrant sea disaster ever in the Mediterranean.

Last night, two of the survivors plucked from the sea in the wake of the disaster were arrested on suspicion of people trafficking by police in Italy.

There were fresh tragedies yesterday when a distress call was made to Rome about a sinking vessel with around 300 people on board and up to 20 fatalities .

In another incident at least three people are believed to have died after a boat carrying migrants ran ashore off the coast of the Greek island of Rhodes. It was against this bleak background that EU ministers met in a bid to frame some kind of a response to the rapidly deteriorating situation.

The ministers agreed on a set of measures.

Its Triton patrolling service will be strengthened and a military mandate sought to destroy people-smugglers' boats. An emergency summit of EU leaders will also be held on Thursday.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the 10-point package set out at talks in Luxembourg was a "strong reaction from the EU to the tragedies" and "shows a new sense of urgency and political will".

"We are developing a truly European sense of solidarity in fighting human trafficking - finally so."

The measures include an increase in the financial resources of Frontex, which runs the EU's Mediterranean rescue service Triton, and an extension of Triton's operational area.

The EU had been criticised over the scope of Triton, which replaced the larger Italian operation Mare Nostrum at the end of last year. The "civilian and military" operation to destroy the people-smugglers' boats would need a mandate signed off by the European Council.

Other points include:

Joint processing of asylum applications - within two months of their being lodged.

Fingerprinting and recording of all migrants.

An EU pilot project on migrant resettlement - this would be voluntary.

Offer of return travel packages.

Immigration liaison officers in key countries.

Ms Mogherini stressed the need for action on Libya, where there was "no state entity to control borders".

The latest reports came as rescue teams continued searching for bodies and survivors after up 950 people drowned at the weekend. Shocking details of the incident have begun to emerge.

Many children are said to have been on board and there are claims that hundreds of migrants were locked in a hold by people smugglers.

It is thought the 20-metre (66ft) vessel capsized after migrants rushed to one side when they saw a passing Portuguese merchant ship approaching.

Speaking after the meeting, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said: "Minister (for Justice Frances) Fitzgerald and I share the total horror at this weekend's tragedy, indeed the many recent tragedies, in the Mediterranean.

"Ireland strongly shares the concern of our EU and Southern partners and we agree that solutions must be found jointly to address a humanitarian crisis on this scale.

"We need to address the human safety and organised crime aspects of this crisis. However, more than anything, people need to be safe in their home countries and for this sustainable political solutions to conflicts are essential.

"We will continue to assist people affected by conflict and persecution, particularly those affected by the crisis in Syria, where Ireland has provided over €32m in humanitarian support since 2011. Ireland is also strongly committed to helping those affected by less high profile crises, including many in Africa. It is through assistance of this type that we can reduce the pressure on people to risk their lives attempting to reach Europe."

Ms Fitzgerald said: "I joined with my fellow EU Ministers today in expressing our horror at the recent events in the Mediterranean, and reiterating our determination to take collective action to protect vulnerable migrants.

"The EU as a whole and its members states clearly need to use all law enforcement resources and tools available to tackle the organised criminal gangs involved in the smuggling and trafficking of migrants."

Separately yesterday it emerged that Italy was studying the possibility of mounting "targeted interventions" against Libya-based people smugglers behind a huge surge in the numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said:

The option of some sort of limited military action aiming to take out or apprehend smuggling kingpins was first raised last week by Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Irish Independent

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