Posted on June 26, 2018

Spain Forces Italy to Take 230 Refugees

Iain Burns, Daily Mail, June 26, 2018

Spain has refused to take in a charity boat carrying 230 migrants, stressing that the country cannot be the ‘sea rescue organisation for all of Europe’.

Its prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, said today there must be a ‘common answer’ to the crisis in the Mediterranean from ‘various countries’ in the EU – and did not agree to take in the Mission Lifeline charity ship, which is now heading to Malta.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the ship would go to the tiny island, off which it has been stranded since Thursday, adding that Italy would take in some of the migrants on board.

But the country’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, tweeted that Italy had stopped an ‘invasion’ after forcing two charity boats to dock elsewhere.

He said the ‘illegal ship will finally be seized’ when it arrives in Malta, adding: ‘For women and children truly fleeing war, the ports are open, for all the others, no.’

Salvini has likened the ships run by private aid groups under non-Italian flags to taxi services that are serving migrant smugglers.

Earlier this month, Spain took in 630 migrants from the French aid ship Aquarius after Malta and Italy refused it access.

It comes amid a resurgent political crisis over migration that threatens to tear the bloc apart, with leaders across the EU taking a tough stance on migration.

Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz will assume the EU’s rotating presidency on July 1 and has vowed to make migrants claim asylum before entering the bloc.

His country today staged a dramatic border protection exercise along its frontier with Slovenia, with his vice chancellor explaining: ‘There will no longer be a loss of control and free passage like in 2015.’

Heavily armed policemen — wearing helmets and body armour while carrying riot shields — were on display in part to show Germany that Austria is willing to shut its own borders if the German interior minister follows through with his threat to close the Bavarian frontier.

Kurz fears that if Germany unilaterally closes its southern border then other EU nations will follow suit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is locked in a struggle with her coalition partners that threatens to topple her government.

A summit between EU leaders on Sunday made little progress on tackling the crisis.

The Austrian policy echoes the position of Italy, which has started turning away migrant vessels and proposed setting up processing centres in Libya and other countries of origin.

Thousands of migrants poured through Europe’s open borders daily three years ago, triggering a humanitarian and political crisis that has left deep divisions on the continent.

Chancellor Kurz said at the weekend that he would ‘be ready and do everything necessary to protect our borders’ if Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, goes ahead with plans to protect his country’s southern frontier.

Today, meanwhile, Italy’s deputy prime minister said its coastguard and navy should ignore SOS calls from migrant boats in the Mediterranean.

Matteo Salvini has already warned foreign charities to stop picking up migrants off Libya, accusing them of ‘causing trouble’ and saying Italian ports ‘are and will be closed to those who aid human traffickers.’

Salvini, also the country’s interior minister, made the comments after a surprise visit to Libya, a key departure point for thousands of migrants making the dangerous crossing to Europe.

Discussing the Lifeline today, the Italian prime minister said: ‘I just got off the phone with [Maltese] president [Joseph] Muscat: the NGO ship Lifeline will dock in Malta.’

The prime minister did not specify, however, when the vessel would be allowed to head to the island nation.

Conte also said Lifeline ‘will be subject to an investigation into its nationality and compliance with the rules of international law by its crew’ – after questions about the ship’s legal status were raised.

‘Consistent with the key principle of our immigration proposal – that those who land on the shores of Italy, Spain, Greece or Malta are landing in Europe – Italy will do its part and welcome some of the migrants who are on board the Lifeline’, said Conte.

He did not reveal how many migrants Italy would take in, but expressed his wish that ‘other European countries would do the same’.

On Monday, Spain’s economic development minister, Jose Luis Abalos, said Spain would not offer docking to the NGO boat Lifeline, which is carrying 230 migrants.

He said his country will not ‘become the sea rescue organisation for all of Europe.’

Today, standing alongside Angela Merkel in Berlin, Sanchez pledged to work closely with Germany on migration – but called for an EU-wide solution.

Immigration has become an urgent political issue across Europe in recent weeks following the election of a new government in Italy and a split in Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.

Europe took in more than a million people – mainly economic migrants and asylum seekers from the Middle East, Balkans and Africa — in 2015 and has taken in hundreds of thousands since.

The issue still sharply divides European governments and has led to a surge in political movements across the continent that are opposed to mass migration.

Italian voters comprehensively rejected mainstream parties in March elections, empowering the right-leaning League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

The League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, became interior minister and began turning away rescue vessels and demanding greater solidarity from reluctant fellow EU states.

Countries that have taken in large numbers of asylum seekers want other EU countries to share the burden, particularly Germany.

Other states, however, point out that Berlin unilaterally opened its borders to migrants in 2015, thus attracting huge numbers of people into the EU without the assent of the bloc’s membership.

Germany, meanwhile, is struggling to keep its coalition government afloat after Merkel’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said he would shut the Bavarian border if a solution was not found over the migrant crisis.

Eastern European states, which have taken in among the smallest numbers so far, refuse to accept any more and have turned the issue into a central focus for nationalist governments.

Leaders of the European Union failed on Sunday to come up with a joint position to tackle migration and will try again at a summit at the end of this week.

Meanwhile Spain, which earlier this month took in 630 migrants from the French aid ship Aquarius after Malta and Italy refused it, appeared to wobble in its commitment to welcoming migrants.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was asked during a visit to Berlin whether Spain would offer safe harbour to another migrant ship, Mission Lifeline, which has been stuck off Malta since Thursday with 234 migrants aboard.

He replied that Spain would be part of the ‘common answer’, but added that the solution ‘has to be European, it has to be from various countries’.

Mr Sanchez was asked whether Spain would offer safe harbour to the Lifeline.

He replied that Spain would be part of the ‘common answer’, but added that the solution ‘has to be European, it has to be from various countries’.

Sanchez said Madrid would be involved in a ‘joint response’ over Lifeline, but ‘several countries must participate’.

‘Spain is united, a country of solidarity, as we have shown with the Aquarius,’ he said.

French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told RTL radio earlier today: ‘As I speak, a European solution seems to be emerging: (it) would be a docking in Malta.’

The Maltese leader himself also said his island nation is working to resolve the case of the ship.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Malta aims ‘to prevent escalation into humanitarian crisis’ by sharing the responsibility with other fellow EU nations.

The statement also said that Malta planned to investigate the captain of the Lifeline, run by a German non-governmental agency, nothing that he had ignored instructions.

The ship has been stranded for days since Italy’s interior minister refused to allow it access to ports.

However, a spokesman for the Maltese government said: ‘There is no decision yet but it is true there are ongoing discussions which started over the weekend.

‘There are ongoing discussions among a number of EU member states to take a share of the migrants.’

The decision by Italy and Malta to stop allowing migrant rescue vessels to dock has plunged Europe into a political crisis over how to collectively handle the hundreds of thousands of people migrating from Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans and Asia.