German rescue boat heads for Italy carrying 800 migrants

A charity ship has rescued 800 migrants in the Mediterranean and is heading for the Italian port of Lampedusa, the German NGO Sea-Eye said on Thursday.

Crew members of civil sea rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 help migrants to board the rescue ship on August 29, 2020.
Crew members of civil sea rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 help migrants to board the rescue ship on August 29, 2020. Photo: Thomas Lohnes / AFP

The Sea-Eye 4 had already rescued 397 people in six operations by Wednesday, assisted by the Mission Lifeline ship Rise Above, Sea-Eye said in a statement.

The vessel then picked up a further 400 people from a heavily overcrowded wooden boat on Thursday morning, it said.

Maltese rescue services, though responsible for maritime emergencies in the area, “did not respond to any of the calls for assistance”, Sea-Eye said.

“There are now more than 800 people on the Sea-Eye 4, which has since set course for Lampedusa,” it said.

The migrants and 24 crew on board are facing an “unprecedented, highly stressful situation” and are “dependent on the rapid assignment of a port of safety”, it added.

READ ALSO: Italy failed to save over 200 drowning migrants, UN says

The NGO SOS-Mediterranee said its Ocean Viking ship was also in the area and had provided food supplies to the Sea-Eye 4.

“Any delay by the authorities endangers the health and lives of the rescued people and our crew,” Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler was quoted as saying.

“It is shameful how Malta repeatedly shirks its responsibility and ignores distress calls.”

Italy is one of the main points of entry into Europe for migrants from North Africa, mainly from Libya and Tunisia, with tens of thousands of people seeking to cross the central Mediterranean each year.

The port of Lampedusa became a flashpoint for migration disputes under hardline former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini.

Salvini went on trial last month for allegedly illegally blocking 147 rescued migrants from disembarking from a rescue ship and holding them in dire conditions.

READ ALSO: Italy’s former interior minister Salvini stands trial for migrant kidnapping

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France seeks EU deal with Britain on illegal immigration

France wants a new post-Brexit accord between Britain and the European Union on handling illegal immigration, in the wake of the disaster in the Channel last week that left 27 migrants dead, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Monday.

A member of the UK Border Force (R) helps people on a beach in Dungeness
A member of the UK Border Force (R) helps people on a beach in Dungeness on the south-east coast of England, on November 24, 2021, after they were rescued while crossing the English Channel. The past three years have seen a significant rise in attempted Channel crossings by migrants, despite warnings of the dangers in the busy shipping lane between northern France and southern England. Ben STANSALL / AFP

He called for a “balanced” accord that would offer “a real solution” for dealing with highly organised trafficking networks often spread across France, Belgium, Germany and other countries.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex will write to his British counterpart Boris Johnson on Tuesday to outline the agreement, Darmanin added.

The deal could include ways to ensure unaccompanied minors can safely reach Britain to rejoin family, instead of putting themselves at the mercy of traffickers.

But he rejected proposals that would see Britain unilaterally force migrant boats back to France, saying it was against international maritime law and would put people’s lives in danger.

“We cannot accept this practice,” he said.

Earlier on Monday Darmanin urged Britain on Monday to open a legal route for asylum seekers in order to prevent
people risking their lives by taking small boats across the Channel to England.

“Great Britain needs to open up a legal immigration route” because “at the moment anyone who wants to ask for asylum has no other choice but to cross the Channel,” Darmanin said in an interview with the RMC/BFM media group.

French officials have already suggested that British immigration officials process asylum requests in northern France from migrants camped out around the major ports on France’s coast.

Darmanin convened fellow ministers responsible for immigration from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium on Sunday for talks about the Channel migrant crisis, four days after an unprecedented accident saw 27 people drown in the busy sea lane.

They met without Britain which was excluded after a row last week between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Darmanin again blamed Britain for the presence of thousands of migrants in northern France, alleging that more relaxed labour practices on the other side of the Channel were creating a “pull effect” tempting migrants across in hope of finding work.

Many migrants around Calais also say they want to travel to the UK because they speak some English already, or have family and friends in the country.

Around 26,000 people have sailed from France to England this year, leading to severe pressure on the UK government which had vowed to reduce migration after pushing through Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Johnson has suggested sending police and border agents to patrol alongside their French counterparts on the beaches of northern France — something rejected by Paris in the past as an infringement on sovereignty.

More controversially, he proposed sending back all migrants who land in England, a move which Johnson claimed would save “thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs”.

France received 80,000 asylum requests in 2020 compared with 27,000 in the UK.

Investigations into last Wednesday’s accident continue, with French police giving no details officially about the circumstances or the identities of the victims.

A total of 17 men, seven women and three minors died, with migrants living along the coast telling AFP that the deceased were mostly Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans.