Camp of the Saints: The Week in Brief

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Lampedusa: boatload of refugees #4

My temporary job is finished, and I’m back in the (pro bono) saddle here at Camp of the Saints Central. The crisis didn’t abate while I was busy slaving in the salt mines, but instead mutated and expanded and moved in different directions. There have been so many new articles this week that I’ll only be able to cover the highlights in this post.

During the course of the week, the Italian policy of giving temporary residence visas to the refugees caused alarm in Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Austria, and the Netherlands, each of which protested to the Italian government. The EU promised Italy more money. Italy remarked that the EU was mostly useless, and threatened to secede. Then it took back its threat.

Italy now says the agreement with the Tunisia has been effective, and that the flood of refugees is abating. I’m not so sure, because boats are still arriving at Lampedusa, Malta, and Pantelleria.

Our enrichment digest will begin with a few recent news items. From today, the French Prime Minister is thinking about applying a little tough love to the boatloads of enrichers:

France Calls for Pushing Migrants at Sea Back to Tunisia

Boats from the European Union’s border patrol mission Frontex should send migrants found at sea straight back to Tunisia, rather than take them to Italy for identification, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon suggested on Thursday.

That’s the most sensible suggestion I’ve heard since the crisis began. It violates EU law, but the French don’t normally worry about things like that. If they start doing it, it will give the Italians a precedent to follow.

In fact, Italy has already threatened to impose a naval blockade:

(AGI) Roma — Roberto Calderoli said “a naval blockade” is needed following Europe’s “selfish and anti-EU” stance. “In the light of the selfish and anti-EU stance taken today by Europe towards a member state, we must urgently set up a naval blockade to defend our waters and boundaries, as provided for in the agreement signed by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and the Tunisian government” the Minister for Legislative Simplification said.

The French are definitely taking the matter seriously — they’ve established a tight cordon along their border with Italy:

Hundred Riot Police Reinforce French Border

One hundred riot police have been drafted from St Laurent du Var, next to Nice, to reinforce the border between Menton and Ventimiglia. They will join the Border Patrol to prevent illegal immigrants entering France.

The uprisings in North Africa, in places such as Tunisia and Algeria, has seen tens of thousands of immigrants fleeing their home countries. Italy has borne much of the brunt in Europe for the influx of immigrants, overwhelming some areas and turning them effectively into refugee camps.

The Italian Prime Minister has vowed to repatriate as many as possible, but it takes time to process refugee applicants, to determine if they are economic refugees or whether they are in actual danger if returned to their home country. Many are trying to skip from Italy to neighbouring countries before their application is denied and they are returned.

Thousands fled to Ventimiglia, on the border to the French Riviera, and are trying to escape through to France. The local Border Patrol at Menton found itself overwhelmed and reinforcements were quickly sent. Christian Estrosi, leader of the UMP in Nice, will be aware of the Front National breathing politically over his shoulder as they made large gains in the previous local elections on the anti-immigration ticket. We can expect a strong stance on border controls by Mr Estrosi as he seeks to allay immigration fears in Nice and bordering cities.

A local lawyer has told us of prosecutions of people that have given lifts to people ‘hitchhiking’ from Italy to France, for aiding and abetting illegal immigration. It may be wise to check for a legitimate EU passport before being the good Samaritan, as there is a high chance of all the passengers in your vehicle being asked for ID when crossing the border, and you are responsible for the passengers in your car.

Here’s yesterday’s story from ANSA about the Italian declaration that the crisis is over:
Italy: Migrant Emergency ‘Finished’

‘Deal with Tunisia working’ says Maroni

Rome, April 14 — The worst of the humanitarian crisis caused by the recent wave of illegal immigration has ended, Italian Interior minister, Roberto Maroni said Thursday.

“The acute phase of the emergency, if we can call it that, has ended,” said Maroni, when asked about whether any new migrant processing centres or tent cities would be created for migrants arriving from North Africa.

“The agreement with Tunisia is working,” the minister said. “Every day we are repatriating those who have arrived since April 5. We are improving our controls and coastal patrols”.

On Tuesday Italy sought to play down threats of quitting the European Union after Maroni complained about the lack of support in dealing with its migrant crisis and questioned the value of membership.

Maroni questioned Italy’s EU future after member states failed to share the burden of catering for the 28,000 migrants who have arrived this year following turmoil in North Africa.

[…]

But France and other countries have said they will continue to block the migrants at their borders, despite the Schengen treaty that in theory abolished internal frontiers in much of the continent.

The rest of the news items are from earlier in the week. I’ll select a representative sample, beginning with this declaration by France that it is going to tighten the border with Italy:

(AGI) Luxembourg — French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has said that France has confirmed it will enforce frequent and strict checks in areas within 20 km of the Italian border, while respecting the Schengen agreement and holding immigrants for the 6 hour period established by the treaty. Speaking during a break at the Luxembourg Council meeting, Gueant specified that of the 2,800 people checked so far, 1,700 were returned to Italy.

A Lega Nord leader threatened to retaliate by instituting an economic boycott against the French:

Italy: Bossi Backs Boycott of French Products After Migrant Row

‘What goes around, comes around’ says Italy’s reform minister

(ANSA) — Rome, April 13 — Italian Reform Minister Umberto Bossi backed a boycott of French products following a big row over their Transalpine neighbours’ refusal to share the burden of migrants from North Africa.

“It would be right,” the outspoken Northern League leader told reporters when asked about the prospect of a boycott.

“What goes around, comes around,” he said, adding that French consumers had boycotted Italian milk in the past.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, also a League member, called France “hostile” last week after it said it would continue to turn back North African migrants at the two nations’ shared border even if they had temporary visas issued by the Italian authorities.

[…]

A League MEP, Francesco Speroni, went as far as to talk about using machine guns.

And the implied Italian threat to withdraw from the EU:
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has spoken on the immigration issue, underscoring that if the EU were to “renounce its fundamental function of handling such an important issue, a true human ‘tsunami’ affecting tens and hundreds of people, as an issue which involves exclusively Italy, or Italy and France, or Italy and Spain”, this “would truly be the end to that sort of strong integration that we want in the European Union”. The issue of immigration, reiterated Frattini, is “European and not national.”

Mr. Maroni made his threat more explicit later the same day:

Italian Minister Questions Value of EU Membership

EUOBSERVER / LUXEMBOURG — A dozen EU states rallied behind France on Monday (11 April) in a dispute with Italy over Rome’s granting of temporary residence permits to Tunisian immigrants, warning of the “collapse” of the Schengen area and the re-introduction of borders.

Speaking after a meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg, Italian minister Roberto Maroni from the anti-immigrant Lega Nord party, said his country had to “consider if it is still worth being part of the EU,” since nobody wanted to help shoulder the immigration burden.

“It’s fine when Italy contributes to euro bail-outs, to wars, but on this very specific issue of helping us out, EU states are absolutely not willing to show solidarity,” he said on his way out of the ministers’ meeting.

The Italian government last Thursday issued a decree granting temporary residence to the roughly 23,000 Tunisian migrants who arrived via the tiny island of Lampedusa. But the permits are seen as a free pass to France, with the French authorities having already sent back hundreds of Tunisians at the Italian border.

But Mr. Maroni backed down a bit the next day, reaffirming his abiding love for the European Union. According to ANSA:

Luxembourg, April 12 — Italy played down talk of wanting to quit the EU Tuesday after Interior Minister Roberto Maroni questioned the value of membership given the lack of European help in dealing with its migrant crisis.

“Europe is and will (always) be an extraordinary opportunity for us,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said at the fringes of a meeting of his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

“Italy without Europe would not only be so small as to be insignificant, it would also be incapable of facing the great challenges in front of us.

“So we will keep going forward with Europe, while demanding a role for Europe that has not been present in this situation”.

Yet he insists that the visas issued by Italy to the refugees must be honored in the Schengen Area:

Maroni, meanwhile, insisted Tuesday that the contested temporary visas are valid for travel within the Schengen area despite other states’ refusal to accept them and European Commission saying the papers on their own do not guarantee freedom to circulate. France, in particular, has said the migrants must also have a valid identity document and sufficient economic resources to support themselves, among other things.

But Maroni remains convinced the Italian government is in the right.

“We are certain the doubts over whether the papers permit circulation within the Schengen area are mistaken and I expect the Commission to study immediate measures so that these people are accepted where they want to go or repatriated,” he told the House’s constitutional and foreign affairs committees.

For several weeks the only European country that took issue with Italy was France, which was the preferred destination for most of the Tunisians who landed in Italy. However, as the Somalis, Eritreans, and other sub-Saharan Africans began pouring in from Libya, other EU countries began to get nervous, since they already have substantial minorities of black Africans:

Germany, France and Austria, along with other countries such as the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium and Slovakia, view Schengen as a matter of trust among member states. Italy is “undermining this basic principle,” one diplomat present at the “heated debate” said.

Austria, which shares a land border with Italy, threatened to re-impose borders. Interior minister Maria Fekter warned of the “collapse of the Schengen system” if Italy’s behaviour is tolerated.

“What Italy is doing is using a national emergency law for temporary protection in order to politicise the whole Tunisian immigration issue so that everyone in the EU is affected by it. They’ve succeeded in doing that, but now we expect that they stick to the rules,” German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said during a press briefing in Luxembourg, at the end of a long debate over Mediterranean migration.

Here’s where it gets dicey:
“The issuing of mass permits is a violation of the Schengen spirit. If tens of thousands were to be granted these permits, then it would not be only France, Germany and Austria to re-instate borders, but also countries further away. Then we would lose what we have achieved with Schengen,” Friedrich said.

Up until now, the “Schengen spirit” had always meant “an ever-closer union”, a commingling of peoples, and a co-operative approach to the solving of problems. But not any more: when all these expensive and troublesome culture-enrichers arrive, the deal is off.

Italy has discovered that the word “union” really means whatever Germany and France say it means.

Malta is in the same boat, as it were:

The only country supporting Italy in the call for solidarity from other EU countries was Malta, in a similar situation with more than 800 refugees from Libya arriving to the island in the past week. Both Malta and Italy asked the European commission to trigger the activation of a special refugee directive — an EU 2001 law set up after the Kosovo war but never used — for people fleeing the war zone in Libya. The application of the directive would automatically give everyone escaping such an area refugee status right across the EU.

But they were isolated in their call.

The help offered by other European countries has been pathetic:

Ministers did agree to alleviate Malta’s strained asylum capacities by prolonging a resettlement programme. Several member states offered to relocate some of the mostly sub-Saharan refugees who managed to escape Libya and cross the Mediterranean. Germany offered to take 100 people, Belgium, Hungary, Sweden, Portugal, Spain and Norway also expressed willingness to help.

That is, the only concrete offer was to take 100 people out of almost 28,000 that have arrived so far. That’s a big help.

The German interior minister was blunt in his rejection of Italy:

Refugees Are ‘Italy’s Problem, ‘ Minister Says

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich stepped up the war of words with Italy over asylum-seekers Monday, telling the Italian government the boatloads of people arriving in Lampedusa were their problem.

As European Union ministers prepared to meet in Luxembourg Monday, an open argument between the European neighbours broke out over the weekend regarding the thousands of African asylum seekers arriving on the tiny Italian island.

“Italy must sort out its refugee problem itself,” Friedrich, of the Bavarian conservatives the Christian Social Union, told Monday’s edition of daily Die Welt.

[…]

Friedrich said he would make it clear at the Monday meeting in Brussels that Italy was breaching the spirit of the Schengen agreement that allows visa-free travel between many European states.

Geert Wilders demands that his country re-institute border controls to keep the new migrants out:

Netherlands: Bring Back Border Controls, Says PVV

The anti-immigration PVV has called for border controls to be reintroduced around the Netherlands following Italy’s decision to give visas to thousands of young Libyans and Tunisians fleeing the fighting.

France and Germany are already considering reopening checkpoints on their borders with Italy and Austria.

