Wednesday, July 5, 2017

'Take migrants from Libya' EU Commission tells member states [Video]

Mark Stone, Europe Correspondent in Italy
African migrants currently in Libya who qualify as refugees will be legally resettled to the European Union, according to the European Commission.
The surprise announcement, one of a number of "immediate measures" made in a new EU Action Plan, is designed to tackle an increasingly urgent phase in the ongoing Mediterranean migration crisis.
"All actors now need to intensify and accelerate their efforts in line with the increasing urgency of the situation and the commitments undertaken by EU leaders," the plan states.
The Commission, the executive arm of the EU, published the measures after an overwhelmed Italian government threatened to block entry to Italian ports for all aid ships who rescue and recover migrants trying to cross from Libya to Italy.
Migrant arrivals in Italy are up nearly 19% over the same period last year.
EU figures estimate that 85,183 people, from countries all over Africa, have been rescued while attempting the deadly crossing. Ninety-five percent leave Africa from the Libyan coastline in flimsy boats.
The relocation pledge from Libya is an extension to existing relocation programmes focused on refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, from where 17,000 mostly Syrian refugees have been resettled.
"The Commission will launch a new resettlement pledging exercise in conjunction with the UNHCR starting with those in need of international protection from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Ethiopia and Sudan" the new pledge states.
The commission document, called 'Action plan on measures to support Italy, reduce pressure along the Central Mediterranean route and increase solidarity' will form the basis of discussions at an EU interior ministers meeting in Estonia on Thursday.
The document contains a series of new measures including renewed impetus on training and equipping Libyan border and coastguard operations, as well as an official code of conduct for charities involved in search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
Charities have been accused of encouraging the pull of migrants by providing rescue missions. They deny this, pointing out that the migrants were making the journeys in similar numbers before they operated in the region.
Other measures in the Action Plan include €35m (£30.7m) in extra cash for Italy to help the government in Rome deal with the crisis.
Migrants travel to Libya from countries all over Africa - Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan in the east, Mali and Niger in the centre and from Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Gambia in the west.
More than 2,000 are known to have died this year alone according to the International Organisation for Migration.
Around 50 migrants were missing, feared dead, off the coast of Spain on Tuesday. If confirmed, it would make the voyage the deadliest sea crossing in that part of the Mediterranean this year.
Survivors are routinely brought to Italy by charity rescue vessels because Libya is not considered a safe country for them to be returned to.
Charities including the Italian Red Cross have repeatedly warned that Italy's overcrowded reception centres are in a critical state and cannot cope with the overwhelming number of asylum applications.
Sky News has spoken to numerous migrants who have walked out of the centres after an initial registration process which includes fingerprinting. Many make their way to Rome en-route to northern Europe.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: "The dire situation in the Mediterranean is neither a new nor a passing reality."
"We have made enormous progress over the past two and half years towards a genuine EU migration policy but the urgency of the situation now requires us to seriously accelerate our collective work and not leave Italy on its own.
"The focus of our efforts has to be on solidarity - with those fleeing war and persecution and with our Member States under the most pressure.
"At the same time, we need to act, in support of Libya, to fight smugglers and enhance border control to reduce the number of people taking hazardous journeys to Europe."
Last September, Sky News witnessed the perilous crossings from the deck of a rescue vessel run by the charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).
In the nine months since then, the situation has deteriorated.
MOAS and other charities who operate rescue vessels have repeatedly called for "safe and legal routes" for migrants so that they don't resort to deadly sea crossings fuelled by people traffickers.

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