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Italy leaves rescued migrants stranded at sea

International | The standoff is the latest in Europe’s response to illegal migration
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 8/20/19, 05:14 pm

In the latest migrant standoff in Europe, more than 80 people remain stranded at sea after Italy refused to let a rescue ship dock nearly three weeks ago.

The Spanish aid ship Open Arms initially picked up 147 migrants from sinking smuggler boats near Libyan waters. But for the past 19 days, the ship remained anchored in the Mediterranean Sea near the Italian island of Lampedusa in choppy weather conditions. Since then, the Italian coast guard has transferred only about 40 migrants—including minors and the sick—to shore.

Oscar Camps, founder of the rescue group Proactiva Open Arms, which operates the ship, told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser that conditions on the ship are tense as the anxious and traumatized migrants share a small space and deal with seasickness. On Sunday, the Open Arms’ crew members quickly dived into the water after several desperate migrants tried to swim toward Lampedusa. On Tuesday, at least 15 more migrants followed. The coast guard rescued them and took them to the island, leaving 83 migrants on board.

“We’ve been warning for days, desperation has its limits,” Camps said.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini repeatedly sought to block the ship from docking in Italian territorial waters even after several other European nations offered to take in some of the migrants. He has blamed rescue vessels for enabling smugglers to continue to bring the refugees out of Libya.

Earlier this month, Salvini and his League party successfully pushed a decree through the Italian Senate to fine rescue ships up to $1 million for entering Italian waters without authorization. The decree also allows naval authorities to arrest captains who ignore orders to stay away.

But an Italian court ruled the decree violates international laws, especially in light of the “exceptionally grave and urgent situation due to the protracted stay of the migrants on our boat,” Proactiva Open Arms said in a statement.

Salvini tried again to renew the ban, but Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta said she refused to sign off on it.

“We must never forget that behind the polemics of the past few days, there are children and young people who suffered violence and abuse of all types,” she said. “Politics must never lose sight of humanity.”

Illegal migration into Europe from the Mediterranean has dropped from previous years, but thousands of migrants still attempt the journey. This year, the United Nations recorded nearly 600 deaths in the waters between Libya and Italy. But European nations remain hesitant to open their borders.

The crisis is contributing to political upheaval in Italy. Last week, Salvini withdrew his party from its partnership with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and called for a snap election over disagreements on policies. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced his plans to resign Tuesday and accused Salvini of destabilizing the government.

“[Salvini would] like to have a new election, and he knows with his migration policy, he’d get substantial support,” said Yves Pascouau, founder of the European Migration Law group.

Another 356 migrants are aboard the Ocean Viking rescue ship, operated by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Méditerranée. The groups have already asked Maltese and Italian authorities to provide a safe port.

Pascouau explained that Europe’s longstanding division over the migration crisis has resulted in a case-by-case response that will not resolve the problem. “They need to find the right balance between the sovereignty of the state and the dignity of the people,” he said.

UPDATE: Sicilian prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio later on Tuesday boarded the Open Arms and ordered its seizure and the immediate evacuation of its remaining passengers. “Finally, the nightmare ends and 83 people on board will receive immediate assistance on land,” Proactiva Open Arms tweeted.

Associated Press/Photo by Vladimir Voronin Associated Press/Photo by Vladimir Voronin Riot police pursue supporters of former President Almazbek Atambayev in Kyrgyzstan on Aug. 8.

Presidential standoff in Kyrgyzstan

Prosecutors last week charged Kyrgyzstan’s former president with murder and organizing mass unrest after an attempt to arrest him spurred deadly clashes.

Almazbek Atambayev turned himself in after a standoff between his supporters and security officials outside his residential compound. The officials came to arrest him after he ignored three subpoenas for questioning from the Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Kashkar Junushaliev said 170 people sustained injuries in the confrontation, including 79 law enforcement officers.

Atambayev served as the nation’s leader from 2011 to 2017 and faced accusations of corruption and abuse of office. He accused his successor and one-time protégé, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, of fabricating charges against him to crack down on criticism. The disagreement between the two men sparked fears of instability in the nation.

Authorities have also charged Atambayev with unlawfully carrying a weapon and taking hostages. The head of the National Security Services, Orozbek Opumbayev, said the former leader had the “intention to organize a state coup.” —O.O.

Facebook/Norwich Cathedral Facebook/Norwich Cathedral The Helter Skelter slide in the Norwich Cathedral

English churches turn the sacred into the secular

This summer, several cathedrals in England are experimenting with adding art installations or carnival attractions as the numbers of worshippers in the country declines.

The Peterborough Cathedral in the Midlands will display a model of the Earth that uses high-resolution NASA imagery from this week until mid-September. Last year, the church hung a moon from its ceiling. In the same region, the Lichfield Cathedral also set up a space-theme exhibit in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

At the cathedral in Norwich, a 55-foot-tall Helter Skelter slide winds across the interior. Visitors pay $2.50 to slide from the top of the tower down to the church. The cathedral in Rochester offers a nine-hole miniature golf course in its medieval nave until the end of September.

The move has drawn criticism from churchgoers who see it as a mockery of sacred spaces.

Andy Bryant, the canon for mission with the Norwich Cathedral, said the display at his church offers a fresh perspective. “This is a deliberate attempt to help people engage with our cathedral,” he told The New York Times. “There is this idea that the Helter Skelter makes it all brash and noisy, but people are going on to see the cathedral in all of its glory.” —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Lee Jin-man (file) Associated Press/Photo by Lee Jin-man (file) Visitors look toward North Korea from the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea.

North Korea funds nukes with cyberattacks

North Korea has used cyberattacks to steal up to $2 billion for its nuclear weapons program, according to a report by independent experts at the United Nations. To date, Pyongyang has launched at least 35 attacks on financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges in 17 countries, they said.

The cyberattacks targeted institutions in Bangladesh, Chile, Costa Rica, India, Nigeria, Poland, and South Korea—the hardest hit with 10 attacks.

The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions since 2006 on North Korea to hinder its nuclear weapons activities. The report said the North “continued to violate sanctions through ongoing illicit ship-to-ship transfers and procurement of [weapons of mass destruction]–related items and luxury goods.” —O.O.

Churches tell Philippine army to stop visits

Protestant church leaders in Baguio City, Philippines, said recent visits from soldiers to their churches worried their members. Due to the “fear and distress” caused by those visits, some churches told the military to stop coming, The Philippine Star reported.

The Philippine army claimed the courtesy calls were part of its “community engagement program,” but the churches doubted that because the soldiers specifically visited churches engaged in human rights advocacy, according to UCA News.

Father Ferdinand Lacanaria of the Philippine Independent Church said he became suspicious as soldiers asked about the plans of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance. He accused the military of “not being truthful,” adding, “I opened the church to you without reservation, but all the while you were there to monitor my activities and organizational affiliations.” —Julia A. Seymour

News we’re watching

  • Ebola in a new province in Congo: Health officials last week confirmed that a 24-year-old mother and her 7-month-old baby were the first two Ebola patients in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mother died while the baby is still receiving treatment. The one-year epidemic, which has killed more than 1,800 people, is centered in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.
  • Unrest in Zimbabwe: The country’s riot police cracked down on hundreds of anti-government protesters last week after a court ruled against the opposition’s attempt to lift a police ban on demonstrations. Armed security officials remained on the streets Monday. Eighteen months ago, President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over the country’s leadership after a military coup toppled longtime leader Robert Mugabe. But the country is still battling economic woes and a stringent crackdown on any opposition, frustrating citizens who expected change. —O.O
Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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