Migrants are being ‘radicalised’ by NGOs pushing them to raise their demands, warns UN refugee official after rescue ship trying to dock in Italy snubbed Spanish offer of asylum
- Vincent Cochetel concerned about migrants demanding where they get asylum
- It came after rescue ship snubbed Spain’s offer after being stranded for 20 days
- Cochetel tweeted: ‘I am very concerned by radicalisation of migratory dreams & demands of some migrants & refugees in Libya & neighbouring countries’
Vincent Cochetel, the UN’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, expressed concern over the ‘increasing demands of some migrants’
Vincent Cochetel, the UN’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, warned that migrants were becoming more radical as a result of NGOs pushing them to raise their demands.
He was commenting on the Open Arms migrant rescue ship which had been trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa for weeks.
The Spanish rescue boat was stuck in a stalemate with the Italian government for 20 days as Rome refused to let it dock.
Spain offered to let the migrants disembark in Mallorca but Open Arms rejected.
The non-profit repeatedly said that the situation on board was desperate and some migrants were suicidal.
This prompted Cochetel to tweet: ‘Open Arms rejects Spanish offer of safe haven… while I understand the difficulty of the situation on board, I am very concerned by the radicalisation of the migratory dreams & demands of some migrants & refugees in Libya & neighbouring countries.’
Cochetel tweeted the comments after dozens of migrants refused to dock in Spain in favour of Italy
Migrants jump into the sea yesterday in a desperate attempt to swim to the Italian island of Lampedusa amid a stand-off with the Italian government
The vessel was eventually allowed to dock in Italy after an Italian prosecutor ordered the seizure of the ship.
The migrants, mainly from Africa, were removed from the boat at Lampedusa’s harbour just after 11.30pm on Tuesday. The passengers were sleeping jammed together on deck and sharing two toilets.
The Open Arms ship, run by a Spanish charity of the same name, had rescued the migrants heading for Europe off the Libyan coast.
But after Italy refused to let it dock the ship had been stranded at sea for nearly three weeks, with the charity saying that the migrants were distressed and urgently needed to find shelter.
Charlie Yaxley, a UN spokesperson for Africa, the Mediterranean and Libya, told Euronews there was a ‘rising trend’ in the number of migrants insisting on where they want to seek asylum.
He said: ‘People fleeing from conflicts in East and West African countries typically apply for asylum in neighbouring countries.
‘The asylum system in place since the 1951 Refugee Convention requires you to apply in the country you are in,’ he explained.
‘Asylum seekers do not have the choice on where to ask [for] asylum.’
Migrants swim after jumping off Spanish rescue ship Open Arms, close to the Italian shore of Lampedusa on August 20
On Twitter, Yaxley further responded: ‘A person should apply for asylum in the territory they are in. You cannot withhold your asylum claim in the hopes of getting a better offer elsewhere.’
Open Arms’ director and founder, Oscar Camps, confirmed earlier on Twitter that the ship would be seized temporarily, adding it was ‘a cost that Open Arms assumes to ensure that people on board can be served.’
‘We consider it essential to prioritise the migrants’ health and safety in this humanitarian emergency,’ he said.
Spain had sent a naval vessel on Tuesday afternoon to rescue the migrants and take them to Mallorca after some of them jumped overboard.
After the charity said nine had tried to swim ashore, footage showed another five people jump, although it was not immediately clear if some were lifeguards.
The fate of the 147 migrants now hangs in the balance as a European deal to redistribute them failed to materialise and Madrid said it could hit the Spanish charity with a huge fine for rescuing them.
WHAT IS OPEN ARMS?
The Spanish NGO was set up in October 2015 and is devoted to search and rescue in the Aegean and Central Mediterranean sea.
It protects migrants trying to reach Europe from war-torn countries.
Open Arms has a permanent base on the Greek island of Lesbos and carries out its rescue operations using three ships and a sailing yacht.
Its founder, Òscar Camps, was named Catalan of the Year in 2015.
In 2016, the NGO won the H.E.R.O. Award for Outstanding Team Contribution to a Maritime SAR Operation for helping to save the lives of over 200 people who had capsized off the north shore of Lesbos.
The NGO has received several other awards, including the European Citizen’s Prize awarded by the European Parliament in 2016.
Italy has taken a tough line on migrant entry, saying it has borne too much responsibility for handling African migration to Europe. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini says the charity-run ships have become ‘taxis’ for people smugglers.
Italy’s right-wing interior minister Matteo Salvini suggested earlier today that Open Arms was exaggerating the problems on board.
Of eight migrants taken ashore on Monday night for urgent medical attention, he said, only two had health problems.
‘Spanish NGO, Spanish ship, Spanish port: The coherence and strength of Italy has paid off. We are no longer the refugee camp of Europe,’ he said in a statement.
The standoff has fuelled Salvini’s campaign against migrant boats from Africa, and comes as he is trying to force Italy into snap elections.
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced his resignation on Tuesday, accusing Salvini of sinking the ruling coalition for personal and political gain.
With the Open Arms impounded, the only remaining charity vessel currently operating in the Mediterranean, the Ocean Viking, was still seeking a safe port for its 356 rescued migrants.
The ship operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been holding its position for 10 days between Malta and Lampedusa.
‘As maritime law stipulates, we’ve been asking Italian and Maltese search and rescue coordination centres for a safe port since we made our first rescue on August 9,’ said Frederic Penard, head of operations for SOS Mediterranee.
‘For the time being we’ve had no reply from Italy and a rather negative one from Malta,’ he added.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told Spanish radio: ‘The Open Arms doesn’t have a permit to rescue.’
The vessel had in April been authorised to leave Barcelona, where it was immobilised for three months, to transport humanitarian aid to Greece.
It was banned from heading to the seas off Libya, often the launchpad for migrants attempting to reach Europe, but went anyway.
A document from the directorate-general for Spain’s merchant navy said it risks a fine of up to 901,000 euros for violating this ban.
There were initially 147 mainly African migrants on the ship but as the days passed, some were evacuated for medical care and all minors were allowed to disembark.
Six European Union countries – France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania and Spain – had offered to take them all in.
Calvo said the military ship sent to Lampedusa could take charge of those migrants allocated to Spain if this agreement is implemented.
France said Wednesday it was sending a delegation from its refugee agency, Ofpra, to look at the situation of the some 40 migrants it has agreed to take.
France also said it was ready to take in ‘a large number of migrants’ from the Ocean Viking, while repeating it would not take in the vessel itself.
A spokesman for the French presidency said the Ocean Viking should be allowed to dock ‘at the nearesrt port.’
Sicily prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio intervened as part of a probe into alleged kidnapping and refusing to obey orders targeting Salvini.
Salvini hit back on Facebook about the decision to let the migrants off the boat, saying: ‘If anybody thinks they can scare me with the umpteenth complaint and wants a trial, they’re mistaken.’
A Spanish naval patrol boat, the Audaz, set off from Rota in southwestern Spain on Tuesday on a three-day trip to Lampedusa to fetch the Open Arms migrants.
Spain had tried to break the standoff over the migrants at the weekend by offering up its southern port of Algeciras, which the NGO said could ‘not be achieved’ due to the distance and tensions on board.
Madrid then suggested Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, nearer but still around 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from Lampedusa.
The charity described the offer as ‘totally incomprehensible’ and continued to demand the ship be allowed to dock in Lampedusa.