Party leader Geert Wilders said Italy’s decision is a scandal. ‘We don’t need any more North Africans here,’ the Telegraaf quotes Wilders as saying.

And the Dutch immigration minister has publicly criticized the issuing of visas to the refugees in Italy:

Immigration minister Gert Leers is ‘extremely cross’ with Italy for giving humanitarian visas to thousands of economic refugees from Tunisia, the Telegraaf reports.

‘We cannot just accept this,’ the paper quotes Leers as saying after an EU meeting in Luxemburg.

He called on the European Commission to take steps to stop a further ‘flood’ of illegal immigrants from North Africa arriving in Europe.

The head of the European Commission is worried that the immigrant crisis will offer an opportunity for — wait for it — right-wing extremists:

Barroso Warns of Extremism in Immigration Debate

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has said the Tunisia immigration debate risks being hijacked by “populist and extremist” forces in Europe, even as Italian right-wing politicians suggested using weapons against migrants.

As mentioned in earlier posts, criminal behavior is part and parcel of the new wave of cultural enrichment. In this AKI story, one of the migrants at a camp in Sardinia is a major drug dealer:

Convicted Tunisian Drugs Dealer Arrested at Migrant Detention Camp

Police on the Italian island of Sardinia on Wednesday arrested at an illegal immigrant detention centre a Tunisian who has been sentenced to seven years in prison and fined for drugs dealing.

Lofti Neb Nasr Amri, 42, was arrested at the Elmas detention centre in the Sardianian regional capital, Cagliari. He has also been fined 30,000 euros for drugs dealing.

He was sentenced in June 2005 by a court in Pistoia in the central Tuscany region. It was not clear from reports how he ended up at the Elmas centre.

The Elmas detention centre was the scene of a major riot staged last October by around 100 migrant inmates, which forced officials to close Cagliari airport, located just 150 metres from the centre.

The EU is prepared to handle the crisis in the way it knows best: by throwing money at it.

The European Commission seems to think the most effective use of its money is to spend it in Tunisia to stanch the flow before it gets to Lampedusa or Sicily. Labor is cheaper in Tunisia, and the EU needn’t look too closely at the methods employed by the Tunisians to keep the immigrants from getting in the boats.

An extra €140 million has been budgeted for the deal:

EU Offers Tunisia More Aid — For Help on Migrants

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — The EU Commission president has conditioned an increase in financial aid for this North African country in return for more action to prevent migrants from leaving its shores.

Jose Manuel Barroso says the European bloc is considering up to euro140 million ($200 million) in extra aid for Tunisia — or more than a 50-percent increase from the planned outlay from now until 2013.

[…]

Barroso said EU is ready to help with extra means “but we also need Tunisian authorities to do more.”

Mr. Barroso says he expects a lot of Tunisian bang for his European buck… um, I mean euro:

Barroso Expects Full Cooperation From Tunis

(ANSAmed) — Brussels, April 11 — The European Commission expects “complete cooperation” from Tunisia on the immigration front, said Pia Ahrenkilde, the spokesperson from the European Commission, speaking before the visit of European Commission President Jose’ Manuel Barroso to Tunis tomorrow. The objective of the visit is for “Europe to provide support to the country’s political and economic transition”, said Ahrenkilde.

Regarding the immigration issue, “in all likelihood the president of the European Commission will actively touch upon the topic: it is clear that we expect full cooperation from the Tunisian authorities on this front and I am certain that Europe and Tunisia will deal with the issue with a constructive spirit of partnership.”

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The articles above concern high-level political maneuvering: the shifting alliances, threats and promises, the allocation of money and the assigning of blame — in other words, business as usual in the European Union.

While all that was going on, the boats kept landing all week on Lampedusa, Malta, and Pantelleria.

Let’s begin with Lampedusa on Monday. According to ANSAmed:

Lampedusa, April 11 — Two more boats carrying migrants landed over the night on Lampedusa. Escorted by patrol boats, two large boats came into port: one carrying 98 migrants and the other 128, bringing the total number on the island to 1,500. Of the latter, about 500 are Sub-Saharan refugees coming from Libya and the others are Tunisians, who are to begin to be repatriated today.

