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Angela Merkel; Matteo Salvini. Photo supplied

Merkel calls for resuming government-funded sea rescue

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has demanded the resumption of state reception of immigrants in the Mediterranean... with taxpayer funds.

Published: August 18, 2019, 10:00 am

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    “Surely it would be good, if we could today again have a mission ‘Sophia’ and government ships that rescue,” said Merkel, according to Reuters on Thursday evening at a reception for former Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) in Berlin.

    The European naval mission “Sophia” was not renewed in March. This was preceded by violent protests from Italy.

    Merkel added that it would help with rescuing migrants but her proposal would do little to combat human trafficking.

    On Tuesday, Merkel also spoke out in support of sea rescues during a panel discussion in northern Germany, calling them “a humanitarian imperative,” according to the newspapers of the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

    Operation “Sophia” was eventually halted after EU member states could no longer agree on a further commitment as Rome had been arguing hard against the policy of automatically bringing all people rescued at sea to Italian ports. It has challenged other EU member states to take in more arrivals.

    But other member states have been refusing to take in migrants that do not first arrive on EU territory at their own borders.

    Once again this week there had been a dispute over the admission of 147 immigrants from a private migrant rescue ship. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had denied the Open Arms the entry into Italian waters.

    Subsequently, Germany, France, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg offered to let the illegal immigrants into their countries, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte noted in a letter to Salvini. The letter was posted on Facebook on Thursday.

    Conte accused the Minister of the Interior that he had been compulsively concentrating on immigration and on the formula of “closed ports”.

    At the beginning of August, the Italian parliament approved a new security law, which allows asylum workers to be punished more severely if they illegally enter into Italian territorial waters.

    There is currently another private rescue vessel with 356 immigrants on board in the Mediterranean Sea. Operated by SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders, the Ocean Viking is waiting for permission to enter Malta or Italy.

    Migrants aboard the Spanish NGO rescue ship Open Arms are going to the toilet near where they are eating, according to a doctor’s report seen by ANSA. “The general situation sees very poor sanitary and hygienic conditions: spaces unfit to hold such a huge number of people,” said the report on the 140 odd migrants picked up off Libya two weeks ago, compiled by Doctor Katia Valeria Di Natale and nurse Daniele Maestrini, members of the Cisom staff.

    “The rescued migrants are living piled on top of each other, there is no possibility of walking, there are only two chemical toilets and often the migrants are forced to meet their physiological needs in the same space where they sleep and eat”. But this may not be different from conditions they already know.

    Salvini called reports of a medical emergency aboard “fake”. Asked about the reported medical emergency, Salvini said the reports were “made up”.

    “They tell me from Lampedusa that out of the 27 immigrants for whom the landing was ordered as minors, 8 have already declared themselves adults! We will see about the others … After the ‘imaginary sick’, here are the ‘imaginary minors’!” he tweeted. He said such lies would not make him change his mind.

    In fact, the fake age of the individuals who landed on Lampedusa has become a new battleground between the Viminale and Palazzo Chigi after the migrants with some posing as “minors” were transferred to the Sicilian island.

    “This is the latest stitch-up from the NGOs, I’m not giving up,” he said. Another four migrants landed from the Open Arms for medical treatment on the island of Lampedusa overnight, the Spanish NGO said on Friday.

    It said all of the migrants aboard the ship – counted as about 150 initially – must be allowed to disembark. “All the persons on board must be allowed to land urgently,” the NGO said. “Humanity imposes it”.

    On Thursday evening more migrants were allowed off the ship. They were moved to the hotspot on the island. The boat’s captain, Oscar Camps, said the migrants were “psychologically broken”.

    Interior Minister and anti-migrant League leader Salvini is not allowing the migrants to land due to his closed ports policy in spite of a Lazio court order to let them in, against which he has appealed.

    A doctor on the island meanwhile said on Friday that those who have landed were in fact quite healthy.

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