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Stranded migrants dock in Spain

International | The latest row highlights Europe’s struggle for good migration policy
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 6/19/18, 04:13 pm

Spain allowed a ship with 630 migrants aboard to dock Sunday after it drifted at sea for a week while European countries argued over it fate. 

The Aquarius rescue ship, run by aid groups SOS Mediterranee Sea and Doctors Without Borders, sat stranded off the coast of Sicily after Italy and Malta refused to allow the boat to dock. The migrants included 630 people from 31 nations, 68 minors, and at least seven pregnant women. The ship finally docked in the Spanish city of Valencia.

Emergency workers, health officials, and authorities met the migrants at the city’s dock before transferring them to welcome centers. Spain granted the migrants 45 days before starting to resolve their legal status. “We have to strike a balance between our sensibilities and humanity, and our respect for the law,” said Spain’s migration minster, Magdalena Valerio. 

Spain’s new center-left government, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, has taken a more open approach to migration than the previous administration. The Spanish Cabinet on Friday said it would work to extend public healthcare to foreigners without residence permits and also look into removing the barbed wire border fences around two Spanish enclaves in North Africa. 

At least 35,500 migrants have arrived in Europe since January and another 857 have died along the way as of Tuesday. Despite a reduction from the same time last year, the arrivals continue: Spain’s maritime rescue said it saved 825 migrants from 69 different boats between Friday and Saturday. 

Europe continues to battle over a cohesive solution to the crisis. France and Italy traded words over Italy’s refusal to allow entry to the migrants. Italy and Greece remain the most popular points of entry, and the countries have complained that the European Union’s migration policies leave them to bear the burden. The state-of-entry policy requires asylum seekers to apply in the first country they enter and remain there while their cases are processed.

In a joint news conference aimed at mending fences, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the EU’s policy has left Italy without the backing of other European countries. “The proper response is European, but the existing European response has not adapted,” Macron said.

The latest row also sparked backlash from some aid groups. Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said the rift should not have occurred in the first place: “Rescue at sea is too important a principle to jeopardize, and any wavering about disembarkation presents grave peril not just to refugees and migrants, but to anyone in difficulty at sea.”

In Germany, the Christian Social Union (CSU) Party is pressuring political ally Chancellor Angela Merkel to turn back migrants who are registered as asylum seekers in other countries in Europe. Merkel has said any unilateral action against migration could weaken the union. “I think this issue is one of the most decisive for the cohesion of Europe,” she said.

The migration squabble is expected to come to a head during the EU summit scheduled for June 28-29. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the CSU gave Merkel until July 1 to reach an agreement with other European countries on how to respond to the crisis. The party wants a European agreement, Seehofer said, but “we want this national solution unless a European solution comes together.”

Some analysts say a national solution will prove difficult.

“Common sense and return to rational concepts of what constitutes a crisis should allow the EU governments to build a functioning asylum system and distribute a few thousand people around the 500 million bloc,” Giulia Lagana, a senior analyst with the Open Society European Policy Institute, wrote for Euronews. “But at the European Council … expect more crisis talk, acrimony—and a renewed consensus to keep people out regardless of the cost.”

Associated Press/Photo by Fernando Vergara Associated Press/Photo by Fernando Vergara Ivan Duque celebrates his election victory Sunday in Bogota, Colombia.

Conservative Colombian wins presidential election

Conservative Colombian candidate Ivan Duque won his country’s runoff presidential election, besting his leftist opponent as he pledged to revise a peace deal with the rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC).

Duque won the second round of balloting with 53.9 percent of the vote, while his opponent, Gustavo Petro, received 41.8 percent. Petro is the first leftist to advance to the presidential runoff. Duque is set to take office in August, becoming the country’s youngest president at age 42.

During his campaign, Duque promised to revisit the 2016 peace agreement with FARC, which ended decades of civil war in the country. The deal, signed by outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos, promised congressional seats to FARC leaders and lenient sentences for crimes committed during the unrest. In his victory speech, Duque promised to make corrections to the deal, including prioritizing victims’ rights and ensuring they receive justice and reparations. He also promised a campaign against corruption and said he would address the rise in cocaine production, which he called a threat to national security.

Duque’s opponents expressed concern that any change to the peace deal could reignite unrest, but the president-elect vowed to ensure unity during his tenure.

“This is the opportunity that we have been waiting for—to turn the page on the politics of polarization, insults, and venom,” Duque said. —O.O.

Getty Images/Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP (file) Getty Images/Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP (file) A Protestant church in Algiers, Algeria

Algerian churches cautiously reopen

The unexpected reopening of three churches in Algeria following months of increased pressure on Christians provoked surprise and some suspicion last week.

The governor of Oran Province issued a notice allowing Protestant churches in the cities of Oran, Ain Turk, and El Ayaida to reopen June 10, according to World Watch Monitor. He did not provide a reason for reopening the churches. Barnabas Fund reported authorities had closed two of the churches in February because they allegedly lacked approval.

A 2006 law requires all non-Muslim churches to obtain permission from a national committee, but International Christian Concern noted the committee has never met.

Pastor Rachid Seghir of the Oran city church told World Watch Monitor he found it difficult to believe his church could reopen. He said it was such a surprise, he thought, “Maybe it’s just a trap.” He added, “We are very pleased to be able to resume our activities without fear of new threats. We hope that all churches can be regularized and able to work in peace and freedom. Such a thing can only be beneficial to the image of the country.”

Middle East Concern reported the governor’s permission did not grant those churches official registration, so they remained at risk while other churches are still closed. —Julia A. Seymour

Al-Qaeda still holding Christians in Mali

The al-Qaeda branch in Mali released a proof-of-life video of two female hostages captured in separate kidnappings more than a year ago.

The U.S.-based monitoring group SITE Intelligence confirmed last week that Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam (JNIM) posted the video on the Telegram extremist news site. The footage showed Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narvaez caring for French aid worker Sophie Pétronin. Extremists kidnapped Pétronin in late 2016 in Gao, Mali, while Narvaez was captured in February 2017 near Mali’s border with Burkina Faso.

In the video, which Pétronin said was recorded June 7, she tells her son she is “very, very exhausted.” Narvaez thanked Pope Francis for showing interest in her case and pleaded for Pétronin, who she said was “truly sick.” Extremist groups in Mali target Westerners and demand ransoms after holding them for years. In March 2017, the terror groups Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda, and al-Mourabitoun merged to form JNIM. —O.O.

U.S. advocates for imprisoned Iranian lawyer

The U.S. State Department last week said it was “deeply concerned” over the latest arrest of an Iranian human rights lawyer who represents women. In the statement, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Iranian authorities on Thursday arrested Nasrin Sotoudeh from her home and took her to Evin Prison, Tehran’s notorious political detention center. She faces two national security charges for representing women who protested the country’s hijab law, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran. Authorities first arrested Sodouteh in 2010 and banned her from practicing law after convicting her of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. “We call on Iranian authorities to release her immediately, along with the hundreds of others who are currently imprisoned simply for expressing their views and desires for a better life,” Nauert said. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

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

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