On Tuesday, a boat loaded with 116 refugees ran out of gas and/or had engine failure between Italy and Lampedusa. Since the craft was closer to Malta than Lampedusa, the Italians refused to help, and the Maltese rescued it. One woman died on the boat during the crossing:

Dead Woman Among 116 Asylum Seekers Rescued at Sea by AFM [Armed Forces of Malta]

Italians refuse to send rescue boat because migrants in distress were close to Malta than to Lampedusa.

A group of 116 persons fleeing the civil war in Libya were rescued by two Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) patrol vessels.

The rescue mission was made during the course of the night, when their boat was adrift in a position 45 nautical miles (NM) south-west of Malta, and 47 NM East of Lampedusa.

The 50-foot wooden boat, laden with Chadian and Somali migrants, was drifting aimlessly after stopping without fuel and with an engine fault.

[…]

Italian authorities informed RCC Malta that they would not be sending any of their assets to assist in the rescue, since the boat in distress was located ‘a little closer’ to Malta, than to Lampedusa.

The Maritime Squadron’s P-24 and P-51 patrol vessels were purposely diverted to the boat location to rescue the persons. By 00.28hrs, both AFM vessels were on location, and began the operation to rescue them and provide humanitarian aid. Their group was made up of 94 males, 18 females, and 4 infants (three babies and a 3-year old boy). AFM personnel also found the corpse of a 29-year old female onboard the stricken boat.

Having rescued all of the persons, the two AFM patrol vessels are now heading back to their Haywharf Base in Floriana, Malta.

The same day saw a boat loaded with 250 migrants arrive in Sicily:

Meanwhile, a new boat arrived in the Sicilian port of Licata at 1:00 this morning carrying 250 refugees, after being rescued 12 miles from the coast by two coastal guard patrol boats. The boat, which had a failed engine, was spotted by a reconnaissance aircraft in the Strait of Sicily and hauled ashore by the patrol boats. The rescue operations were coordinated by the central operations unit of the harbour office of the port of Palermo.

The following day hundreds more landed on Lampedusa and Pantelleria:

Italy: Hundreds Land at Lampedusa and Pantelleria

(AGI) Palermo — Boats loaded with immigrants were rescued at dawn near Lampedusa and Pantelleria. A Guardia di Finanza patrol boat reached a vessel loaded with 104 Tunisian men some four miles offshore from Lampedusa. A Pantelleria Coast Guard unit rescued an old fishing boat on which about 250 people were trying the crossing. At Lampedusa the immigrants’ arrival restarted last evening, thanks to the landing of a boat carrying 57 people.

Also on Wednesday, a boat ran aground off the island of Pantelleria, and two women died before rescuers arrived:

Boat Hits Rocks Off Pantelleria, 2 Women Die

(ANSAmed) — LAMPEDUSA (AGRIGENTO), APRIL 13 — Two women died during the landing of migrants this morning on Pantelleria. The two women had been onboard an old fishing boat carrying 250 refugees which had almost certainly left from Libya and which ended up at dawn on the rocks of a small inlet on Pantelleria.

The migrants threw themselves into the sea and swam to the shore. However, two women died, most likely by drowning due to the very bad weather conditions. Weather conditions in the Sicilian Channel are worsening, with a storm at sea. This morning a plane took off to check for any boats which may be having difficulty at sea.

Another version of the same story says 192 people were on the boat that was wrecked:

Italy: Two Dead: One Missing in Another Migrant Wreck

Incident comes week after 150 lost at sea near Lampedusa

(ANSA) — Rome, April 13 — Two women are dead and another person is missing after a boat got into trouble near the Sicilian island of Pantelleria Wednesday, a week after at least 150 people were lost at sea when another migrant vessel sank in the Channel of Sicily.

The boat, which was carrying 192 refugees and left conflict-hit Libya five days ago, appears to have run aground in shallow waters after getting lost while an Italian coast guard vessel was trying to escort it to port.

The passengers were forced to abandon the boat and swim ashore in choppy conditions, according to initial reconstructions, and the two women probably drowned as they were trying to do so.

Their bodies were found in water that was only around one-metre deep. The authorities, who have detained the boat’s pilot, are searching for the missing person. The death toll would have been higher if coast guards, police, firefighters and local people had not thrown themselves into the sea and saved dozens of migrants, most of whom are thought to be from sub-Saharan Africa.

Pantelleria Mayor Alberto Di Marzo said six children were aboard and a pregnant woman, none of whom are in a life-threatening condition, although the woman is in hospital.

Last week’s sinking in rough seas near the southern island of Lampedusa, a landing point for many of the 28,000 migrants to have arrived in Italy this year following unrest in North Africa, took the number of people to have gone missing in the Channel of Sicily in 2011 to around 800.

Children were among the victims of the wreck that claimed the lives of mostly Eritreans and Somalis last week.

It is estimated that about 800 people have died at sea since the mass migrations began in January:

800 Dead in Channel of Sicily Since January

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 13 — More than 28,000 migrants reached Italy in less than three months, but many (approximately 800, but there are no official figures, so the number may even be greater) have been swallowed by the Channel of Sicily.

Hundreds of boats departed mostly from Tunisia, but also from Libya, and some sank with their human cargo.

Some 14 shipwrecks have been reported to date, the latest one today: two women drowned in Pantelleria during a landing.

After they disembarked on Lampedusa, the asylum seekers enriched the island’s culture by once again rioting and burning their living quarters.

First, from AFP:

Tunisian Boat People Riot on Italian Migrant Island

LAMPEDUSA, Italy — Tunisian boat people rioted Monday on the Italian island of Lampedusa in a protest against their imminent deportation under a controversial deal struck between Rome and Tunis last week.

“Freedom! Freedom!” shouted some of the migrants at a compound in which hundreds are being held. Some of them started a small fire at the centre which was quickly put out by the fire brigade, and dozens fled the enclosure.

Several of the escapees later returned to the immigrant detention centre.

And from Macleans:

Reports: Fire Breaks Out in Immigrant Centre on Italian Island

LAMPEDUSA, Italy — Italian news reports say a fire has broken out in an immigrant shelter in Lampedusa, the tiny island close to North Africa where thousands of migrants have arrived in the past weeks.

The ANSA news agency said a column of smoke was rising from two buildings in the centre. SKY Italia said that Tunisians protesting repatriations set the building ablaze.

About 50 migrants managed to escape from the centre, while others were stopped by police patrolling the area, according to ANSA.

Some 26,000 illegal migrants have landed on Lampedusa since the beginning of the year, amid unrest across North Africa. Italy started repatriating Tunisians last week after striking a deal with Tunis.

To wrap things up, here’s a report from AGI about a “secret” plan by Col. Moamar Qhedafi to flood Europe — especially Italy — with migrants from further south in Africa:

AISI Reports a Wave of Migrants on Their Way From Libya

Rome — Migrants may be a secret weapon of Col Gaddafi.

Sources report that the Libyan leader has released over 15,000 migrants from the Horn of Africa, Chad, and Sub-Saharan Africa, previously held in camps. These people will all now be heading to Italy. They are going to leave from the port of Zuwarah, 120 kilometres from Tripoli, and still under regime control. This emerged from a meeting of COPASIR (the Parliamentary Committee for the Intelligence and Security Services and for State Secret Control), which heard from Giorgio Piccirillo, head of the AISI (the Internal Information and Security Agency).

This is no secret.

For years I have been reporting in this space on Col. Gadhafi’s blatant shakedown of the European Union. The Colonel repeatedly demanded “aid” money in return for keeping his black African refugees penned up in their camps.

When the civil war began, Col. Gheddafi reiterated his threat in an attempt to intimidate the EU into non-interference. Then, when the bombs began to fall, he made good on it.

The Gadafi strategy was never a secret — the Europeans just weren’t paying enough attention. Or perhaps they just didn’t believe him.

In any case, this is why I don’t think the emergency is over yet. Even if Tunisia manages to keep its refugees on shore, the Libyan exodus may turn out to be the largest contingent of the 2011 Camp of the Saints migration crisis.






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